To live and let die

A 91-year-old woman is selling suicide kits via Internet, author Sir Terry Pratchett is participating in a BBC Two documentary about assisted suicide. We face the fact that death has become such a mundane thing that requires a paradigm shift – althought it would just be a recursion to the Greeks.

Treasuring life has been a cultural melting pot for many civilizations. Myths of creation are patterns of wisdom, regardless time and place, thought the occurrence of life is inseparable of its evanescent and renewal. The ways we perceive death are cultural constructs that shape within particular social and historical moments.

There is an intense debate on this subject: religiously, it’s prohibit – the right to give or take life belongs only to God. However, others believe that although killing a person is normally wrong, and worse than killing “any other kind of being” (like animals, for example, which are not self-conscious), in the case of persons it is worse to deny voluntary euthanasia than to provide it. To prohibit voluntary euthanasia is to promote less happiness, for it promotes the continued suffering of a self-conscious being who desires to end that suffering but knows that it will continue.

The Greeks called it a good and easy death (eu – good, thanatos– death). We know that in Sparta handicapped children were exposed and left to die, fact which was approved by Aristotle, for reasons of public utility. Plato expanded the practice to seriously ill elderly. Epicurus summed the general trend of thought of the ancient Greeks: We are masters of the pain, masters in their bearing, if they are bearable, and if not, we possess the ability to quit life, in the same way we leave the theater if we do not like.

Although there isn’t any ethics that could tell us for sure that euthanasia is morally good or right, the question which remains is: Are we giving too much weight to individual freedom? What could be next?

Journal Club: Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion

‘The Philosopher’s Eye’ Journal Club will be bringing you top articles for discussion on a regular basis, selected from the prestigious Wiley-Blackwell Philosophy journals. The article will be made free to access for all, and engagement and commentary is encouraged.

This month’s free article is Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion by Anton Tupa, and was one of the Journal of Applied Philosophy’s most read articles from 2010.

Image: Bill Davenport (2007)
Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion


abstract David Boonin, in his A Defense of Abortion, argues that abortions that involve killing the foetus are morally permissible, even if granting for the sake of argument that the foetus has a right to life. His primary argument is an argument by analogy to a ‘trolley case’. I offer two lines of counterargument to his argument by analogy. First, I argue that Boonin’s analogy between his trolley case and a normal unwanted pregnancy does not hold. I revise his trolley case in light of my objections. Second, I argue that Boonin’s arguments for the permissibility of killing, when applied to this revised trolley case — and by extension, typical unwanted pregnancies — do not succeed in justifying killing.

Journal of Applied Philosophy


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