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.
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 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.