PHLB09H3 Chapter Notes -James Rachels, Euthanasia, Spontaneous Remission
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Gay Williams arugues that delibrerately killing a hopelessly ill person is morally wrong because such an
act is inconsistent with natural law as it goes against the stron antural tendency of all humans to
continue living. The practice is also in conflict with our own self interest and is a treacherous slippery
slope toward involuntary euthanasia.
Gay Williams presents two arguments here. The argument of nature and the argument of self interest.
First, Gay-Williams argues that active euthanasia goes against human nature. Secondly, Gay-
Williams presents the argument from self interest, in which he contends that active euthanasia is
irreversible and that doctors cannot accurately predict when or even whether a patient will die.
Gay-Williams begins by asserting that passive euthanasia is not euthanasia at all. For Gay
Williams, euthanasia involves directly taking the life of another. Passive euthanasia does not have the
same causal status as active euthanasia. Because in passive euthanasia the patient’s disease or injury
kills the patient, and the doctor does not, Gay-Williams does not consider passive euthanasia to
be euthanasia at all.
In his argument from nature, Gay-Williams claims that as human beings we have a natural inclination to
preserve our lives. On an external level, we human beings do things like eat and exercise to continue life.
On an internal level, our cells produce antibodies when they are invaded by bacteria and fibrogen to
heal our wounds in order to preserve our lives. The goal of humanity is survival, and active euthanasia is
fundamentally incompatible with survival.
In his argument from self-interest, Gay-Williams contends that, because death is final, we do injury to
ourselves if we allow euthanasia to be practiced on us. Gay-Williams claims that a mistaken diagnosis is
always possible, as is a mistaken prognosis. If a patient were indeed misdiagnosed, then a cure might be
possible. If a cure is possible, then allowing euthanasia is maleficent—regardless of the physician’s
intention— because allowing euthanasia harms the patient. Similarly, if the patient’s prognosis is wrong,
and the patient has six years to live instead of six months, then allowing euthanasia is also maleficent
because it injures the patient. Doctors are frequently mistaken about prognosis. The patient could
always linger on indefinitely, or slip into spontaneous remission, so it goes against the patient’s self-
interest to allow euthanasia.