A Critique Of Neil Campbell

’s Problem With Voluntary Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper

A Critique of Neil Campbell’s Problem with Voluntary Euthanasia

Dr. Neil Campbell, author of “A Problem for the Idea of Voluntary Euthanasia,” questions whether there can be a such thing as voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies. Dr. Campbell’s main argument is that “if the pain and suffering are by definition unbearable, then it seems clear enough that the decision to die is not freely chosen but is compelled by the pain.” Dr. Campbell, a Sessional Instructor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary, believes there is no clear cut way to differentiate between “voluntary” and “involuntary” euthanasia under certain conditions. Many would agree with Dr. Campbell Campbell regarding this but we still must be sure we are exercising the true wishes of the patient. His insight on physician-assisted suicide does pose a problem (as stated in the title) but what is the solution? Further distinction between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia is not the solution. There are always exceptions to the rule.

In his discussion Dr. Campbell is aware that everyone is more concerned with the debates over “active” and “inactive” euthanasia but he believes that the real debate should be over “voluntary” and “involuntary” euthanasia. No one is as concerned with this distinction because involuntary euthanasia is unacceptable despite any situation and that is why Dr. Campbell wants the distinction to be taken seriously. In the passage Dr. Campbell uses the analogy between patients suffering extremes of pain who ask the doctor to assist in suicide and a prisoner who has been tortured for information. The prisoner does not want to reveal any information but to make the pain stop he is compelled to talk. Dr. Campbell concludes that “under the conditions of unbearable pain and suffering, then, if the concern of the agent is to alleviate the pain it seems to be a mistake to speak of voluntary choices.” Although they may seem rational under various conditions they have nothing to do with if the choice was made freely. We cannot be certain of the patient’s wishes when they get to the point where they can no longer freely choose the right to die, so we will use living will as a proxy. When that time does come in the patient’s life, even with the living will we are obligated to ask the patient up until the last possible moment if they still want their wishes to be followed. In doing so it puts us back in the predicament mentioned earlier.

Dr. Campbell has brought up a valid point that does raise questions regarding euthanasia. It is significant in the fact that many probably have not given this concept much thought. Although what he states regarding voluntary and involuntary euthanasia is a valid argument there is no proof for his statements. Who’s to say we are not capable of making such a decision as this when under unbearable pain and suffering? His analogy between the patients and the prisoners is false and confusing. The two instances have more differences than similarities and only succeed in confusing the reader. He tends to oversimplificate the solution to such a complex problem. Living wills alone are not going to end the rare debate over voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. In giving living wills as a possible solution he contradicts it, “we have no way of ensuring that the patient’s desire to end his life is freely chosen, and so, even with living wills it appears as though euthanasia is not permissible where unbearable pain and suffering are concerned.” He then concludes that a more careful distinction between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia will help solve the problem.

I agree with Dr. Campbell that more needs to be done to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia so we can ensure we are carrying out the true wishes of the patient but these distinctions can not be written in concrete because there are always exceptions to the rule. In his discussion Dr. Campbell assumes that the patient will be deciding upon euthanasia at the times when the pain is unbearable and that is not correct. According to Antony Flew, author of ?Advance Directives are the Solution to Dr. Campbell’s Problem for Voluntary Euthanasia,’ when the patients are fit and well they should consider the issues calmly and sign an advance directive. Issued by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, it states that the patient is of sound mind and body and agrees to euthanasia. The patient then signs the form in the presence of a witness and sends copies to practitioners and the next of kin. They will not be asked to make such a decision at the times of excruciating pain and imminent death.

The analogy between the terminally ill patient and the tortured prisoner does not benefit his argument; it is a false analogy. The terminally ill patient is not subject to pain on order for someone else to profit from it, as is the prisoner. Also under extreme circumstances prisoners would rather die than reveal their secrets to the enemy, and death is a way out of torture. As with the terminally ill patient they know that death is the only way out of their pain and by keeping their selves alive they may be subject to a painfully long death. Some chose to leave with dignity and chose euthanasia so families will not be burdened with what would happen eventually anyway. My point is the two are totally separate events and have some but not enough similarities to be used as an analogy.

Dr. Campbell then goes on to talk about how living wills can deviate the problem with voluntary and involuntary euthanasia since we can use the will as a proxy. This idea sounds appealing but Dr. Campbell ties it right back into the original problem. That if we are to value human life then indeed we are obligated to ask the patient until the last possible moment if we are to follow their wishes, and at the time the patient answers they may be under excruciating pain which leads us back to Dr. Campbell’s original problem. The problem that under such pain euthanasia is not a voluntary action but is compelled by the pain. This whole concept is very confusing to the reader. Dr. Campbell brings up living wills as a means to answer his problem with voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, yet he contradicts his solution. While trying to follow his logic and support for his contradiction, you find yourself lost in his reasoning. There is no simple one-step solution to the problem but know that since we are aware of it we can help find one.

Dr. Campbell’s problem with euthanasia is legit but not well thought out. In the beginning of his discussion his aim was to show the reader the distinction between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia should be taken seriously. Although he did show there needed to be a clearer distinction between the two, he did so through his own confusion and not supporting facts for his claim. His views regarding euthanasia were unclear. He states that involuntary euthanasia is not permissible, as anyone else would argue, but fails to state what his views regarding euthanasia are. Does he only agree with euthanasia if pain and suffering are not factors but other quality of life issues? Does he even agree with euthanasia voluntary or involuntary? Dr. Campbell should be credited for posing a problem that can give a lot of insight to euthanasia but he did so in an ill structured manner.

Campbell, Neil. (1999). A problem for the idea of voluntary euthanasia. Journal of Medical Ethics, 25 (3). 242-244


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