Active Euthenasia

– A Kantian Perspective Essay, Research Paper

Euthanasia is one of society’s more widely,

and hotly debated moral issues of our time. More directly, active euthanasia,

which by definition, is; “Doing something, such as administering a lethal

drug, or using other means that cause a person’s death.”1 Passive euthanasia,

defined as; “Stopping (or not starting) some treatment, which allows a

person to die, the person’s condition causes his or her death,”2 seems

not to be as debated, perhaps not as recognized, as it’s counterpart. I

have chosen to look more closely at the issue of active euthanasia, and

whether or not it would be considered ethical, by Kantian standards.

Those who support the practice of active

euthanasia might argue that helping the terminally ill to bring about their

own deaths, allowing them to determine the how and when, is not only humane,

but also allows the person, who is simply “living to die,” to maintain

dignity by orchestrating their own end, thus letting them die at peace,

rather than suffer to the end, preceiving themselves to be a burden and/or

disgrace, to those they love. According to recent polls, many Canadians

would agree,3 but the question is, have they taken a close look at the

ethical debate? Those who are against active euthanasia would say not,

and would argue that by participating in the practice of active euthanasia,

one is “playing God,” or perhaps, even worse, that they are not acting

out of mercy, but rather out of selfishness, attempting to lessen their

own burden, and that therefore, the act is nothing less than cold-blooded

murder. Murder is defined as; “The unlawful, premeditated killing of one

human being by another.”4 Euthanasia, in Canada, remains unlawful as of

today, and the act of euthanasia is premeditated, thus whether for the

purpose of mercy or not, euthanasia is, by definition, murder. According

to Kantian perspective and the Holy Bible, murder is both a sin and a crime,

therefore we ought not participate in the practice of euthanasia, because

it is murder, and it is the wrong thing to do.

The euthanasia debate raises many questions.

Questions such as; For whose benefit is the murder actually taking place?

Ought we allow family members to make a life-or-death decision on behalf

of a loved one who may never have expressed a desire to die, simply because

they could not vocalize a will to live? (As was the case of Robert Latimer).

If a person should be suffering with an illness of which there seems no

hope of recovery, yet they are unable to make a choice for themselves how

do we know what that person would voluntarily choose? Is it our right to

decide whether or not they have a desire to live? If we ourselves are not

in the position of the individual whose life and/or death is being decided,

we cannot possibly know or understand what their will is, what they would

opt for personally, or even whether or not they can comprehend what is

happening, thus the decisions we are making find us “playing God,” and

assuming that our decisions are always in the best intrests of another.

Without knowing for sure what the individual would have chosen, we may

well have gone against their will, and thus have committed murder.

Some would argue that the practice of euthanasia

is used as a last resort, when the individual can no longer manage the

pain of their illness. However, that arguement can be rebutted by an observation

made by a proponent of a movement similar to Right to Die. Dr Pieter Admiraal,

a leader of a movement to legalize assisted suicide in the Netherlands,

stated pubicly that pain is never justification for euthanasia considering

the advanced medical techniques currently available to manage pain in almost

every circumstance.5 Thus the pain does not justify death, but rather it

justifies the need for more money to educate health care professionals

on better pain management techniques.

Ought we not look into a suicidal persons

emotional and psychological background before we conclude that his or her

suicide is acceptable because they are going to die anyway? We ought to

take into consideration, the statistics which tell us that fewer than one

in four people with terminal illness have a desire to die, and that all

of those who did wish to die had previously suffered with clinically diagnosable

depression.6 If we choose to overlook these statistics, and others that

tell us that psychotheraputic treatments are not only available, but equally

successful among people with terminal illness, as among people without7

then we are indeed cutting that person’s life short, and thus one again,

commiting murder.

If a physically healthy person who suffered

with depression were to approach us with thoughts of suicide, we would

comfort them, seek treatment for them, and provide as much as we were able,

to see that they got the reassurance and the psychological and/or emotional

help that they needed. Certainly we would not tell them that the choice

was theirs and hand them a gun. Why then do we not do the same for those

suffering with a physical illness? Further statistics tell us that the

chances for living a happy life are often greater for a person who has

attempted suicide, but are stopped, and provided with the help they need,

than for individuals suffering with similar problems, who have never attempted

suicide.8 It would serve us well to take notice of these statistics. We

ought to be making every effort to find alternatives to euthanasia, and

help people with theire problems, instead of helping them to end what very

well could be a happy life.

One must also ask why some doctors would

fight so vigorously to leagalize the practice of killing the terminally

ill, while others maintain that there are many alternatives available that

may offer a satisfactory and comfortable quality of life for those suffering

from severe illness. Is it possible that some doctors are “selling death”

for reasons other than compassion? If the possibility exists for this to

be the case, than we ought to expect some doctors to abuse the system,

as well as the rights and best intrests of the patient, in order to better

themselves financially, or otherwise.

I personally believe that it would be extremely

difficult, perhaps impossible, to legislate a point of illness or disability

where euthanasia would be considered legally or ethically acceptable. To

do so would be saying that all disabled or terminally ill patients have

no chance for a happy and fulfilling life. I believe that we are taking

quite a risk when we bring about another person’s death wilfully, thus

assuming that we have the ability to look into the future and deem their

life unlivable.


1. Barbara MacKinnon, “Euthanasia,” Ethics

Theory and Contemporary Issues, second edition, p.126, 1998

2. Barbara MacKinnon, “Euthanasia,” Ethics

Theory and Contemporary Issues, second edition, p.126, 1998

3. TTI Market Explorers, Poll of 603 Adults

in British Colombia, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, 1997

4. Clarendon Press, “Concise Oxford Dictionary”,

p. 895, 1995

5. Pieter Admiraal, “Euthanasia in the

Netherlands – A Dutch Doctor’s Perspective,” (speech presented at the national

convention of the Hemlock Society, Arlington VA, 1986

6. Brown, Henteleff, Barakat and Rowe,

“Is It Normal for Terminally Ill Patients to Desire Death?,” American Journal

of Psychiatry, Vol. 143, No. 2, 1986

7. Flora Johnson Skelly, “Don’t Miss Depression,

Physicians say,” American Medical News, p. 28, 1992

8. Dahlgren, “Suicide and Life Threatening

Behaviour,” (Stengel, supra note 4, p. 113), Attempted Suicides 35 Years

Afterward, 1977


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