Euthanasia: The Moral Issues

By Robert M. Baird; Stuart E. Rosenbaum | Go to book overview

10
Sanctity of Life versus Quality of Life

Joseph Fletcher

It is harder morally to justify letting somebody die a slow and ugly death, dehumanized, than it is to justify helping him to escape from such misery. This is the case at least in any code of ethics which is humanistic or personalistic, i.e., in any code of ethics which has a value system that puts humanness and personal integrity above biological life and function. It makes no difference whether such an ethics system is grounded in a theistic or a naturalistic philosophy. We may believe that God wills human happiness or that man's happiness is, as Protagoras thought, a self-validating standard of the good and the right. But what counts ethically is whether human needs come first—not whether the ultimate sanction is transcendental or secular.

What follows is a moral defense of human initiatives in death and dying. Primarily I mean active or direct euthanasia, which helps the patient to die, not merely the passive or indirect form of euthanasia which "lets the patient go" by simply withholding life-preserving treatments. The plain fact is that indirect or negative euthanasia is already a fait accompli in modern medicine. Every day in a hundred hospitals across the land decisions are made clinically that the line has been crossed from prolonging genuinely human life to only prolonging

____________________
From "Euthanasia," in Humanhood: Essays in Biomedical Ethics ( Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1979), pp. 149-158. Copyright 1979 by Joseph Fletcher.

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