Active And Passive Euthanasia. Why Does James Essay

Length: 4 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Children Type: Essay Paper: #93828109 Related Topics: Euthanasia, Down Syndrome, Organ Transplant, Prison Overcrowding
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … active and passive euthanasia. Why does James Rachels think there is no moral difference between them?

Active euthanasia is the "mercy killing" of a life to prevent further suffering; passive euthanasia is deliberately allowing that life to die of "natural" causes. James Rachels believes there is no moral difference between active and passive euthanasia for a few reasons. First, in many cases where passive euthanasia is allowed (meaning it has already been decided that the life is not worth saving) but active euthanasia is against the law, the patient suffers more, longer, and needlessly by being allowed to die on their own. Therefore, since active euthanasia in these cases would prevent that suffering, active euthanasia is clearly less immoral than passively standing by. Still, Rachels' argument for moral equality between the two is that in each case it has been decided that the life at stake is not worth saving: so how can one choice be morally superior to the other? In addition, he cites the irrelevance of the reasons given for being allowed to choose passive euthanasia; for example, in the case of a Down Syndrome baby who needs a simple surgical operation to survive. The parents and doctor are justifying passive euthanasia on the grounds that the baby would die anyway (which means God is really the one killing the child?), when in fact the need for surgery has nothing to do with their reasons for "letting" the baby die. As Rachels points out, if the child did not have a debilitating, incurable genetic defect such as Down's Syndrome, the parents would be outraged at any suggestion that their "healthy" baby should be allowed to die over a silly, routine procedure with a very high rate of success. Rachels then goes on to argue that in fact, if analyzed on moral grounds, killing someone is no worse than deliberately letting them die. He cites an imaginary example of a doctor standing by and deliberately allowing a child to die of an easily treatable condition. No one would argue that this "passive" action isn't a form of murder; no one would argue that this doctor shouldn't be stripped of his medical license and sent to jail. In the same vein, if a mother was found standing by and letting her child die of a treatable wound or illness, she would be considered a murderer as well. So, in Rachels' view, arguing that passive euthanasia is morally superior to active euthanasia is simply ridiculous. Finally, he states that as a result of this moral equality between the two options, no doctor should agree to abide by a doctrine claiming a moral difference. Of course they have to follow the law, but they should not agree to passive euthanasia in any case on moral grounds. It is simply not a cogent argument.

2. Explain Philippa Foot's "Rescue I" and "Rescue II" scenarios. What does she think it implies about James Rachels' position, and why?

In Philippa Foot's Rescue I scenario, a man in a jeep is rushing to the ocean shore to save 5 people from drowning, but on the way "he" encounters a lone person desperately in need of rescue. The premise is that if the driver stops to save the lone person,...


In Rescue II, again there are the 5 drowning people and one lone person on the way, but in this case the lone person is not going to die, they are just trapped in the path of the jeep. As a result, the only way the jeep driver can carry out his heroic rescue of the 5 people is to drive over and kill the person trapped in the road. Foot argues that this is just one clear example of a case in which "killing or letting die" is not morally cut and dry, as Rachels would have us believe. In Rescue I, since the choice is between saving 5 lives or saving only 1, Foot says the choice is very clear cut in favor of letting the lone person die. In letting just one person die, she is preventing the much worse scenario of letting 5 people die. In the case of Rescue II, however, letting the 5 people die becomes morally acceptable because the only way to save them is to deliberately murder the person in the road. As Foot argues, "it makes all the difference whether those who are going to die if we act in a certain way will die as a result of a sequence that we originate or of one that we allow to continue, it being of course something that did not start by our agency." In other words, she implies that there are many cases in which letting someone die is morally superior to killing them, simply because we did not instigate the cause of death. So the Down Syndrome baby who dies from intestinal obstruction was not killed by a doctor "letting the baby die," but killed by a birth defect. Foot argues for non-interference in cases where we don't know what the outcome should be: maybe the baby is meant to die, or has a "right" to die, without interference from an "unnatural" surgical operation. Some force beyond our control initiated the sequence of events that will lead to the baby's death; therefore, we are right to let that sequence play out because "the violation of a right to non-interference consists in interference." Foot's argument is not that it's okay to let someone die, but that, in contrast to Rachels' argument, there are many cases in which a positive duty is morally superior to a negative duty.

3. Explain John Harris' idea of a "survival lottery." How does he justify it? And how does he think it would work in practice?

John Harris' "survival lottery" involves a world in which everyone appropriate in terms of age is assigned a lottery number, which if drawn like a draft card, requires them to voluntarily "give their life" in order to save two people in need of organ transplants. Age would be a factor in the choosing of donors since many people needing transplants are older and the population would become highly skewed toward the elderly if one younger person was killed to save two older people. The only other stipulation is that the two people being saved must indeed be as innocent as the person being killed. Regardless, Harris defends his idea with a plea for authentic altruism, a virtue so difficult to find in human beings, in which no one puts himself above anyone else in terms of any rights -- not to mention the right to life. In his view, taking the life of one innocent person in order to save two innocent people could not be considered wrong since it always results in one fewer tragic death than would have taken place otherwise. And if one tries to argue that killing the one person for his organs is murder because you are actively choosing to do it and are therefore interfering with God's work, rather than just passively allowing the two sick people to die for need of new organs, Harris retorts by saying that "if we are able to change things, then to elect not to do so is also to determine what will happen in the world." He is addressing human hypocrisy in terms of saving lives, in much the same way as Rachels. The fact that he keeps bringing up the "innocent," however, leads quickly to the conclusion that killing the "guilty" (who just happen to be overcrowding prisons nationwide) in order to harvest their organs is the obvious answer. This might not qualify as authentic…

Sources Used in Documents:


Foot, P. (2002). Moral Dilemmas and Other Topics in Moral Philosophy: Killing and Letting Die. Oxford, England: Clarendon.

Hardwig, J. (1997). Is There A Duty to Die? The Hastings Center Report, 34+.

Harris, J. (1975). The Survival Lottery. Philosophy, 81-87.

Rachels, J. (1975). Active and Passive Euthanasia. The New England Journal of Medicine, 78-80.

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