The Controversy of Ethics of Euthanasia

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 3
Words: 923
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

The debates concerning the topic of euthanasia have been going on in the world for decades. ‘Euthanasia’ is a word that comes from Greek and is translated as ‘good death’ (Rachels, 2017). What it refers to is the cessation of an individual’s life to end their pain, usually when they have an incurable disease or a condition in an end-stage. Those who advocate for euthanasia argue that everyone has the right to decide for themselves when it comes to death, and that euthanasia is aimed at alleviating one’s suffering, which is why it is called ‘mercy killing’. Those who consider euthanasia to be inadmissible speak about the sanctity of human life and how euthanasia is murder, in addition to how it violates human rights and one’s autonomy. Moreover, opponents of euthanasia consider good palliative care to be a healthy alternative to it in terms of providing relief to patients suffering. However, when it comes to deciding on putting an end to the suffering of a loved one, despite many anti-euthanasia arguments, it can still be advised to go for it, out of mercy and compassion.

There are several solid arguments put forward by proponents of euthanasia. For one, they believe that it is a patient’s right to be able to decide about their death, and this is founded on the postulates of autonomy and self-determination (Mendz & Kissane, 2020). Mendz and Kissane (2020) state that the concept of autonomy is one of a person having the right to make decisions regarding themselves as long as it does not harm others. Consequently, an individual must have the right to control their body and be able to decide when and how they die if they wish to do so. Furthermore, euthanasia supporters state that relieving the pain and agony of a person through euthanasia brings more benefits than drawbacks. They argue that society’s underlying moral values and its propensity to mercy and compassion demand that no person is allowed to suffer, and, therefore, that mercy killing is to be allowable.

Another viewpoint that euthanasia advocates hold is that active euthanasia is morally equal to passive euthanasia, which is the withdrawal or withholding of medical attendance resulting in the death of a patient. Consequently, since passive euthanasia is permitted, so should the active one. James Rachels, an American philosopher, states that there is no moral distinction between killing someone and leaving them to die and illustrates it with the help of two hypothetical scenarios. Rachels (2017) suggests one imagine Smith, who, upon knowing that he receives an inheritance if anything happens to his young cousin, intends to drown the child in a bath. In the other scenario, Smith, intending to drown the child, witnesses him drown by accident and allows it to happen. Rachels (2017) argues that there is no moral difference between these scenarios, and one is not worse than the other. The philosopher notes that active euthanasia is even more humane because lethally injecting someone can be quick and painless, whereas the practice of passive euthanasia can lead to a death that is relatively slow and agonizing.

On the other hand, euthanasia opponents have their own set of arguments that can convince someone of the unacceptability of the practice. Central to euthanasia’s impermissibility is the argument for the sanctity of life, and it can have religious as well as secular underpinnings. The idea at the heart of it is that human life is to be revered and preserved. Therefore, an act the primary purpose of which is the killing of a person is essentially wrong, even if one consents to it. Moreover, Keown (2018) states that requests for euthanasia are rarely made after the establishment of appropriate palliative care. It means that such care alleviates patients’ pain and suffering and makes euthanasia practically useless.

In addition to that, some believe that if euthanasia became common practice, it could lead to situations that compromise vulnerable patients’ rights. For instance, patients that receive expensive treatment might be forced to undergo euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Furthermore, there is an argument that euthanasia – actively voluntary or assisted by a professional – undermines the relationship between a doctor and a patient and destroys the trust that is created in this relationship. The role of a doctor is to save lives, and appointing them to end lives instead challenges the aims of the medical profession. Finally, human autonomy as an argument is used in the case against euthanasia as well. Keown (2018) cites Kant and Mill, according to whom the principle of autonomy prohibits the voluntary termination of the conditions required for autonomy, which occurs as a result of the cessation of one’s life. Some argue that patients’ euthanasia requests are rarely autonomous, due to most terminally ill not being of a sound mind.

In conclusion, euthanasia is a very controversial issue, and both sides of the debate provide convincing arguments. On the one hand, there are talks about one’s autonomy to decide how and when to die, the alleviating of pain and suffering, and the lack of moral difference between active and passive euthanasia. On the other hand, some speak about the sanctity of life, the undermining of the doctor-patient relationship, and the proper palliative care as a substitute for euthanasia. When it comes to deciding a loved one’s life, one should resort to what they believe will be the best for the person. If palliative care does not help anymore and the only way to end the pain is to terminate one’s life, euthanasia is the solution.


Keown, J. (2018). Euthanasia, ethics and public policy: An argument against legalisation. Cambridge University Press.

Mendz, G. L., & Kissane, D. W. (2020). Agency, autonomy and euthanasia. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 48(3), 555-564.

Rachels, J. (2017). Active and passive euthanasia. In J.P. DeMarco & R.M. Fox (Eds.), New directions in ethics: The challenge of applied ethics (pp. 423-427). Routledge.