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Utilitarian Ethical Analysis of Euthanasia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 1654 words Published: 6th Sep 2017

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  1. Ethical Question

Should Euthanasia be an option for the terminally ill?

  1. Analysis

The discussion regarding euthanasia has been made noticeably public all throughout the world (Perm, 2011, p.80). However, recent findings suggest a shift in public policy rely heavily upon the moral and political environment of today’s culture (Fratschko, 2016, p.5). Conversely, as religious institutions begin to lose their prominent voice in society, the connotation of what is right and wrong has conventionally been guided in large measure (Fratschko, 2016, p.6).

Moreover, upholding one’s dignity is a reason made via the notion of avoiding a deprived end to life (Mishara, 2016). Specific dissimilarities show what characterises a respectable way to die. Common degradations may include:

  • Being a ‘burden’ to others,
  • Living in a deteriorated state,
  • Being incapable of daily activities, and,
  • Depending on intrusive medical apparatuses.

However, the public in general often assumes that terminal illnesses, result in a mediocre end to life. This is not the case; it is suggested that the psychological environment determines the quality of life over the nature of the illness (Mishara, 2016). Correspondingly, Margaret Battin (1994, para. 5) accentuated that euthanasia to decrease distress encompasses two main factors:

  • Preventing imminent discomfort and misery, as well as,
  • Preventing current discomfort and misery.
  1. Facts

Euthanasia is a form of voluntary death. Patients who request for euthanasia do not want to prolong their pain (Aurora, 2014, para. 13). Despite the statistics given by the government, the support for euthanasia has grown throughout the years. In Australia, over 70% would like to see euthanasia be an option, whereas over 12% said no and the remaining people surveyed were unsure (Yamine, 2012, para. 2-3). Statistics highlighted by Emanuel et al. (2012, para. 4), show that roughly 4% of deaths are listed as euthanasia in jurisdictions where it is an option. Although remain relatively rare and involve those who are terminally ill.  Finally, those with loved ones in terminally ill situations will agree that end of life care treatments can be costly and put enormous amounts of pressure on the finances (Aurora, 2014).

  1. Gaps in understanding

It is argued (Glare and Tobin, 1996, p.1668), that acknowledging the rights of the terminally ill is a good attempt to creating an act permitting euthanasia. Equally, over the past fifty years, numerous public opinion surveys have indicated growing support for euthanasia. However, this approval of euthanasia goes against certain Christian moralities in which have been the barricade in contradiction to the approval of euthanasia (Hamil-Luker and Smith, 1998, p.373).

Some treatments may be limited to the relief of pain and distress with the intention of allowing the patient to die a comfortable death. However, this implies that death must be imminent (Glare and Tobin, 1996, p.1669). Palliative care specialist, Ian Maddocks expressed his concerns that if euthanasia were an option, death could be viewed as a “quick fix” to the suffering that could be relieved with palliative care (Harrison, 2013). Research conducted by Chapple et al. (2006, para. 3) on those nearing death is an important factor to add to the debate. Regarding those who have watched others die are predominantly convinced that euthanasia should be an option, some for multiple reasons including the pain and the anticipation of waiting to die, embarrassment and the loss of control and cerebral impairment (Chapple et al. 2006, para. 3).

  1. Positive & negative consequences


  • Firstly, we know that utilitarian people believe actions should provideutmost contentment for the highest number of people, whereas the outcome ought to ascertain the ethical worth of the action. Therefore, if euthanasia increases the joy of a person and reduce pain simultaneously, then it is considered ethically correct (JDDN, 2012).
  • People have the right to die. Behind this ideology is that we should have freedom regarding certain decisions. Some people believe we all have the rights to regulate our bodies and therefore should be able to determine when and what time we die (BBC, 2014, para. 2).
  • If you accept act-utilitarianism, then the arguments make perfect sense. One final positive in regards to allowing people to die may free up scarce health resources and be allocated to those who want to live (BBC, 2014, para. 30).


  • Over 30 of Australia’s top palliative practitioners oppose the introduction of euthanasia as they describe it as unnecessary and unsafe (Vermeer, 2017). Paraphrased by Singer (2003, p.536), Hentoff states that most palliative care specialists admit there are cases wherein pain is not sufficiently alleviated. However, terminal sedation is offered as a replacement, although, some ethicists, do not consider terminal sedation as an equivalent to euthanasia. (Singer, 2003, p. 537).
  • Argued by Doerflinger (Singer, 2003, p. 535). Those who independently reason for euthanasia are not being straightforward. For example, the issue was raised when 86-year-old Edward Brongersma, was euthanised by a doctor because he was old and tired of life. Even though this lead to that doctor’s conviction and acquittal, a utilitarian should not have an issue with the doctor’s decision because it was Brongersma’s decision to die and that nobody else can decide if Brongersma’s life contained more positive or negative experiences (Singer, 2003, p. 536).
  • Finally, the decision may place added pressure on the terminally ill. The main aspects of the argument are that terminally ill patients may be pressured into giving consent when they do not want it; or correspondingly, they will be euthanised without consent because they could be considered a burden or to save money (Singer, 2003, p.538).
  1. Conclusion

Through act utilitarianism, we can see that euthanasia is certainly an argumentative issue. There are several perspectives regarding Utilitarianism which differ on certain aspects regarding euthanasia. In accordance to act-utilitarianism the right action of all is greater than any other action, therefore each act is judged independently by the act-utilitarianism (Singer, 2003, p. 536). However, gaps in understanding lie mainly lie within the religious side of the issue, believing the right to decide when someone dies belongs to god. In summation, by having a regulated form of euthanasia, it is deduced that the positives outweigh the negatives in regards to the ethics of euthanasia.


Aurora, P 2014, 14 Facts You Never Knew About Euthanasia, viewed 29 March 2017, .

Battin, MP 1994, ‘ Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide’, The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics, vol. 1, no. 1, para. 5

BBC 2014, Pro-euthanasia arguments, viewed 24 March 2017,

< http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/infavour/infavour_1.shtml >

Chapple, A, Zieblan, S, McPherson, A & Herxheimer, A 2006, What people close to death say about euthanasia and assisted suicide: a qualitative study ‘, Journal of medical ethics, vol. 32, no. 12, para. 3

Emanuel, EJ, Onwuteaka-Philipsen, BD, Urwin, JW & Cohen, J 2012, Attitudes and Practices of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States, Canada, and Europe’, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, vol. 316, no. 1, para. 4

Fratschko, LM 2016, The Euthanasia Debate: International Experience

and Canadian Policy Proposals, The University of Western Ontario, viewed 15 March 2017, < http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5329&context=etd>.

Glare, PA & Tobin, B 1996, ‘ Euthanasia in Australia’, The New England journal of medicine, vol. 334, no. 25, pp. 1668 – 1669.

Hamil-Luker, J & Smith, C 1998, ‘ Religious Authority and Public Opinion on the Right to Die’, Sociology of religion, vol. 59, no. 4, pp. 373.

Harrison, D 2013, ‘Euthanasia should not be a quick fix’, The Area News, 26 April, viewed 29 March 2017, .

JDDN. 2012, Euthanasia: A Utilitarian Perspective, viewed 30 March 2017, .

Mishara, BL. 2016 Euthanasia, viewed 28 March 2017, .

Perm, J 2011, Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Centre for Creative Leadership, viewed 26 March 2017, < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3383171/ >.

Singer, P 2003, ‘Voluntary euthanasia: a utilitarian perspective’, Bioethics, vol. 17, no. 5-6, pp. 535 – 538

Vermeer, D. 2017, Euthanasia and assisted suicide: “unnecessary and unsafe”, viewed 29 March 2017, < http://catholicoutlook.org/euthanasia-assisted-suicide-unnecessary-unsafe/>.

Yamine, E 2012, ‘Most want euthanasia legalised in Australia’, Herald Sun, 19 November, viewed 25 March 2017, < http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/most-want-euthanasia-legalised-in-australia/news-story/c07b7946623a88638a69fa61e0373779>.


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