Human life as goodness: why euthanasia is morally unacceptable

Authors: David Černý
Authors‘ workplace: Kabinet zdravotnického práva a bioetiky Ústavu státu a práva AV ČR, v. v. i., Praha
Published in: Vnitř Lék 2018; 64(3): 245-256
Category: Reviews


The current discussion of the moral admissibility or inadmissibility of euthanasia should, in my opinion, consider the greatest possible number of the shared premises of the two opinion camps. That is why I followed a thesis in this paper that the question of the good life is the focus of ethical interest, as this is what connects the advocates and the opponents to euthanasia. In the first part of the paper I critically discuss the two main theories of the good life widely embraced among the advocates of euthanasia: hedonism and desire-fulfilment theory. My focus is to show that both of them are descriptively inadequate, not quite in agreement with the intuitions and ideas that we have about the good life. From this critique I proceed towards the objective theory of full-fledged human development known as the natural law theory. Within this framework I discuss in depth the nature of life as the objective goodness and go over to a brief criticism of utilitarianism, the theory dominating bioethics today; I derive several normative conclusions from the nature of the fundamental goods, leading to the conclusion that an innocent human life cannot be ended under any circumstances. The second part of this paper focuses on the current critique of the medical practice which, as physicians assert, adheres to the norm forbidding to end a patient’s life, while the actual practice is different. I undertake a detailed analysis of the possibility of distinguishing between the behaviours and classifying them under 1 of 2 categories: causing injury (including termination of life) and allowing injury to happen (including death). I am trying to show that it is possible to make this distinction. In the final part I briefly outline the method of supplying arguments in support of a thesis that there exists a moral asymmetry between the two categories of behaviour, so the moral admissibility of one (letting die) cannot form a basis for the moral admissibility of the other.

Key words:
allowing harm – consequentialism – desire fulfillment theory – doing harm – euthanasia – hedonism – natural law ethics – preferentialism – utilitarianism


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