Utilitarian theory of euthanasia
There are various concerns that arise whenever ethical perspectives of an issue are considered. In the medical field, nurses and other healthcare providers are guided by the ethical concepts of their actions and decisions. Euthanasia has triggered various discussions and evaluation on the involvement of the nurses and their influence on the practice. Euthanasia is defined as the deliberate termination of the life of a patient through the use of a lethal medication directly or indirectly administered by a healthcare provider (Gorsuch, 2009). In evaluating the various support systems and arguments towards euthanasia, two perspectives emerge; it is an action of support to the wishes of the patient, and it is murder. One perspective to consider is the utilitarian view, which is based on the assumption that the action of an individual is justified or considered as right if the overall outcome is promoting the happiness of individuals. This paper, therefore, discusses the various perspectives related to utilitarian theory and its support for euthanasia as choice healthcare providers could consider in treating patients at the end-of-care situation.
Utilitarian theory supports happiness and pleasure. The utilitarian theory considers that any action is justified if the general outcome leads to the happiness of the other (O’Donohue & Ferguson, 2003). As such, any action that could be decided upon by an individual is measured in terms of the outcomes to classify as whether it is right or wrong. The theory considers the perceptive of others rather than an individual, which is positive in determining the ability of an individual to make a choice that is holistic and of interest to many others. Pleasure or happiness is defined under the utilitarian theory as the absence of pain. Therefore, any actions selected by an individual have to promote the pleasure of the other rather than pain. Any actions that can lead to pain or displeasure are then considered as wrong.
The utilitarian theory considers that individuals desire happiness more than pain. Individuals would desire to be happy at all times irrespective of the situation (Shafer-Landau, 2012). As a result, the theory sees happiness as the basis of human morality and that all other objects of individual’s desires are based on their ability to be happy. Justice is also based on happiness considering that there is an understanding among individuals and cohesion if they see each other as equals rather than competitors.
Utilitarian ethical theory in medical context
In a medical context, the utilitarian theory is applied to the actions that a healthcare provider could use in ensuring the happiness of their patients. Similarly, any action that a healthcare provider considers or takes in treating a patient and leads to the relief of pain or suffering is considered as right. It is the obligation of healthcare providers to save the life of the patient in any situation. In cases, where the patient or the immediate relative of the patient considers euthanasia as the solution, the healthcare provider has to respect the wish of the patient. In this case, the physician is taking action to minimalize or reduce the pain the patient is experiencing. Terminally ill patients suffer a great deal of pain during their treatment period, which affects their ability to connect even with some of their close relatives increasing their lack happiness. If a physician considers euthanasia as an alternative for such a situation, it is ethically acceptable for the patient’s, and the family members benefit.
Therefore, by using the utilitarian theory as the basis of support for euthanasia, two principles can be established to be core in determining the actions to take. The principles of autonomy and rational self-determination consider that patients have the right to make decisions regarding their treatment plan, which in adverse situations could also mean lethal injection or termination of life. Similarly, patients and the family members of a patient should not undergo suffering when a healthcare provider is aware that there is an alternative that can be considered in treating the patient.
Hippocratic Oath and euthanasia
Despite the intended outcome that the theory considers as of benefit to the patient, healthcare providers face a dilemma in dispensing their duties towards the patients. The Hippocratic Oath among physicians is based on the principles that healthcare providers are under obligation to save lives rather than end life through any means including the administration of lethal injections or prescriptions. It is contradictory for the healthcare providers to consider euthanasia as an alternative for treatment and care of patients. In part, the department of health in various regions and states also consider that adopting euthanasia is not a legal option that the healthcare providers can consider in dispensing care to patients.
At the same time, opting to use euthanasia as the best option for treatment does not help increase happiness among patients, but rather transfers the pain to the family members. Terminating the life of a patient is the beginning of mourning for their families, which creates another form of unhappiness. Therefore, the critics to the adoption of euthanasia consider that even if the approach helps eliminate the pain the patient is feeling, the family will be feeling another form of pain, which raises the question to the need to adopt the approach as an alternative to terminally ill patients. It is their argument that the patient also has the option to consider remaining alive for the immediate family members. In this case, it is considered that if the patient decides to remain alive rather than consider euthanasia, they are opting for societal happiness, which also reflects on the value that the community contains to uphold in relation to life and health.
Happiness is the main objective of the utilitarian theory. In the discussion of euthanasia, the happiness of the patient is viewed in two different perspectives; the choice of the patient and that of the society. Utilitarianism considers that any action taken has to take into consideration the subsequent consequences that others experience rather than individual justify an action as being right. Euthanasia can be viewed as an alternative considered as a way to relieve pain and restoring the dignity of an individual. In the context of the health service of the healthcare provider services, choosing euthanasia is their respect for the principle of autonomy and rational self-determination of the patient. Terminally ill patients undergo excruciating pain in some situations increasing the need for the physician to consider termination as an alternative. However, the decision can only be undertaken if there is consent from the patient and the immediate relative. Euthanasia is an option that needs to be discussed in a broader perspective to help people understand its objectives. Similarly, basing on the utilitarian perspective, human life is invaluable, and the happiness of the patient should come first in the decisions or services that are made.
Gorsuch, N. M. (2009). The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.
O’Donohue, W., & Ferguson, K. E. (2003). Handbook of Professional Ethics for Psychologists: Issues, Questions, and Controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA. SAGE.
Shafer-Landau, R. (2012). Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley.