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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Final Question 7


How does Singer view euthanasia? Describe his reasoning process. Do you agree? Justify philosophically.


On the issue of euthanasia, Peter Singer takes into consideration the various circumstances, which might affect the ethics of killing a person to put them out of their misery. To this extent, he makes a distinction between 3 forms of Euthanasia: Voluntary, Involuntary, and Non-Voluntary. Each form of euthanasia has its respective set of circumstances that Singer addresses accordingly.  


Voluntary Euthanasia


Defined by Singer as euthanasia, "carried out at the request of the person killed" (Singer 176) voluntary euthanasia is a form that Singer approves of. Voluntary euthanasia comes from a situation where everyone is suffering; people find themselves in such agony that they would choose death over life. Singer argues that in such a situation, the best interest for the person wishing to die is death. Singer contends that if it is ethical to kill someone who wants to live, and then it is also unethical to force someone to live when they would prefer to die. A person who would seek death over life is clearly suffering, and their loved ones are likely to be suffering as well. So it is in the better interest of all those concerned that the person should be allowed to die. I agree with Singer on this point, and I would venture to say that to ban euthanasia or refuse it to someone who asks for it is an act of selfishness. I feel that to truly care about someone is to pursue his or her best interest even when that conflicts with mine. To force someone to live in agony because we have a personal aversion to euthanasia is selfish at best.


Involuntary Euthanasia

Involuntary euthanasia involves killing a person who still has the capacity to reason and so decides to live. In this case, Singer sees no justification to kill a person does not want to die. It is true that a person may be suffering so much that death would be in their better interest, but no one other than that person has the right to make that assessment. I agree with Singer, that regardless of the intention, to put someone to death against his or her explicit wishes, is essentially murder, and thus cannot be justified.


Non-Voluntary Euthanasia

The third type of euthanasia outlined by Singer is non-voluntary euthanasia, the killing of a person who “is not capable of understanding the choice between life or death” and has not “previously requested or rejected euthanasia in these circumstances” (Singer, 179). This would be the case when a person is or has become mentally incapacitated, and it is unknown what there wishes would be under their current circumstances. Singer divides this into infanticide and non-voluntary euthanasia. With respect to infanticide, Singer argues that disabled infants are not, and will never be rational or self-conscious. By Utilitarianist logic, this would mean that it would not be unethical to kill the disabled infant for the sake of reducing its suffering, and thus Singer approves of it. And in the case of other non-voluntary euthanasia, Singer contends that it is ethical with respect to the fact that similar to the disabled infant, the comatose adult is no longer rational and self-conscious and never will be again. The condition for this to be ethical, is that there has to be a way to prevent other people from the fear that they will be killed against their wishes should they find themselves in a vegetative state.