PHIL2408 A March 6, 2014
Physician Assisted Suicide: Two Moral Arguments:
Judith Jarvis Thomson
4 types of doctor assisted death cases:
1. Disconnecting cases: at a patient’s request, a doctor shuts off or removes the patient from the
equipment that is keeping him alive
2. Nonconnecting cases: a doctor accedes to a patient’s request that lifesaving treatment not
3. Drugproviding cases: a doctor accedes to a patient’s request to be given a prescription for a
lethal drug he can take himself
4. Druginjecting cases: a patient is not capable of taking the legal drug himself and requests
that the doctor inject it.
Many people defend 1 and 2 but reject 3 and 4. To do this they appeal to two different moral
• Killing vs. Letting die
• Intending vs. Foreseeing
There are both bad arguments, as they do not provide a clear defense of 1 and 2, and a clear
rejection of 3 and 4.
1. Killing vs. Letting Die: Or the Doing/Allowing Distinction
• A doctor killing her patient is different than letting her patient die.
• Killing is not permissible, but letting die is.
• 3 & 4 are acts of killing, 1 & 2 are acts of letting die.
This is not correct.
1a. Disconnecting/Nonconnecting cases (1 and 2)
Nonconnection is letting die –nature takes its course.
Disconnection is less clear: doctor is removing impediment to nature taking its course
• But so is someone who removes a beam supporting a ceiling – are they really just
allowing gravity to take its course or causing the roof to collapse?
• And what if the patient’s enemy disconnects him in the middle of the night? Is that just
letting nature take its course?
• And what is the doctor disconnects the patient when the patient has asked not to be
‘Letting die’ occurs only if:
1. Patient dies of underlying medical condition
2. Patient loses what he would have had with the doctor’s help 3. The doctor has been given a right by the patient to take action that results in the patient’s
1b. Drugproviding/Druginjecting Cases (3 and 4)
Drug providing is clearly killing and so is drug injecting? Is this right?
• But the patient chooses to take it or not, of the patient doesn’t take it has the doctor done
• If the doctor assists in something bas it is suicide. Suicide isn’t bad (or at least not illegal) so
why should assistance be?
Well, drug injecting is surely killing, though, right? Not necessari