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Arthur Dyck’s Paper an Alternative to the Ethic of Euthanasia

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The topic of euthanasia raises many moral questions as it involves a deliberate action or inaction which causes or allows for the death of a person. This action or inaction is done for the benefit of a person suffering from a painful, terminal illness by painless means such as a lethal dose of medication or the withdrawal of life sustaining treatments. Philosopher Arthur J. Dyck has published many objections to euthanasia, claiming that it is innately wrong for a person to end his or her own life and that benemortasia is an alternative, better approach to this issue. In this paper I will argue that Arthur Dyck fails in his objections to euthanasia.

In Arthur Dyck’s paper “An Alternative to the Ethic of Euthanasia,” he challenges the utilitarian view that supports active and passive euthanasia because he feels it does not adequately address intent. He does this through the creation of benemortasia which would allow for actions and inactions that could cause or hasten death but never because they cause or hasten death.  According to Dyck, “[Benemortasia] makes a moral distinction between acts that permit death and acts that cause death” (311). The difference between the two is a matter of intention; in euthanasia, he says the intention is simply death, while in benemortasia, death is a side effect of another intention. For example, it would be permissible for a person to take “potent doses” of a pain killing drug if the intention was to relieve pain and not to die. It would also be permissible to refuse life prolonging treatment such as being put on a ventilator if the intention was to live the rest of your life independently, without the assistance of a machine, rather than to die.

Dyck’s argument for benemortasia and his distinction between permitting and causing death are closely related to the doctrine of double effect, which, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “explains the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end” (McIntyre).  However, Dyck’s argument fails in applying this principle because it lacks specificity, and the good and bad effect are too closely related. The doctrine of double effect is commonly represented in Judith Jarvis Thompson's trolley problem, in which most people agree that it is permissible to redirect a speeding train by pulling a lever and killing one person on the redirected tracks, in order to prevent a train from killing five people on the main tracks. This applies to the doctrine of double effect in that killing the one person on the redirected track is a “merely foreseeable side effect” of redirecting the train. In this example, the good result, saving the five people, is achieved independently of the bad result, killing the one person, because the action is redirecting the train. In other words, saving the five and killing the one are only related through the intention of redirecting the train. Dyck’s argument fails in this respect because the good effect and bad effect are not always independent of each other. In many cases, the only way to relieve pain would be to administer a lethal dose of medication, and, I would argue, completely eliminating pain could only be achieved by administering a lethal dose of medication, which would make death a guarantee rather than a side effect. In this example, relieving pain and killing a person are not solely linked to each other based on the action of administering the medicine, but are directly related to each other. In this case, the bad effect would be the means of producing a good effect, which is inconsistent with claiming that death is a “merely foreseeable side effect.” Saying that death was not intended when it was an inevitable consequence of the action is less a matter of ethical distinction and more a matter of pragmatics. Because of this Dyck should not morally distinguish between euthanasia and benemortasia, or he should prove how to independently measure the reduction of someone's pain and shortening that person’s life.

In his essay, Dyck also equates voluntary euthanasia to suicide and assisted suicide, which he defines as “an act that has the immediate intent of ending life and has no other purpose.” (311). In the case of a terminally ill patient, suicide would be the use of a chemical or instrument by the patient or physician that’s sole and immediate effect is ending the patient’s life. He believes that causing one’s death cannot be justified in consideration of the harm it does to one’s self and others. Dyck states four reasons why suicide is wrong which include the fact that it “repudiates the meaningfulness and worth of [a person’s] own life,” it deprives others of access to the person, it may cause years of suffering for other people, and it implies that others may commit suicide if they see their lives as meaningless.

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