Assisted suicide, or rather euthanasia, is an act that, at his/her request, a physician can undertake to deliberately end an individual’s life. In this scenario, a person is treated by the doctor with a lethal substance and his/her ends. Different cultures around the world have divergent views and ethical concerns about the act, where some see it as an essential necessity depending on prevailing circumstances, whereas other groups believe that despite the probable existing conditions and therefore immoral, it goes against the fundamental rights of a person (Callahan, 1994). Adequate procedures, as well as safeguard measures, are established to control the practices in many jurisdictions. Nevertheless, this paper looks at the practice based on ethical consideration while looking into the ethical principle of utilitarianism. In a hospital setting, the procedure requires the physician to agree with the patient that there is no available reasonable alternative and as such, ending his/her life is the only viable option.
The principle of utilitarianism entails a normative ethics that outlines the significance of moral action in maximizing utility. Such utilities include fostering economic well-being, pleasure as well as the lack of suffering (Singer, 2003). It is a form of consequentialism approach that puts emphasis on the end results of an action as a justification of the means. In this regard, the nature of the outcome in the larger group of people determines right and wrong. According to the ethical principle, when the particular end results in a greater, well-being of the particular group of individuals, that is, the family of the patient who wants an assisted suicide, the decision or actions would be right and ethical. Conversely, if such acts lead to relief only to the patient or benefits only a few individuals, they would be wrong and unethical. As such, the consequence of a particular action on a larger group of people is what constitutes moral behavior.
The decision about an assisted suicide based on utilitarianism must thus be balanced with the amount of happiness or the consequence of the action of a particular group of individuals. Based on Utilitarianism, such consequences should entail happiness and freedom from pain that is, both physical pain and distress of other kinds (Singer, 2003). Notably, the ideal version of utilitarianism is in line with the views of the advocates of death with dignity through euthanasia. For such advocates, ideal utilitarianism counters the objection to euthanasia that no particular individual receiving proper and adequate expert care needs to die in pain and distress. As such, the good that they seek based on the principle is the preservation of dignity as well as the exercise of the human endowment of autonomy rather than a mere absence of mental or physical pain (Singer, 2003).
Nevertheless, there is a difficulty with Utilitarianism as measuring the rightness or wrongness of an action based on overall consequences may lead to a lack of protection for an individual who may be in dire need of assisted suicide against the majority who may not support the act. As such, the majority may make their decisions provided there is sufficient gain to outweigh the loss of the person in question. Therefore, Utilitarianism does not safeguard the rights of individuals.
Policies and Decisions Would Promote the Greatest Happiness
A state’s policy that legalizes physician assistance suicide to terminally ill patients who wish to avoid unendurable pain as well as hasten inevitable death would lead to greatest happiness when it helps a significant number of affected individuals in the state. Besides, the act would promote the greatest happiness when it favors the family of the affected individual (Callahan, 1994). After all, Utilitarianism is about the happiness of a large number of people is what constitute a moral action. As such, when mercy killing reduces physical burdens, inconveniences, emotional as well as drawbacks that are imposed on relatives, friends, and family members of patients, it results in greatest happiness.
The current health dynamics in many societies characterize series of conditions that make many people seek help to end their suffering. As such, a policy that fosters the enjoyment of a right not to be forced to suffer would make many people happy. Furthermore, the decision to carry out assisted death does not preclude giving the best palliative care possible. It rather integrates compassionate care as well as respect for the patient’s autonomy making death with dignity a real option. Besides, everyone will die and reduce longevity, and medical advances can help both patients and loved ones to make real decisions that can help them obtain the greatest happiness.
In conclusion, assisted suicide is an act that a physician may undertake toward ending the life of an individual intentionally at his/her request. In this case, the physician administers a lethal substance. Based on the principle of Utilitarianism, assisted death can only be ethical when the acts lead to the greatest happiness as outlined above. The principle fosters economic well-being, pleasure as well as a lack of suffering.
Callahan, J. (1994). The ethics of assisted suicide. Health & Social Work, 19(4), 237-244.
Singer, P. (2003). Voluntary euthanasia: a utilitarian perspective. Bioethics, 17(5‐6), 526-541.