Assisted Suicide And Euthanasia: A Natural Law Ethics Approach 

Paterson first encountered the very controversial and troubled topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia while in college in the 80’s. The author reflects on being affected by arguments brought forward against the case for legalizing certain forms of assisted death. He described said arguments as basically the product of religious-based ideology. Paterson wrote the book on the topic because he saw a gap in the previous written works that needed to be addressed. He took a non-natural approach over the natural law ethics that may not be an ethical or political approach. He calls his approach a revised natural law ethics approach. He begins his reflective approach by stating that “It is always and everywhere morally wrong to intentionally kill an innocent person as a means to an end,” and he provides defensive arguments for the importance of this principle. Paterson refutes the moral or legal right to intentionally assist the death of any patient even with said patient’s consent to end pain and suffering.

To support this thesis, Paterson proposes the revised natural law approach to moral reasoning by making rational points about the person’s respect as a patient and human life; “The rationale for adopting a natural law approach to moral discourse stood in need of stronger justification.” Simultaneously, he points out that the natural law approach has always been justified and supported by religious groups and he realizes that this approach may not be familiar to the readers, or familiar only in a religious guise. To lead his readers through his mind, Paterson states the differences between moral law and the law of nature, secular and religious testimonies, objectivism and subjectivism, naturalism and non-naturalism, etc. This was to make his book’s language more understandable, and to clearly state the differences in the definition of suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

According to the author, “Suicide is an action (or omission) informed by the intended objective, whether as an end or as a means to some further end, that one’s bodily life be terminated”. He analyzes the meanings of assisted suicide, starting from the acceptance of the “role played by a third party in the suicide of another person” and euthanasia in every form might also be considered a form of assisted suicide. He uses the example of the physician who gives a patient a lethal dose of a drug to end his/her life. If the physician himself gives the drug, we are left with the question of can we consider the physician’s act a case of assisted suicide or euthanasia? According to Paterson’s definition of assisted suicide, “a third-party action informed by the intended objective (at the very least), to furnish a potential suicide with the lethal means necessary to end his or her bodily life”, the physician’s act can be classified as assisted suicide.

Finally, Paterson defines the term euthanasia according to its Greek etymology as “a gentle and easy death.” He points out that it is only in the late 19th century that we define the term used in the meaning of “the action of inducing a gentle and easy death.” He denounces this definition and concluded that euthanasia is a form of homicide. In chapter 2, the author analyzes the biggest point that supports the moral and political acceptability of some forms of suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia (example the quality-of-life, personal autonomy arguments and self-determination). He further explains in the third chapter his revised natural law approach that includes his views about the “goods” of people. Paterson lists “human life and health, knowledge, truth and contemplation, practical rationality, family and friendship, work, and play and beauty” as primary goods of persons that are also primary factors of a fulfilling life.

The secondary goods according to Paterson are power, pleasure and pain, and personal autonomy. He ends the chapter with some practical rationalities and stating some requirements that help us to pursue good and stray away from evil. In the subsequent chapters, he ponders on the philosophical reflection about the good of human life. He talks about action-types, normative demands, and some basic aspects of the meaning of respect for human life from which he coins the moral point of view, it is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent person.

Paterson argues that it is wrong to try to appeal to personal autonomy as a means to justify the termination of a person’s life. Paterson emphasizes on his point that all individuals are human persons. He tries to make a clear distinction between non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. He brings forth the issue of artificial hydration and nutrition for patients in the persistent vegetative state (PVS) and he believes that “withdrawing or withholding nutrition and fluids from PVS patients will end their lives in a short amount of time.” With that point made, he concludes that providing nutrition and fluids via tubes is helping the patient with their eating and drinking needs thus it cannot be considered a “treatment,” but ordinary, everyday care. In his final chapter, he speaks on the role of the state in suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. He mentions that the state undermines the respect for life by passing the state-sanctioned policies of assisted suicide or euthanasia. In conclusion, the author offers an insightful reflection on one of the most important topics in today’s society and human existence using his revised, secular, natural law perspective.

31 August 2020
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