The Right to Die

by TobyT on February 10, 2017 - 5:26pm

In Western civilization, we, as a society, attach a high value to privacy and total control over our own bodies along with our lifestyles. Following this theme, we can determine, that any choices that directly affect our bodies should be decided by an individual for themselves, for example, any one person can choose to put whatever they like into or on their body. The same is true for the condition of the body, meaning, if the mind of an individual is healthy then they may decide to do any, and all things they wish to do with their body, even if what they consider to be best, is their own termination. The ethical dilemma surrounding this concept in our society is whether people should be allowed to euthanize themselves or demand assisted suicide, due to the effects on the deceased persons surroundings. There are two ethical perspectives to this dilemma, the first one is from a Utilitarianism point of view and the second is from a Ethical rationalism one. 


From a Utilitarian point of view, the right-to-die debate has a simple solution; which is, to end the suffering of a person and let them make use of euthanasia to allow them to be released from their pain. The most important thing about Utilitarianism is to avoid selfishness, by letting someone spend part of their life suffering because you do not want to see them dead is selfish. This ethical theory aims to achieve the greatest good for the most amount of people and its end goal is to produce happiness: “Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure” (Mill 1861).  John Stuart Mill, the first utilitarian thinker would agree with the use of euthanasia considering that it is unfair to let someone wallow in devastating mental or bodily pain, for which there are no definitive cures. By giving people the right to die, society is promoting a type of happiness, with which they can finally feel the absence of pain that John Stuart Mill speaks of.


On the other hand, Ethical Rationalism dictates that an individual must follow strict guidelines imposed on herself/himself by a higher power. Being a product of deontological beliefs, which state that there are universal laws imposed by god yet are independent of his will. (Ethical Rationalism, Jan. 27th 2017) Therefore, Ethical Rationalism believes that people should act based on these universal laws set by higher powers regardless of will, simply because they demand to be followed. Immanuel Kant, founder of Ethical Rationalism, maintains that one must, “Act only on the maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant 1785). This suggests that, as in deontological ethics, although a law may not represent your will, you must follow and instead of your will shaping universal laws, the universal laws already in place should shape your will. This theory lends itself to the idea of right-to-die dilemma in two instances, one, being that law states “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) and regardless of an individuals will, this law can not be broken. The second plays on the universal law which believes death is sacred and must be ordained by god and that any being interfering with the will of god is an act of unpardonable sin. 


To conclude, these two ethical theories show different points of views on the ethical dilemma of the right-to-die, however Utilitarianism is the better moral theory to solve this problem. 


Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. 1785.


Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1861.


The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998. 


Ethical Rationalism, Media Ethics. Marianopolis College. January 27th, 2017.