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British Humanist
Humanists are non-religious people who
live by moral principles based on reason
and respect for others, not obedience to
dogmatic rules.
 They promote happiness and fulfillment in
this life because they believe it is the only
one we have.
 Humanist concern for quality of life and
respect for personal autonomy lead to the
view that in many circumstances voluntary
euthanasia is the morally right course.
 Most humanists support legalising
voluntary euthanasia
Personal Autonomy
Human beings have the right to die when
and how they want to
 Many people think that each person has the
right to control his or her body and life and
so should be able to determine at what time,
in what way and by whose hand he or she
will die.
Behind this lies the idea that human
beings should be as free as possible - and
that unnecessary restraints on human
rights are a bad thing.
 And behind that lies the idea that human
beings are independent biological entities,
with the right to take and carry out
decisions about themselves, providing the
greater good of society doesn't prohibit
 Allied to this is a firm belief that death is
the end (no heaven/re-birth etc.)
Quality of Life
The principal argument is that a person
who is suffering from a terminal illness and
who may be in considerable pain and
limited in many activities of daily living,
and who may be entirely reliant on their
family or friends for their day-to-day care,
should have the right to end their lives
when they choose.
The apparent benefits of this are that the
person is relieved of the necessity to live
the remainder of their life in pain and with
minimal quality of life and also removes
the burden which they place on their
 There is also the argument that a person
should have the right to end their life with
dignity, and in comfort in whatever
location they choose rather than in a
Death with Dignity
Euthanasia allows someone to die with
dignity rather than to ‘fade away’ while
suffering pain and indignity.
 It is an opportunity for family to show their
love by helping someone to carry out their
final wishes.
 Diane Pretty Case
 Love
& compassion
the most loving and
compassionate thing someone can do is
to help a person to die who is in pain
and suffering . Can be seen as a last act
of kindness
 Euthanasia is not murder
 Voluntary
Euthanasia is not murder
 It is not wrong to help the dying to die
because they are already dying.
Burden of care on family
Euthanasia relieves burdens on families
who might otherwise have to support a
dying relative.
 This could be time consuming, expensive
and emotionally difficult.
Burden on Medical Resources
Euthanasia may be necessary for the fair
distribution of health resources
In most countries there is a shortage of health
As a result, some people who are ill and could
be cured are not able to get speedy access to
the facilities they need for treatment.
At the same time health resources are being
used on people who cannot be cured, and who,
for their own reasons, would prefer not to
continue living.
Allowing such people to commit
euthanasia would not only let them have
what they want, it would free valuable
resources to treat people who want to live.
 Abuse of this would be prevented by only
allowing the person who wanted to die to
initiate the process (voluntary), and by
regulations that rigorously prevented
Safer to regulate
Euthanasia will always happen.
 Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) hold
that it would be more honest and much
safer if voluntary euthanasia was legal and
 They argue that there is no ethical
difference between withdrawing treatment
and delivering a lethal injection.
British Humanist
Arguments Against
Sanctity of life
Not just a religious argument
 Sanctity or ‘special-ness’ of human life
 If
this is the only life we have then we should
value and preserve it.
Slippery Slope
Many people worry that if voluntary euthanasia
were to become legal, it would not be long
before involuntary euthanasia would start to
If we allow something relatively harmless today,
we may start a trend that results in something
currently unthinkable becoming accepted.
Concern that vulnerable people - the elderly,
lonely, sick or distressed - would feel pressure,
whether real or imagined, to request early death.
Doctors may soon start killing people, especially
old people, without bothering with their
Rising health care costs could lead to doctors
killing patients to save money or free up beds.
Euthanasia devalues lives
Euthanasia makes life seem disposable and less
Some people fear that allowing euthanasia
sends the message, "it's better to be dead than
sick or disabled".
The subtext is that some lives are not worth
living. Not only does this put the sick or disabled
at risk, it also downgrades their status as human
beings while they are alive.
Part of the problem is that able-bodied people
look at things from their own perspective and
see life with a disability as a disaster, filled with
suffering and frustration.
Not in best interests
A serious problem for supporters of euthanasia
are the number of cases in which a patient may
ask for euthanasia, or feel obliged to ask for it,
when it isn't in their best interest. Some
examples are listed below:
the diagnosis is wrong and the patient is not
terminally ill
the prognosis (the doctor's prediction as to how
the disease will progress) is wrong and the
patient is not going to die soon
the patient is getting bad medical care and their
suffering could be relieved by other means
the doctor is unaware of all the non-fatal options
that could be offered to the patient
the patient's request for euthanasia is actually a
'cry for help', implying that life is not worth living
now but could be worth living if various
symptoms or fears were managed
the patient is depressed and so believes things
are much worse than they are
the patient is confused and unable to make
sensible judgements
the patient has an unrealistic fear of the pain
and suffering that lies ahead
the patient is feeling vulnerable
the patient feels that they are a worthless burden
on others
the patient feels that their sickness is causing
unbearable anguish to their family
the patient is under pressure from other people
to feel that they are a burden
the patient is under pressure because of a
shortage of resources to care for them
the patient requests euthanasia because of a
passing phase of their disease, but is likely to
feel much better in a while
Love & Compassion
Emotional argument:
 It
is wrong to kill someone you love.
Duty to provide love and care to the end.
 Palliative
Palliative Care
Palliative care has advanced sufficiently to
provide pain relief in the majority of cases.
 It can be administered in the home
allowing the person to be treated in
familiar surroundings.
 Specialist nurses (McMillan Nurses) can
visit the home to administer medical care
and counselling
Hospices are specialist hospitals for those
suffering from terminal illness.
 They provide support and the possibility of
a dignified death
 Specialist medical staff provide good care
for the patient helping them to face up to
their situation with dignity
 They also provide support to family and
BENEFITS of Palliative Care
Proper palliative care makes euthanasia
unnecessary as it improves quality of life
and helps others with burden of care
 Palliative care is physical, emotional and
spiritual care for a dying person when cure
is not possible.
 It includes compassion and support for
family and friends.
 The patient is treated as a whole person,
not as a set of symptoms, or medical
 Not funded by NHS
 Hospices generally operated in this
country by relying on charity funded
 Inconsistent quality of care within different
centres across the country
Euthanasia puts pressure on the
This is another of those arguments that says that
euthanasia should not be allowed because it will
be abused.
The fear is that if euthanasia is allowed,
vulnerable people will be put under pressure to
end their lives. It would be difficult, and possibly
impossible, to stop people using persuasion or
coercion to get people to request euthanasia
when they don't really want it.
The pressure of feeling a burden
People who are ill and dependent can often feel
worthless and an undue burden on those who
love and care for them. They may actually be a
burden, but those who love them may be happy
to bear that burden.
Nonetheless, if euthanasia is available, the sick
person may pressure themselves into asking for
Pressure from family and others
Family or others involved with the sick person
may regard them as a burden that they don't
wish to carry, and may put pressure (which may
be very subtle) on the sick person to ask for
Increasing numbers of examples of the abuse or
neglect of elderly people by their families makes
this an important issue to consider.
Financial pressure
The last few months of a patient's life are often
the most expensive in terms of medical and
other care. Shortening this period through
euthanasia could be seen as a way of relieving
pressure on scarce medical resources, or family
It's worth noting that cost of the lethal medication
required for euthanasia is less than £50, which
is much cheaper than continuing treatment for
many medical conditions.
Some people argue that refusing patients drugs
because they are too expensive is a form of
euthanasia, and that while this produces public
anger at present, legal euthanasia provides a
less obvious solution to drug costs.
If there was 'ageism' in health services, and
certain types of care were denied to those over a
certain age, euthanasia could be seen as a
logical extension of this practice.
Euthanasia is illegal in Britain.
 To kill another person deliberately is
murder, even if the other person asks you
to kill them.
 It is also a criminal offence in Britain,
punishable by 14 years' imprisonment, to
assist, aid or counsel or assist somebody
in relation to taking their own life.
Utilitarianism (KU)
Utility means an action is determined by its
‘utility’, or ‘usefulness’
 Utilitarian ethics focus on consequences of
actions rather than actions themselves
 Actions not good/bad in themselves- it is
the consequence of the action which is
A moral theory which says that what is morally
right is whatever produces the greatest overall
amount of pleasure or happiness to the greatest
number of people.
The moral consequence of good actions
promote the greatest happiness/well-being and
the minimising of unhappiness/pain for the
greatest number of people
Based on the assumption/idea that
happiness/pleasure is the desired end of all
human activity
Formulated by Jeremy Bentham and developed
by John Stuart Mill
Act Utilitarianism
Maintains that the good action is the one
that leads to the greatest good in a
particular situation
 Is flexible, being able to take into account
individual situations at a given moment.
 Problems- has the potential to justify
virtually any act
 Might be impractical to suggest that we
should measure each moral choice every
time we act.
Rule Utilitarianism
Looks at potential rules of action.
To determine whether a rule should be followed,
he/she looks at what would happen if it were
constantly followed.
If adherence to the rule produces more
happiness than otherwise, it is a rule that morally
must be followed at all times.
The distinction between act and rule
utilitarianism is therefore based on a difference
about the proper object of consequentialist
calculation: specific to a case or generalized to
Utilitarianism Principles
applied to Euthanasia
Happiness is maximised and pain is minimised in
the case of a terminally ill patient
The death of the patient brings benefits to the many
others needing treatment and a hospital bed
Euthanasia is right because at a stroke it reduces
suffering in the world
Some might say that fear of being euthanized
means a utilitarian can’t support it because fear
brings suffering rather than happiness
Risk of abuse (slippery slope) brings more
suffering than happiness, therefore euthanasia
is wrong.
A change in the law could work both wayshappiness for those who want it and
unhappiness for those who could be affected by
a law change – which would be the greater
Conscience of medical staff, patient and family
should be accounted for.
Kantian Viewpoints
Reason and Duty
Kant is best known for this
Do right without any reference to rules or
emotions- detached action
Uses human reason- establishes moral
Do good without any thought about the
consequences- that is duty.
Categorical Imperative= can my act be
Don’t treat people as a means to an end and act
as if you are a law-maker in a free society
Anything we ought to do we must be able to do.
Kantian Principles
applied to Euthanasia
Duty – not to kill, therefore categorical
imperative states it is always wrong to kill
 Euthanasia
is killing, therefore euthanasia is
Using people as a means to an end is
wrong- if euthanasia is performed only to
remove burden from others it is wrong.
Duty – not to allow anyone to suffer,
therefore categorical imperative states it is
always wrong to let someone suffer
 Euthanasia
removes suffering, therefore
euthanasia is always the right action if it
removes suffering
 However, it could also mean it is your duty to
always provide care for those suffering a
terminal illness and therefore it is always right
to provide palliative care for everyone
Essay Questions
Evaluate secular viewpoints on the issues of
voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide (10 AE)
“Non-voluntary euthanasia can bring benefits to
Do you agree with this statement?
(10 AE)