Euthanasia in the Eyes of Augustine
Is death ever an ethical choice?
Euthanasia became legal in 1997 under the Death with Dignity Act in the state of Oregon. In this law, euthanasia was defined as “physician assisted suicide” or “mercy killing,” which is only allowed as long as the person officially chooses it for themselves. However, a medical diagnosis of “terminally ill,” formal consent by the patient, and voluntary self-administration of the prescribed medicine were also conditions that must be considered before euthanasia could be an option (State). Supporters of the act, as well as supporters of physician assisted suicide, firmly believe that people have the right to make decisions affecting their own body, as well as the right to decide when and how their life ends. Opponents of euthanasia argue that life is valuable regardless of the level of pain and suffering being experienced at any given moment.
Based on what is known about Saint Augustine’s philosophy, physician assisted suicide is immoral for several reasons, many of which begin with his beliefs about God. Although Augustine’s ideas are hundreds of years old, they are still able to be accurately applied to modern issues such as euthanasia.
When analyzing any ethical view, it is important to consider the philosopher’s metaphysical view first. Augustine’s metaphysic revolves around God being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. This simply means that God is present everywhere, is capable of knowing everything, is able to do anything that can possibly be done, and is perfectly good. This establishes God’s perfection that is necessary when considering the standard for morality. In addition, God is the ultimate Creator and created everything except evil. Augustine believes God is the source and essence of love and goodness, and is triune, or is three equal parts: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because of God’s grace, His Son was sent to earth as fully God and fully man; He paid the price for humanity’s sin by dying, and was resurrected. Therefore, because God is perfect and is the Creator of everything, it follows that He is indispensable when considering morality.
Because God is the perfect form of every virtue that a person needs to attain, His perfection and example are necessary when considering ethics. Enjoying an ethical life means one must actively learn about the perfect form of goodness, love, and the other virtues that comprise God Himself and apply this knowledge to their life. In addition to being more like God, Augustine asserts that in order for someone to live ethically, that person must have a loving relationship with God which is made possible through God’s supernatural grace. Only when a person is ethical by these standards can they truly be happy. Not only is moving toward God the ultimate goal of attaining goodness and an ethical life, but moving away from God is the ultimate evil. Furthermore, evil is not something that exists or something anyone can possess, but rather is the absence of goodness. Someone who is unethical lacks the reflection of the character of God, as well as the relationship with God. It can be stated that one who is unethical lacks goodness or is evil.
Moreover, applying Augustine’s ethic to euthanasia reveals that because he believes God is the author of life, then God is the only one with the moral authority to terminate life. Physician assisted suicide blatantly forces God out of His sovereign role. This is unethical because it surrenders a divine will to a culture or an individual. Augustine’s ethical standard requires God’s full participation, as well as a society who is willing to allow Him to impose His perfect will. When God is not involved, all morality or purpose for morality has been lost. Therefore, euthanasia is morally unethical not only because it places a divine right into a fallible set of hands, but because it rejects God altogether. Some fear that eventually “terminally ill” may be broadened to include anyone who is in pain or simply uncomfortable. Even a bad divorce, financial hardship, or a life of misfortune and difficulty may lead to euthanasia wrongly being considered a viable option. Also, placing the wrong people in authority may eventually lead to lives being terminated solely because they are a drain on society: the sick, disabled, elderly, uneducated, or even those who oppose the current government. It is not man’s purpose to decide who lives and who dies, but rather the irreplaceable role of an omnibenevolent, or an all-good God.
In addition to removing God from His indispensable role in life, Augustine’s ethical theory claims that anything that moves someone away from God is immoral.
The act of euthanasia moves people away from God, which deems it unethical. Because, as previously stated, ethical people actively move towards God in every way. Not only is the dying person being forced away from God, but those assisting in the act are separating themselves from Him as well. When people act in such a way that moves them or someone else closer to God they are doing something ethical. Consequently, their relationship with God is deepened, their moral standing is elevated, and the goal of happiness is now within reach. In contrast, those directly involved in physician assisted suicide cannot be happy or ethical; and their relationship with God is hindered because of their choice to move away from Him. By all accounts, Augustine considers this evil.
Another way to apply Augustine’s ethical theory is to acknowledge that human life is precious. A person’s intrinsic value is incredibly significant because each person is made in the image of God. When every life is viewed as sacred, it becomes the priority of humanity to preserve life for as long as possible, regardless of the obstacles that may exist. Since euthanasia does not preserve life, it devalues it. In addition, it does not honor people for who they are, but rather for what they can contribute to society either now or in the future. This means life has less purpose, and people are not being seen the way God sees them. Because physician assisted suicide does not reflect the character of God, humanity should not accept it. In a truly ethical society, a reflection of the perfect example of morality, or God, will be apparent and happiness will prevail.
In conclusion, Augustine’s ethical view is not the only implication to consider when analyzing whether euthanasia is immoral. If it becomes morally acceptable as an option that is quick, painless, and affordable, then it could easily lead to being the more preferred option. This would result in medical advancements being rare due to a decrease in their necessity. Long term implications, including abuse, must also be considered. Nevertheless, the final result of legalizing euthanasia will be a society that ultimately rejects God, embraces an unethical standard, and will never achieve happiness.The great philosopher, Saint Augustine, would undoubtedly feel compelled to declare such a society as evil.
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