G 1 A Utilitarian Perspective on Euthanasia Dr. Dwayne Moore PHIL 1100H 10 March 2015
G 2 The field of utilitarianism is an essential branch of the tree of moral philosophy. According to the utilitarianist school of thought, our ultimate moral goal should be that of achieving the most happiness possible for ourselves and those around us. When pitted against the challenging moral dilemma that is euthanasia or mercy killing, a very serious ethical concern arises; is it the proper mindset of a utilitarian to accept this specific form of killing as the ideal ‘good’ deed? In this field, is death ever the ideal deed? In this paper I argue that in the case of euthanasia, the action that will result in the most possible happiness is that of euthanasia’s legalization. This paper contains six sections. After clearly defining the concept of utilitarianism (1) and euthanasia (2), I argue that the most utilitarian mindset in regards to euthanasia is that of support (3). Continuing forward, I will introduce some utilitarian concerns regarding the support of the chosen moral issue (4a), as well as some concerns with utilitarianism as a whole (4b) before providing solid answers to said concerns and proving my thesis (5). (1) The concept of utilitarianism is one revolving around the principle of ‘the great happiness’, which can be summarized as “the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals […] the Greatest Happiness Principle. It holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (Barrow, 39). In short, the utilitarian believes in the simple formula of “the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers” (39), but what exactly is meant by ‘happiness’? For the purpose of clarity and understanding, happiness is characterized as what is found in happy people, meaning “those who do not suffer from things such as despair, dismay, alienation, loneliness, frustration or disappointment; they are content with the world as they perceive it and their lot in it” (41).
G 3 Although slightly vague and open for some debate, this description amply sums up what is here meant by happiness. An individual who follows this school of thought believes that a deed is made morally acceptable or damnable not by the act itself, but by what results from said act. When faced with a seriously conflicting dilemma, like that of euthanasia, the proper response of the utilitarian is to consider what will result from the act before making a decision. In this case, one utilitarian may consider euthanasia a ‘good’ act, because it results in the peaceful passing of an individual in pain while another may consider it ‘bad’ because it results in a loss of life and a family tragedy.
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