James Rachels argues against the doctrine of the doctors and The American Medical policy regarding the acceptance of Passive euthanasia and the refutation of Active euthanasia. The idea of Passive euthanasia in medical ethics is to withhold medication with the agreement of the patient’s family in case of an unavoidable death. On the other hand Active euthanasia is likened to murder. The writer’s thesis and main point is that Active euthanasia at times is more humane. To support this point he gives two examples. One of the hopeless cancer patients suffering from unbearable pain. The writer thinks that Passive euthanasia will only prolong his suffering whereas a lethal injection will put an end to his already ending existence. The second example of infants suffering from congenital intestinal obstruction also cements his point, as Anthony Shaw describes how emotionally and mentally draining it is to see an infant die slowly as a result of Passive euthanasia.
Deciding life and death on irrelevant grounds is the writer’s second argument. He supports this point by relating the example of infants with Down Syndrome. If such infants have other congenital defects like intestinal obstruction that needs to be operated up on, Passive euthanasia can be justified by denying them the operation. In the absence of such defects ending their life because of the syndrome they are born with will be criminal. The writer argues that the issue of those infants is down syndrome not any other irrelevant birth defect. The decision regarding euthanasia should be based on whether the infant should or should not keep on living and not on irrelevant basis of intestinal obstruction.
Active euthanasia is judged to be morally wrong as killing is considered worst than letting die. But the writer challenges these moral grounds by giving an example of two men Smith and Jones. Smith drowns his six year old cousin for wealth while Jones who has the same intent let his cousin drown accidentally on his own by not helping him. Now who is more guilty, does Jones has better defense than Smith? To the moral sensibilities of a common person both these men should be criminals and the slight difference in their situations and plan of actions does not justify anyone of them.
Doctors however deal with patients whose lives are a painful burden the way the doctor decides to end the life of such a patient has no moral importance, it is just the correctness of the decision that matters. The writer raises the question that is Passive euthanasia as blameless as the Active? Taking a patient of a life support or stopping medication are also steps taken by the doctors to let the patient die so the doctor is not totally innocent and he is accounted for some moral judgment.
The writer believes that doctors do not consider the law and what it has to say about any form of euthanasia. The medical ethics are the law for a doctor, AMA policy being its spirit. AMA policy condemns Active euthanasia as illegal and “contrary to that for which the medical profession stands for”, meanwhile approving Passive euthanasia. All the arguments that the writer has given about to prove his thesis only prove that there exists no moral distinction between Active and Passive euthanasia. These examples very clearly prove that Active euthanasia can be preferable most of the times. The doctors should not satisfy themselves by justifying Passive euthanasia; they are only satisfying the law.
Active euthanasia being a very sensitive topic needs to be tackled sensibly as the writer has done, but he is also very straight forward and blunt with his arguments. It adds the strength to his article. The point regarding Smith and Jones is very strong, letting us see that morally Active euthanasia cannot be judged. His strong belief that killing someone or letting someone die are basically alike, it is just our mental and social reaction to the idea of murder that makes us deny it. We do not like to take responsibility of someone’s death directly, that is why the doctors involve technical details to justify their actions.
I mostly agree with the writer that it is the intent that matters and not the execution of that intention. Active euthanasia or mercy killing is not as grotesque an act just as Passive euthanasia is not as innocent. If the agony of a dying person can be curtailed with his permission, it appears more an act of kindness rather than cruelty.