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AQA RS 'Ending the Life of a Human Being' Essay
Question 1 (30 Marks)
The Christian bible contains many teachings that can be interpreted in many ways, these ways include the justification or objection to the ending of another person's life in all circumstances.
Perhaps the clearest teaching on this topic is found in the ten commandments: 'thou shalt not kill" which some could argue clearly states that no form of killing, whether it be euthanasia or abortion, is acceptable in the eyes of Christianity.
Although this argument may seem strong at first glance, it can be challenged with such questions as "is abortion really murder?" Many Christians don't accept that it is because they believe an undeveloped foetus isn't a human when it is aborted. Other Christians hold the view that human life starts at conception because of bible quotes like "your eyes saw my unformed body" and "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" and therefore state that to kill a foetus is to interfere with God's plan for that person and go against God. Contrary to that, you could argue that if God is omnipotent and has a plan for all of us, then any time an abortion does or did occur it was part of his plan. Overall, then, the argument that life starts at conception is weak.
Similarly, one could argue that euthanasia is not "killing" because permission is given for the action (not applicable to involuntary euthanasia) and so the ten commandments does not apply to it. Christians could argue though that since we are made in God's image and it was him that gave us life, we have no right to give permission to end it (or end the life of a foetus in abortion).
Regarding Jesus and his teachings, one could argue that he does not support euthanasia or abortion because it is not within the parameters of 'love thy neighbour' because killing your neighbour could never be loving. This could be challenged with the idea that sometimes putting him out of his misery is the most loving thing to do for your neighbour (euthanasia) and that allowing an abortion could be the most loving thing because having the child could devastate the mother's life (physically or mentally).
A counter argument to the point on abortion from the Christians' side would be that the child could be given up for adoption (2 million+ americans want to adopt each year) if the mother feels like she could not look after the child properly - this would help another family whilst also helping the mother not live with the guilt of killing her baby. As for pregnant women who are not physically capable of giving birth, they should not have had sex (or used contraception) knowing that they could get pregnant. Rape victims should have used the morning pill.
Overall, then, Christians could claim that there is no acceptable reason for killing in both euthanasia and abortion.
‘Human beings should be able to decide when to die.’ Discuss how far you agree with this statement. (15 marks)
On the one hand, deciding when your body should finally die seems inherently a decision you should be able to make, but on the other, just like you didn't choose when to be born perhaps you shouldn't choose when to die. Many arguments can be said for both cases.
Most utilitarian approaches would probably side with the idea that we should be able to choose when to die because we would only do so for the good of ourselves or for others. For example, if huge amounts of suffering would be saved by ending one's own life, and all family members would also want the same, all types of utilitarianism (especially Karl Popper's negative utilitarianism and preference utilitarianism) would state that it is for the greatest good that you are allowed to kill yourself (or otherwise decide when to die). The difficulty would arise when family members don't want the same result as the person who wishes to decide when he dies, and quantifying the levels of utility for each member would be a difficult and subjective task.
Equally, the same arguments above would apply if one were to use Joseph Fletcher's situation ethics - maximising the amount of agape love resulted from various situations would be just as impossible as to do so with utility. Again, in clear cases when both the family and the person want that person to die at a particular time, or when both parties do not want that, would be easy to decide via situation ethics as it is with utilitarianism.
With regard to society as a whole, perhaps there would not be a maximisation of utility or agape love if people were allowed to choose when to die, because of minority cases where people were not in the correct state of mind to decide what they wanted best, and would have regretted their decision if they could e.g. a drunk person who lost his job may wish to end his life on that day, but would not the next day in a sober state. On the other hand, denying people a seemingly natural right to end our own lives would probably lead to mass displeasure by most citizens in our society, being neither the utilitarian nor the agape thing to do.
Overall, then, I would state that because societally denying the right would lead to the greatest amount of displeasure (agape or not) out of the two options, I strongly agree that human beings should be able to decide when to die. However, because I suspect that there are situations and circumstances that I have never thought of, I believe the court of law should be able to deny people the right to end their lives in special circumstances e.g. someone who is responsible for looking after many other lives without whom those lives would perish - an important scientist or nuclear disarmament specialist for example.