Monday, February 4, 2008

The Arguments from Rachels’ “Active and Passive Euthanasia”

Although terms (AE, PE) need to be defined – and they are defined in the first paragraph – these definitions are not part of the arguments, strictly speaking.

PE = __________________________________________________________________

AE = __________________________________________________________________

The “doctrine” =

PE can be morally permissible;

AE cannot be morally permissible (and is contrary to the role of physicians)

The main argument, super-simplified:

(1) PE is morally permissible in certain circumstances.

(2) If (1), then AE is morally permissible in those circumstances.

(3) Therefore, AE is morally permissible in those circumstances also.

As stated, this argument doesn’t provide the reasons for (1) or, more importantly, (2).

Why accept (1)?

Perhaps something like this:

(4) If someone is suffering greatly, this cannot be relieved, is doing to die soon anyway, wishes to die, etc. (see Singer p. 197, Pence p. 52), then it is permissible that their life be ended.

Or

(5) People should always act in ways that result in the least harm.

Or some other moral principle that would imply that (1) is true (e.g., variants on utilitarianism, autonomy-respecting Kantianisms, for two possibilities).

Why accept (2)?

The basic reasoning is that if you look at (better) justifications or reasons given in favor of (1), they will support AE as well

The second argument, on decisions being made from irrelevant grounds:

Note: presumably this argument could be made using other cases.

a. If the doctrine is correct, then PE can be morally permissible but AE is not.

b. If PE can be morally permissible but AE is not, then, e.g, it is morally permissible to let an intestine-blocked Downs baby die, but not morally permissible to actively euthanize a Downs baby.

c. If it is morally permissible to let an intestine-blocked Downs baby die, but not morally permissible to actively euthanize a Downs baby, then whether one’s intestines are blocked is a morally relevant difference.

d. But whether one’s intestines are blocked is not a morally relevant difference (since this is easily fixable).

e. Therefore, is it not the case that it is morally permissible to let an intestine-blocked Downs baby die, but not morally permissible to actively euthanize a Downs baby. (c, d, modus tollens)

f. Therefore, it is not the case that: PE can be morally permissible but AE is not. (b, e, modus tollens)

g. Therefore, the doctrine is not correct. (a, f modus tollens).

Objection 1:

(6) Killing is always worse than letting die.

(7) If (6), then the doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong.

(8) Therefore the doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong

Rachels’ response:

(9) If Killing is always worse than letting die, then Jones behaved worse than Smith.

(10) But Jones did not behave worse than Smith: they are equally bad, acted equally wrongly.

(11) Therefore, killing is not always worse than letting die.

Objection 2:

(12) “Doing something” is always worse than “letting something happen.”

(13) If (12), then the doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong.

(14) Therefore the doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong

Rachels’ reply:

Objection 3:

(15) There is a difference between causing someone’s death and allowing it to happen.

(16) If (15), then he doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong.

(17) Therefore the doctrine is true and Rachels is wrong

Objections from Callahan, either for the conclusion that AE is wrong and/or the arguments in favor of AE are unsound/weak/bad:

Objections discussed in Pence either for the conclusion that AE is wrong and/or the arguments in favor of AE are unsound/weak/bad:

Objections discussed in Singer either for the conclusion that AE is wrong and/or the arguments in favor of AE are unsound/weak/bad:

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