Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation

By John Keown | Go to book overview

4
The value of human life

The first argument for VAE concerns the value of human life. The argument runs that in certain circumstances, such as where a terminally ill patient requests accelerated death because of serious suffering, it is right for a doctor to comply with the request since death would benefit the patient. Many, however, would reject the claim that life can lose its worth so as to make death a benefit. Indeed, there are two philosophical schools of thought which strongly oppose any such claim. In order to clarify much of the confusion infecting this cardinal dispute, confusion which is rife not only among laypeople but also among doctors and lawyers, it is appropriate here to contrast three schools of thought about the value of human life.


'Vitalism' v. 'sanctity/inviolability of life' v. 'Quality of life'

Three competing views about the value of human life are: 'vitalism'; the 'sanctity/inviolability of life'; and 'Quality of life' (the reason for the capital 'Q' will become apparent below).


Vitalism

Vitalism holds that human life is an absolute moral value. Because of its absolute worth, it is wrong either to shorten the life of a patient or to fail to strive to lengthen it. Whether the life be that of a seriously disabled newborn baby or an elderly woman with advanced senile dementia, vitalism prohibits its shortening and requires its preservation. Regardless of the pain, suffering or expense that life-prolonging treatment entails, it must be administered. In short, the vitalist school of thought requires human life to be preserved at all costs.

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Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Foreword xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Table of Cases xvi
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Definitions 7
  • 1 - 'Voluntary Euthanasia' 9
  • 2 - Intended V. Foreseen Life-Shortening 18
  • 3 - 'Physician-Assisted Suicide' 31
  • Part II - The Ethical Debate: Human Life, Autonomy, Legal Hypocrisy, and the Slippery Slope 37
  • 4 - The Value of Human Life 39
  • 5 - The Value of Autonomy 52
  • 6 - Legal Hypocrisy? 58
  • 7 - The Slippery Slope Arguments 70
  • Part III - The Dutch Experience: Controlling Vae? Condoning Nvae? 81
  • 8 - The Guidelines 83
  • 9 - The First Survey: the Incidence of 'Euthanasia' 91
  • 10 - Breach of the Guidelines 103
  • 11 - The Slide Towards Nvae 115
  • 12 - The Second Survey 125
  • 13 - The Dutch in Denial? 136
  • Part IV - Australia and the United States 151
  • 14 - The Northern Territory: Rotti 153
  • 15 - Oregon: the Death with Dignity Act 167
  • Part V - Expert Opinion 181
  • 16 - Expert Committees 183
  • 17 - Supreme Courts 191
  • 18 - Medical Associations 208
  • Part VI - Passive Euthanasia: Withholding/withdrawing Treatment and Tube-Feeding with Intent to Kill 215
  • 19 - The Tony Bland Case 217
  • 20 - Beyond Bland: the Bma Guidance on Withholding/withdrawing Medical Treatment 239
  • 21 - The Winterton Bill 260
  • Conclusions 273
  • Afterword: the Diane Pretty Case 282
  • Bibliography 292
  • Index 303
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