Friday, April 15, 2011

Assisted suicide

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Assisted suicide is a widely argued ethical issue. A lot of the debate on this subject stems from either different viewpoints of when this act is appropriate, or what the resulting consequences would be if such an act were ever permissible. The point mostly debated between opposing sides is life-worth. What constitutes a life worth living and who is to ultimately decide this? The main problem with this question is that suffering cannot be measured unless one is to endure that same suffering themselves. The view that life is a special gift bestowed by God is held highly by many religions and it is of most importance to them when the debate on assisted suicides arises. A gift from God should not be tampered with let alone destructed.

Although the number of ethical issues involved is endless I will be focuses on three points. The first point in this introduction into the ethics of assisted suicide will involve the psychologically vulnerable and the elderly. The second ethical issue to be mentioned will be the presence and/or lack of a definition for a terminal illness. The last point is concerned with the human will to power and how this creates a problem should assisted suicide be permissible. These ethical issues, although strong convictions on their own, can lead to slippery slope arguments and must be looked at very carefully. In addition depending on the standpoint that one would take, these arguments have both strengths and weaknesses.

Many people fear the process of aging. They become unable to continue the same lifestyle that they once had and they often are more ill and have to be looked after by family or others. The same can be said about the psychologically vulnerable who quite often have to depend on someone else to live as functional a life as possible. In this case we have two instances where people are being dependant on others. Although they are not living the way they desire, is there reason for them to be able to end their lives? Is the lack of happiness in someone’s life considered suffering?

Just like there is no definition for suffering, problems arise when someone states that they wish to offer assisted suicide only to those categorized as having a terminal illness. What is terminal? The category seems to be expanding all over the world in order to include certain cases. Once again, people are trying to decide what quality of life is of their interest to prolong. Is Diabetes a terminal illness? It can be according to some of the guidelines, however, what about those who have Diabetes and lives normal productive lives without having to rely on anyone else.

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Last, but not least we have the issue regarding the human will to power. This issue involves the temptation and enjoyment in exercising power over others. There is no higher power than to have power over someone’s life. Allowing assisted suicide could quite possibly get in the way of protecting lives of people that should otherwise be protected.

It has already been mentioned that the ethical issues that have been discussed can easily lead to slippery slope arguments when involved with assisted suicide. A slippery slope argument is such that if you allow “a” then “b” will follow and the slide to “c, d,e” and so is inevitable. This is why critics of assisted suicide feel that “the removal of the taboo against assisted suicide will lead to the destructive expansions of the right to kill the innocent”. ( Kluge p.7). In other words theses issues that may seem simple to some are actually quite complex and must be looked at from every angle. If not looked at carefully, there will be people falling through the cracks. Let’s take a look at the dangers regarding the three issues that have already been mentioned.

As I have already mentioned the majority of psychologically vulnerable patients and the elderly have to rely on others to live functional lives. They have been almost programmed by society to feel as though they are “useless burdens on younger, more vital generations”. The reason that this issue can result in a slippery slope argument is because if society allowed the option of “self-deliverance” than these patients who already feel helpless would wonder why not to take advantage of it. They are being given the choice to remain completely dependent on someone else or to relieve this person and at the same time ultimately comforting themselves. Resisting this choice may even be seen as others as selfish. (Kluge). It is society that it making them feel as though they are burdens and if in addition to this they also allow assisted suicide then they are basically saying that these certain patients can “live if they wish but the rest of us have no strong interest in their survival”.

The next issue that critics say is a slippery slope is the expanded definition of terminal illness. This has become a problem because courts continue to broaden the definition to allow certain cases and now there are too many examples that fall under the terminally ill category. If assisted suicide were permissible there would have to be very strict guidelines and the definition used would have to be a very narrow definition. Otherwise there is going to be a lot of people who fall under the umbrella of terminally ill who are not. Assisted suicide should not have to be an option for these specific people, but it will act as an outlet for their caretakers. It’s somewhat similar to the cases involving the psychologically vulnerable and the elderly.

Through looking at these issues and seeing how they can be slippery slope arguments it is simple to see that critics of assisted suicides are not necessarily spending their time arguing that it is wrong, but they are simply voicing their concerns about the consequential actions that would inevitably follow.

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