Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kantian vs. Utilitarian Ethics of Euthanasia...

Euthanasia is often considered a moral issue. Two most famous ethicists are John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Aside from the cultural and religious aspects on dying, Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics discuss how we, as humans, should pursue our lives. Both theories play an important role in how one views the rights and wrongs of euthanasia.
Mill, a British philosopher, supported the Utilitarianism perspective which is known as, "The Greatest Happiness" principle. When discussing utilitarianism in regards to euthanasia, it is safe to say that Mill is in favor of Active Euthanasia, as it ends the suffering of the person and the choice to end life is the greatest happiness for the greatest number. An additional assumption held by the Utilitarian Theory includes the pursuit of happiness. Mill believed in two classes of pleasure: higher and lower. Higher being a person's intellect and lower being the body. When a person is faced with the end of their life, it is said that we should agree that the absence of pain and the pride of the person should be taken into great consideration. When a terminally ill person is no longer capable of intellectual pursuits, is in constant pain and must rely on others for all of their needs, Mill feels that it is a more dignified choice to end the suffering, therefor fulfilling the "absence of pain" principle (pain including one's inability to seek higher pleasure through intellectual pursuit). This leads me to believe that in this case, the intention to end suffering is more meaningful than the act of euthanasia itself.
Kant, however, provides us with a very different perspective to consider. His theories on mortality are derived from the Greek "deontology," which means obligation. Kant, often hard to understand, has many different terms for different things. The one that I see fit for euthanasia is the "Formula of the End in Itself." According to Kant's Ethics, "the more difficult the duty, the greater the moral value." This means that choosing to tough out the dying process naturally is more important than ending it at will. In addition, Kantian Ethics believe that the law should be followed to establish greater satisfaction in knowing that one has followed the law. Kantian Ethics also state that the intentions of an act are more important than the act itself. Some may fear that Kant's theory on euthanasia is that if one feels it is okay to end the life of a "competent" terminally ill patient, then society might also feel that it their duty to decide the fate of "incompetent" people who may not contribute to society, are handicapped or elderly.


  1. thank you for this post it really helped me to understand the two different theories for my ethics assignment :)

  2. I agree, thank you for this post as well! I have been digging for two hours to discover the differences between the theories involving PAS.

  3. this is the reason that i want to have euthanasia