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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Morally Dead

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act enables terminally-ill patients to obtain medications given to them by their physicians for self-administered lethal doses to advisedly discontinue their current lives filled with anguish and severe agony. “Over the 18 years since the law took effect, the State of Oregon reports over 1,500 terminally ill patients have received prescriptions for aid in dying medication, and just under 1,000 used that medication to hasten their deaths.” according to the official Death with Dignity website. Over the past eighteen years that this act has been in effect, it has not yet had any complications or evidence of abuse. Deborah Ziegler, author of the book, “Wild and Precious Life”, chronicles the life, death, and the legacy of her daughter, Brittany Maynard who decided to choose the route of self-assisted suicide after being diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a combative and incurable form of cancer. Maynard was told that they were certain she was dying but was introduced to several other options regarding the maintenance of her life, even though there was no possibility for a cure or pure serenity during this harsh sickness. Deborah Ziegler explained the tranquil passing of her daughter stating, “The sky wept. Brittany, my beautiful brave girl, passed away purposefully and peacefully, just as she planned. Death was kind, graceful even, and spared Brittany a great deal of physical pain and mental anguish.” Brittany Maynard and her family came to peace with her passing and chose to end her suffering presently. Of course, many people were outraged and believe that this act is a violation of a physician’s ethics and morals but there are differentiating philosophies behind this practice. Immanuel Kant’s philosophy addresses many concerns and metaphysical dilemmas, but of particular interest is his moral theory. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher from the Enlightenment era of the 18th century focused on deontology, the moral study of duty or obligation, in other words, doing the right thing no matter the consequences. To Kant, Humanity consists of the capacity to reason and the capacity to will. We are operatives who do things and who act in this world. But there are not soleful causes for what we do, there are reasons for what and why we do. Sometimes the reason we do things involves our desires which Kant identified as hypothetical imperatives. He believed that the right thing to do was to follow the categorical imperative, which is the absolute truth, the obligation to make the truth a necessity in one’s morals. In Kant’s eyes, we must be allowed to use our humanity, use our reason, construct our will, take action on our judgement, and not allow others to choose for us, otherwise, we our violating our own humanities. Therefore, in Brittany Maynard’s case and her decision to end her life before her cancer kills her off in a short period of time, he would agree with the decision. Kant would comply with the Death with Dignity Act since it is one’s own choice to end their own suffering. He would be against having the doctor or the family choose when it is time to pull the plug and he would also be against waiting for the cancer to choose when to take over her body and ultimately, be the cause of her death. By Maynard choosing to cut her life shorter, she did not base her decision on what would be the greater good for the greatest amount of people and that is what Kant agrees with. He does not think that consequences of people’s actions should matter and by Maynard losing her life, it affected a number of people that which does not matter to Kant. Reason is an intricate and essential part of human life as it is the main characteristic that separates human life from other forms. By Brittany Maynard being able to use her capacity to reason and capacity to will, the two things that make one’s humanities in Kant’s eyes, she made an ethical choice to end her life. John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant from the 19th century, believed that all events were determined but that people are free and morally responsible for their actions in certain ways. He was categorized as a soft determinist, meaning that human actions are both caused and free. He believed that actions are caused out of one’s character but just because an action is predictable, does not mean it is free. We as humans have the ability to make choices therefore, we are responsible for those choices. He also believes that our character could be changed by our will. His ethical philosophy is utilitarianism, “a doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically : a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary. His greatest happiness principle was built off having an abundance of happiness and the least amount of suffering. Also the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people was important in his ethical philosophy, unlike Kant. Mill looks into morality as a social practice and not as autonomous self-determination by reason, like Kant. Therefore, Mill would be against the Death with Dignity Act because it does not provide the greatest happiness for the most amount of people. It provides contentment with the specific person who is suffering, not even a form of happiness. Being injected with lethal doses does not provide pleasure, it causes pain to the victim and to the family and friends of the patient. Part of his greatest happiness principle is that mental pleasures rank higher than bodily pleasures. He said, “It is better to be the lowest point of a human, than the highest point of a pig.” By Maynard passing, it dramatically affects their mental pleasures because it causes mental pain. Mill believes that is it ethical to hurt someone if it benefits a number of people, so there is difficulty seeing long term and short term consequences which would be the patient enduring a monstrosity of pain and agony in order to make their family not have to witness their passing so soon. This creates a problem with real time decision making. It is fast and rapid point of decision making when the two choices are nearly impossible to choose, that is why there is a lack of acknowledging the consequences beforehand. There are opposing views and morals towards every philosopher’s ideas and beliefs because ethical and moral theories are difficult to wrap our brains around and agree on just one theory. There are very difficult alternatives in which people are confronted with regarding the Death with Dignity Act. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong because ethics are based on an individual, not on a universal standpoint. I agree with Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, people should be able to make their own decisions and if a sickness is so excruciating that they would rather die, then nobody should intervene with their desires.


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