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Ethical Scenario 15
‘The right to life carries with it the right to death.’ Discuss the key ethical arguments with such a line of thought.
Euthanasia translates as good death in greek - meaning active choices taken to end life, and to relieve pain and suffering. Currently euthanasia is illegal in the UK, although some European countries allow active euthanasia or assisted suicide.
On the one hand, critics of euthanasia elude to the possibility of eliminating invalids from our society becoming normalised, and the bounds for permitted euthanasia shifting over time. This is dubbed the ‘slippery slope’ argument. The Netherlands is often used as an example for this - at first euthanasia was allowed only for the terminally ill that requested it, then for the chronically ill, then for those with psychological suffering, and then incompetent patients (such as children). Another common argument is that of ‘malafide intention’ - the possibility of euthanasia being misused for personal / financial gain by family members.
Looking at the core pillars of medical ethics, non-maleficence stands against doctors assisting patients in dying. Where the principle of beneficence falls is difficult to say - but normally the doctor’s responsibility to heal only would be seen as a counterargument to euthanasia.
On the other hand, the principle of autonomy implies that the decision ultimately lies with the patient. The slippery slope argument necessarily requires the ‘slippery slope’ to be a negative - if you consider that the right to death is a human right, then a move toward this being more universally available becomes a positive. Essentially, to create a slippery slope one assumes that the steps are each morally wrong, and each step is in turn more morally wrong than the previous. Looking at the possibility of euthanasia being abused, one must consider that instances of abuse of a right do not constitute a just reason for withholding that right.