How Would Relative Morality be Applied to Euthanasia?
Do you think Euthanasia should be legal?
A Moral Relativist is someone who recognises that different people have different opinions on what is morally acceptable. They realise that people will disagree on issues, but neither view is right or wrong. So how does this apply to euthanasia? Well, first it means that a relativist would be open to hearing both sides of the story - the person who wants to be euthanised, and those who oppose it.
The most controversial circumstance is when it comes to active euthanasia, which has been made illegal in the UK (which is unusual since from 1961 it has been legal to commit suicide, but is still not legal to have assisted suicide. This is most likely because people – for instance those in the Catholic Church – would consider it wrong to bring in another person into the picture of ending a life, as it may be seen as if in a way that person is in fact committing murder. ) Active euthanasia would mean taking an active part in the assisted suicide, for example, taking a similar situation of a woman who has an incurable disease, but one that won’t kill her for many years to come. This does still mean that she is in a lot of pain, pain killers don’t have much effect and this suffering will go on for several more years. She might decide that the agony is just too much to go through and that she would rather die now instead of continue to suffer. This would mean that she would need to be given a lethal injection that would effectively end her life. Where some people may think this is acceptable because it still has the effect of a shorter wholesome life instead of a longer painful one, others such as followers of Natural Law might say that God has not chosen this woman to die yet, she has many more years to go, so we can’t meddle in his plans by giving euthanasia because it is unnatural.
Though some people like Absolutists may believe that all life should be preserved in all circumstances, there is a larger percentage of the population who disagree with this, myself being one of them. I believe that euthanasia – passive or active – should be legal and if there is a case extensive enough and the patient wishes it then it should be allowed because it gives freedom of choice.
Some ethical moralists who would oppose active Euthanasia are those who follow Natural Law, or are pro-life. They would state that life is sacred and should be preserved, and that it is a sin against God to take away a life that he created. Many may push the point further by saying that only God can decide when one’s life should end.
However, a Relativist may argue with Situationism; I.E. there is no universal standard to all people and in every situation the moral standard would vary. They might argue with an example such as a person being in a vegetative coma and it is unknown if they would wake up or not. The family or doctor has the choice of whether to let them go or keep them on life support.
Some people might say that it is wrong to use euthanasia in this case because: there is a chance that the patient would wake up or the patient might not agree with it if they conscious to decide; on the other hand some people might say that it is right to use euthanasia in this case because: it is unlikely the patient will recover, the hospital bed is needed for other patients, (Kantian ethics would disagree with this because it would be treating the person as a means to get an extra bed, instead of an end in themselves) it is too traumatic for the family to see their loved on in that state or perhaps the family were close enough to know that that would have been the patient’s decision.
As you can see, a relativist is weighing up the situation in hand; the people and statistics involved are what makes the action acceptable or unacceptable, not the action itself. So if the family consent to euthanasia and the statistics give a less than twenty percent chance of recovery, then euthanasia is morally right, however, is the family don’t consent and they is a sixty percent chance of recovery, then euthanasia would be morally wrong.
When it comes to passive euthanasia, Religious moralists would be more inclined to accept it. For example, if a person needed to take a certain drug for the rest of their life to live, but that quality of life was low, then a Catholic or someone who follows Natural Law might support the case for passive euthanasia since it does not actually takes steps to end ones life, but stopping medication, which will in turn have a secondary effect of that patient dying. This way they are not actually killing the person themselves but allowing nature to take its course. Natural Law would say it was a natural death because it didn’t involve any technology to end the life and Catholics might say that the treatment should have been stopped because it was God’s intention for that person to die at this time and we have no right to interfere with his decision.
Though a Relativist may agree with the decision made, it would not be for the same reasons as that of the other groups. Their reason would be based more on pro-choice, saying that it was up to the person on the medication whether to continue to live by taking medication, or to die peacefully and stop taking the medication.
In conclusion, Relativist morality can be applied to euthanasia either to be for or against it depending on the given situation such as the people involved, the place it takes place and the time it takes place, not on whether it should universally the same for everybody like an Absolutist would say.