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Euthanasia: An Analysis of Utilitarian Approach

Euthanasia: An Analysis of Utilitarian Approach

Euthanasia is one of the most contentious issues confronting humankind. It is considered to be an assisted form of suicide, where one person assists in ending the life of another person. In most cases, euthanasia occurs when an individual faces a debilitating illness that prevents him or her from leading a happy life. Euthanasia is applied in different forms, such as suffocation, a lethal injection, and removal of the means used to sustain life. Euthanasia can be active when an individual is allowed to perform the last act that causes death or passive when some basic needs, such as medication, water, food and other essential elements used to sustain life, are removed. Euthanasia proponents argue that this action aims to protect the quality of life and ensure that the family accepts the death of their family members, especially when the family is starved financially. Opponents of euthanasia argue that the right to life is inherent to all individuals and only God determines when a person should die. Numerous different philosophers have discussed this controversial ethical issue in the past. Some of the key philosophers include John Locke and Immanuel Kant. The two scholars opposed euthanasia and considered it a form of suicide regardless of the quality of life of an individual. Locke argued that the gift of life is an inalienable right that any other individual should not take. The utilitarian theory is an ethical approach that focuses on maximizing happiness for humanity and society. The whole practical argument is based on minimizing pain and increasing pleasure. Based on arguments of the utilitarian theory, euthanasia should only be allowed if it is requested voluntarily by an individual and is likely to reduce the individual’s pain and contribute to the happiness of the involved parties.

Case Example

Patient X has terminal colon cancer. The patient was diagnosed at a late stage. As a result, he was placed on a life support machine to manage the condition. The patient’s family members cannot continue raising the money for medications required to support his life since they have largely depended on donations from other people. However, they would do everything possible if there was any certainty that their family member would feel well for a specific time. There is no agreement between them. Thus, some family members prefer euthanasia, while others believe that patient X should die from a natural death. Patient X has not yet made the final decision.

Analysis of Euthanasia from the Utilitarian Approach

The practical standpoint justifies euthanasia. It is based on the principle that everyone should live as long as it brings happiness to an individual. Happiness is a part of life. If an individual has a happy life, no one should take it from him or her. Any individual who prefers euthanasia understands the effects of such an action. A useful approach not only focuses on the total human happiness of one individual but also on the contentment of other individuals that are interrelated with such an individual. Everyone in society forms a relationship with their family member or some friends. These relationships result in increased happiness for individuals. However, happiness is not restricted to a single individual but involves the whole populace due to the specific actions of the individual. Applying any form of euthanasia to such an individual is bound to increase pain levels since it takes away the source of happiness to not only one individual but to the entire community associated with a specific party.

On the other hand, proponents of euthanasia argue that in patients who are terminally ill, the application of euthanasia would result in relief to the family members. Thus, it will not free the patient from pain caused by the disease but will also decrease the burden that the individual and his/ her treatment place on the family. Thus, maintaining individuals who are terminally ill in any healthcare center is quite expensive, especially if medical practitioners have indicated that the condition cannot be treated due to its extensive debilitating condition. However, the benefits of not killing an individual outweigh the effects mentioned in the above case. Although it is difficult to measure happiness objectively, the type or form of care provided by family members indicates happiness.

Euthanasia or any other form of assisted suicide should be objected to due to numerous different cures made daily by individuals from the medical field. According to the practical theory, it would be wrong to take an individual’s life only for a cure to be discovered a day or month later. Thus, in the case mentioned above, the patient could have lived for a specific period after being treated with the discovered drug. Several important arguments support such a view. First, no individual has complete control of the actions that will occur in the future. In other words, no one can determine with a high level of certainty the events more likely to exist in the future. Nonetheless, most people focus on probability to determine the potential outcomes. However, this might have a negative effect based on the specific methodology.

In today’s world, medical science evolves quickly, providing alternative treatments to conditions that used to be considered terminal. Healthcare specialists cannot explain when specific drugs will be produced for a terminal condition. However, it does not mean that such drugs cannot be identified soon in society. The possibility that a specific cure will be discovered immediately after the death of an individual provides a sufficient reason why it is important not to apply any form of euthanasia. On the other hand, in some cases, it may not be a specific reason why euthanasia should not be applied. Thus, government testing of the new medicine takes additional months after it has been developed, which may increase the burden placed on an individual’s family and prolong his/ her pain and suffering. In addition, numerous tests will have to be carried out to ascertain whether using a specific drug would improve a specific condition. If an individual considers this to be too heavy a burden to bear and opts for voluntary euthanasia, this would seem appropriate since there are chances that the condition might not be improved after the treatment with the new drug.

John Stuart Mill, one of the individuals who developed the ethical theory of utilitarianism, argues that an action is morally right when it tends to promote some level of happiness to individuals and wrong if it tends to cause pain. In the above case, voluntary euthanasia, where a patient decides to end his life, has a different meaning than involuntary euthanasia. If this applied a form of hedonistic calculus in the case of a terminally ill person, such as in the case of the individual described above, then the application of voluntary euthanasia would change. In this case, the terminal patient suffers from a disease that causes too much pain. Considering that the disease is untreatable, the amount of pain the patient feels does not offer any form of happiness but pain. Happiness can only be maximized in the above case if euthanasia is applied to relieve the pain felt by an individual. The pain caused by the terminal condition hurts the individual; therefore, euthanasia is justified in this case.

The progression of the disease also limits an individual’s freedom. Hence, he cannot enjoy any activity that makes his life pleasurable. There is no form of emotional pleasure or higher intellectual activity to balance the level of physical pain that he currently feels. The patient will continue suffering regardless of the choice made by the family members. Therefore, keeping the parent in pain hurts the patient’s life and happiness. By contrast, the death of the patient mentioned above has the potential to create a form of zero value. Ideally, the pain felt by the patient and the resources utilized by the family members would be eliminated. Furthermore, as the number of resources utilized by the patient decrease, it will reduce the burden previously placed on the family members. Moreover, hospital space will also be freed, allowing people to be treated for some treatable conditions.

In the case of voluntary euthanasia, the traditional utilitarian principles and justifications that argue against killing will not apply. It would be morally wrong to apply euthanasia as a haphazard slaughter of people. Moreover, it would mean that more terminally ill people would considerably suffer from anxiety, knowing that their life could be taken at any point without any justification. Nonetheless, euthanasia is not considered an arbitrary action that can be taken by any individual in society and requires an individual’s consent. Thus, this fact proves that no one should fear that anyone would take their life at any given point. Essentially, it means there is a specific delineation between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.


Euthanasia is a contentious issue in today’s society, as different sides attempt to balance the application of this condition among voluntary base patients. Voluntary euthanasia, or as it is commonly referred to, assisted suicide, should be applied based on the practical theory if its final effect would only reduce the pain felt by an individual, such as in the case of a terminally ill patient. Reducing this pain would result in increased happiness not only among family members but also among other parties, who will have the possibility to utilize healthcare facilities.

📎 Related Articles

1. Felzmann, Heike. “Utilitarianism as an Approach to Ethical Decision Making in Health Care.”.Key Concepts and Issues in Nursing Ethics, edited by Anne P. Scott, Springer, 2017, pp. 29-43.
2. Hulett, Jennifer, and Madeline Peterson. “Passive Euthanasia.” Dialogue & Nexus, vol. 1, 2014, pp. 32-36.
3. Pirani, Sehrish, and Shirin Badruddin. “Euthanasia: A Fight for Respect and Autonomy.” International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, vol. 7, no. 6, 2015, pp. 104–107.
4. Rachels, James. “The Utilitarian Approach.” The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 5th ed., McGraw Hill, 2006, pp. 89–99.
5. Simmons, Jack. “The Continental Perspective on Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Global Views on Choosing to End Life, edited by Michael J. Cholbi, Preager, 2017, pp. 95-120.
6. Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.