lafollette - 1 Rule-Utilitarianism and Euthanasia Brad...

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Brad Hooker 1 Introduction As scientific and technological advances enable the medical profession to keep people alive longer, the question arises whether this is always a good thing. Should those who could prolong life step back under certain conditions and allow a very ill person to die? And if allowing to die is sometimes right, then what about actively killing patients when this would be better for the patients than allowing them to die more slowly and painfully? Such questions are debated under the heading of euthanasia. The term ``euthanasia'' derives from the Greek term for an easy, pain- less death. However, we often now hear the term ``passive euthanasia,'' which refers to pass- ing up opportunities to save an individual from death, out of concern for that individual. If passive euthanasia is indeed one kind of eutha- nasia, then ``euthanasia'' cannot mean ``killing painlessly''; for to pass up an opportunity to save someone, i.e., passive euthanasia, is argu- ably not killing . Furthermore, the death in- volved in passive euthanasia is often painful . So let us take the term ``euthanasia'' to mean ``either killing or passing up opportunities to save someone, out of concern for that person.'' (Note that, on this definition, what the Nazis called ``euthanasia'' was not euthanasia, because it was not done out of concern for the pa- tients.) Different moral theories will of course ap- proach questions about the moral status of eu- thanasia in different ways, though some of these theories will end up with the same conclusions. This essay considers euthanasia from the per- spective of just one moral theory. The theory is rule-utilitarianism. Rule-utilitarianism assesses possible rules in terms of their expected utility. It then tells us to follow the rules with the greatest expected utility. (Expected utility is calculated by multiplying the utility of each possible outcome by the probability that it will occur.) In the next section, I explain what the term ``utility'' means. Then I outline another utilitar- ian theory ± act-utilitarianism. I do this in order to contrast rule-utilitarianism with this perhaps more familiar theory. I then outline the distinc- tions between different kinds of euthanasia. The final sections of the paper consider the various factors that would go into a rule-utilitarian de- cision about euthanasia. 2 Utility A moral theory is utilitarian if and only if it assesses acts and/or rules in terms of nothing but their utility. Classical utilitarianism took ``utility'' to refer to the well-being of sentient creatures. And classical utilitarianism took the well-being of sentient creatures to consist in Rule-Utilitarianism and Euthanasia 1 22
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pleasure and the absence of pain (Bentham, 1823; Mill, 1863; Sidgwick, 1874). On this view, people's level of well-being is determined solely by how much pleasure and pain they experience. If anything is desirable for its own sake,
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This note was uploaded on 07/20/2011 for the course PHIL 1450 taught by Professor Sutton,p during the Spring '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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lafollette - 1 Rule-Utilitarianism and Euthanasia Brad...

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