Monday, 24 February 2014

Does Relativism Provide the Most Compassionate Approach to Euthanasia?

by Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

When looking at the issue of euthanasia, to me it is clear that relativism provides the most compassionate response. Relativism allows you to look at each situation individually and conclude the best moral decision in looking at the consequences of each decision. This is much more compassionate as it allows you to have a subjective view and allows each person to develop their own moral view. It gives respect to the personality of the individual and gives tolerance and respect to moral diversity. Hence in relation to the approach in euthanasia, a relativist view would be able to see the difference between passive euthanasia (turning of the life support of a person in a vegetative state who has a >1% chance of survival) and someone going to Dignitas, in Switzerland, when only just having been diagnosed with cancer and having a higher chance of survival. The scholar Protagoras would also agree with the relativist view as he argues that moral statements are opinionated, therefore everyone is correct as it is your own truth.

However, some would argue an absolutist approach is more appropriate and compassionate as absolutism follows the declaration of human rights law which by many is believed to be a compassionate law as it is designed for our best interests and to protect people. Also relativism, in particular cultural relativism, encourages some dangerous cultures, i.e. Nazi Germany which wasn’t compassionate, yet absolutism is able to condemn these practises. Human rights law in absolutism is important to the issue of euthanasia in the way that human rights law states that no person has the right to take another’s life, therefore absolutism would condemn all forms of euthanasia and each person in the dilemma of a terminal illness must wait for death to come naturally and therefore not risk committing euthanasia when they could survive. Hence absolutism is argued by some as being a more compassionate approach. Scholar Immanuel Kant would agree that absolutism is a more compassionate approach to euthanasia as he believes we cannot predict the outcome (i.e. whether you will in fact survive the terminal illness or come out of a vegetative state) therefore we need absolute rules to be able to make moral decisions.
Replying to this counter argument, a relativist would argue that although the absolutist view gives an objective statement to euthanasia, it doesn’t take account of individual lifestyles. For example in other countries, for example France where they do not have the NHS, keeping someone alive who is in a vegetative state is expensive and if you have a family to support, they will suffer the consequences. Absolutist views also don’t take account of cultural differences. For example a Christian believes we should not ‘play’ God, therefore should not prolong life, yet should not end life too soon. So a Christian may be against active euthanasia (ending life before God has decided it shall end) yet a Christian would be for passive euthanasia, as you are prolonging the person’s life who is only dependant on a machine. Aristotle would agree with this relativist view, as he believed it is not possible to have a general rule because decisions are subjective.

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