The Ethical Dilemma of Physician-Assisted Suicide
by 人◕ ‿‿ ◕人 on June 9, 2015 - 7:17pm
Chances are, you have probably heard about this moral dilemma before. It involves a terminally ill patient on their deathbed staying alive by a thread. The patient would rather end their life prematurely, then let their illness consume them and so they ask you, the doctor to lethally inject them. What do you do?
The beliefs in conflict stem from opposing sides. On the patient’s side, they are bound to death, and merely living these last moments are painful. Due to their inevitable death they prefer to rest in peace sooner then dwell in pain. On the other side, doctor’s have a professional duty to save people’s lives, not to take them. Which side prevails?
From a utilitarian perspective, one could follow the Greatest Happiness Principle found in Mill’s Utilitarianism. “The end would justify the means if the end were greatest happiness for the greatest number” (35, Merrill.) Therefore, a utilitarian could argue that physician-assisted suicide is morally incorrect insofar as the pain of the patient’s family would outweigh the saved pain of the patient. The family would experience greater qualitative and quantitative pain then that of the patient. The loss of a loved one is a devastating pain which would be inflicted upon an entire family. This which is a negative consequence of the physician-assisted suicide outweighs the relieved pain which is a more neutral effect.
On the other hand of utilitarianism, one could argue that assisted suicide is correct in that the quality and satisfaction of the patient’s peace (pleasure) is so great that it would indeed outbalance the pain which their family is undergoing. That being said, because the patient is undergoing a tremendous and unique pain from a terminally illness which none of their family members are dealing with, the relief would be equally as peaceful and good.
In conclusion, a solution to this would be the latter utilitarian option, in which physician-assisted suicide would be considered morally correct.
John C. Merrill, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)