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Euthanasia and Senicide

The Ethical Rationale Of Peter Singer

The philosopher Peter Singer has attempted to give an ethical justification for euthanasia on the utilitarian principle that approves of actions that enhance the happiness of the individual—in this case the relief from suffering and the exercise of autonomy—as well as the happiness of others who are aware they have that option. Singer assumes that when guidelines are in place, as in the Netherlands, abuses such as non-voluntary euthanasia are rare; in fact the Dutch government's own sanctioned studies show they are common (Van der Maas et al., 1992, 1996). Moreover, there is substantial evidence that palliative care in the Netherlands has suffered and hospice care has lagged behind other countries because of the easier option of euthanasia. Thus, on purely utilitarian grounds there may be reason to reject euthanasia.

Singer is guided by another principle that influences his thinking on euthanasia. He believes that society has an obligation to protect only sentient persons (i.e., persons capable of reasoning, remembering, and recognizing others). Infanticide of a child with hemophilia is justified when it increases the happiness of the parents. Nonvoluntary euthanasia for the elderly could on the same principle be justified not only on grounds of compassion but also, Keough Singer does not explicitly say so, because it increases the happiness or lessens the burden on children. Philosophers have rejected Singer's position as dealing with the consequences of actions while ignoring the tradition in Western philosophy that judges the morality of actions not just by their consequences but also by the intentions that motivate them.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Euthanasia and Senicide - Historical Background, The Modern Argument, The Ethical Rationale Of Peter Singer, Conclusion