He argues that if society were to allow the terminally ill to commit suicide, then it would be a small step to allow other members of society -- like the handicapped -- to do so as well. This is not a completely trivial argument for two reasons: first, it is the point-of-view held by the majority of the Christian right -- a powerful political force in the Untied States; and second, if we accept his principle that life is intrinsically valuable, regardless of individual's rights over their own bodies, then we should be inclined to believe that active euthanasia is always wrong. Yet, Otremba is willing to concede that passive euthanasia may, sometimes, be permissible; this, however, only under the conditions of extreme suffering and impending death.
Fundamentally, it is a precarious moral position to contend that each and every human life demands society's active preservation. Otremba, and many others, must rest this concept upon the role of God in the world; yet, it is the explicit function of U.S. society to not take legal stances based upon subjective religious grounds. Essentially, if you agree that human life must be preserved at all costs, then this comes at the cost of free will, or even the greater good. Is it ethical to invest millions of dollars into preserving terminally ill people's lives, people who wish to die, when impoverished members of society suffer and die from lack of food? After all, those individuals may die passively if we adhere to the notion that euthanasia is intolerable.
Certainly, this is an extreme counterexample because it assumes that there are no readily-available solutions to poverty; but still, the underlying idea is that the greater good, in general, cannot be preserved by extending the lives of those who wish to die. Accordingly, it should be expected that those who believe that ending human life, under any circumstances, is morally wrong, must attribute this premise to a higher authority; this is because a seemingly infinite number of instances can be imagined in which such a premise conflicts with the other fundamental principles of society.
One group that has taken the position that euthanasia is wrong under virtually all conditions is the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force. This group brings up the point that many of the aspects of death that people commonly imagine when they think of euthanasia truly do not properly fall under the category. They write, "A lot of people think that the person whose death would be a result of euthanasia or assisted suicide would be someone who doesn't want to be forced to remain alive by being hooked up to machines. But the law already permits patients or their surrogates to direct that such interventions be withheld or withdrawn." To them, this is one of the leading reasons why euthanasia has remained a contentious issue: people misunderstand the ways that assisted suicide and euthanasia are carried out. This is an important point because it clarifies the position that the government of the Untied States has taken regarding euthanasia. Namely, that passive euthanasia is permissible given imminent death and the consent of the patient or the surrogate.
However, the argumentation put forward by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force is misleading; they assert that passive euthanasia is not euthanasia at all but merely the cessation of using technologies to extend human life. They also argue that pain and depression, which often lead people to decide to end their lives, is treatable. As a result, they believe that anything other than what we might term passive euthanasia is unjustifiable.
Broadly, the line of reasoning put forward by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Farce is fairly compelling. They attest to the fact that suicide is legal, and that people can choose to end their lives. However, their particular definition of euthanasia only includes physician-assisted suicide, which they believe is morally wrong. So, according to their invented notion of euthanasia, it is only wrong if the patient has not expressed their wishes to die and a third party -- a doctor or family member -- carries out the death. Since this is the only form of euthanasia they recognize, they conclude that all euthanasia is wrong. Yet, according to our definitions, they have only taken a stand against active assisted suicide. So, upon further examination, it seems that the stance of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force is less iron-clad than they might readily admit.
Sill others have taken this iron-clad perspective, despite the numerous moral and legal difficulties. Daniel Callahan, medical ethicist and director of the Hastings Center, maintains that euthanasia is killing and all killing is wrong. He goes on to argue that "should euthanasia be legalized, patients, families, and physicians would abuse this power to kill." Callahan believes that the surrendering of individual rights to those of doctors and other authorities leads to grave breeches of moral law. Specifically, he understands the legalization of euthanasia to be akin to providing medical agents the power to determine who is to live and die among portions of the populous unable to defend themselves.
Doubtlessly, many of Callahan's concerns are very real; though it is difficult to see why universally abolishing euthanasia is the only possible solution. He is successful in identifying one of the key conflicts: that which is between the individual rights of the patient, and those of medical authorities and family members. He avoids altogether the question of personal suicide; but he does suggest that there is little that can be termed categorically wrong about such an act. Centrally, Callahan is calling for an end to all suicides that cannot be carried out by the individual wishing to die because of the vast moral and legal ramifications. The major reason why he seems to dismiss the situation of voluntary assisted suicide is because the doctor-patient relationship is already so intimate, that it would allow for nothing short of murder. Nevertheless, he fails to investigate how this relationship might be altered to ensure patient safety besides by ending euthanasia altogether.
Yet another contentious facet of the euthanasia debate surrounds the issue of specifically who should be permitted to make the fatal decision. Already, many of the arguments mentioned have suggested that the only person who can rightfully choose when to die is the person who plans to die. Some, however, have also claimed that family members or even the doctor can decide. One writer insists, "In virtually all cases one can presume that the family members love their dying relative and have the patient's best interests at heart. There are probably some exceptions where hatred or revenge leads to the family's wish to be rid of a relative... But these strange situations need not concern us." But even if we are to suppose that these truly are "strange situations," there is nothing to indicate that we should not be concerned with them. If families, as a rule, are given the right to choose life and death for each other, then it would be like giving many of them a license to kill. Kelley overlooks that the most common motive for murder is not revenge or hatred -- it is money. From this point-of-view, ending a family member's life could be very advantageous to many individuals.
Overall, the way in which the issue of euthanasia must be handled should go hand in hand with society's stance on suicide. It is not obviously apparent that suicide should be accepted as a permissible action within human society. Kant, for example, believed, "Persons have intrinsic worth and must be treated as ends in themselves and not merely as a means to some other end." Obviously this can be applied to suicide in a fairly straightforward manner: one should not use themselves as a means -- by killing themselves -- regardless of the happiness that such an act might seed in others. It is even easier to rule out suicide, according to Kantian ethics, if the aim of committing suicide is to save oneself future pain and suffering -- from a terminal illness, for example. Kant's argument along these lines notes that preventing pain for oneself is done with the implicit purpose of self-preservation, but suicide is self-destruction. To him, this is a clear contradiction and, thus, suicide is a highly questionable act.
Yet, even to Kant suicide could not be ruled out in certain situation. A king who kills himself in the face of impending death so that others might not use him towards evil ends, or someone embracing suicide to prevent their lapse into mental decay in which they might harm others, are both considered possible justifications. But even if we accept that killing oneself to maximize happiness in the face of death is right, it is difficult to grant credence to the notion that death should be administered by others without our consent -- regardless of how…