The issue of euthanasia is heatedly debated in many circles of our society. The stakeholders involved include patients, physicians, legislators, representatives of various religions, the press, and the general public. As it stands, there is no consensus on the matter, as some claim that the right to pass away with dignity is a right, while others fear the consequences for the society might be too great. However, there are many ethical theories through which the issue can be perceived. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the subject of euthanasia from the perspective of utilitarianism.
The Utilitarian View of the Problem
The end of life is associated with various disabilities and illnesses, some of which prove to be terminal. According to Hughes and Smith (461), the majority of deaths in elderly patients are attributed to chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, and other vital areas of the body. In many cases, sustaining the patient alive requires numerous medications to sedate the pain, which frequently causes even more adverse side-effects. Palliative care is a necessity in order to remedy a patient’s suffering, but it is often not enough and places a heavy financial burden upon the family of the patient.
The costs of palliative care for a patient exceeds 30,000 dollars a year (Hughes and Smith 461), whereas the yearly income of an average family in America is around 50,000 dollars. Thus, prolonging the life of a patient with a terminal disease is associated with physical and psychological suffering for both the patient and the family as well as with economic difficulties further down the road. Utilitarianism supports euthanasia because alleviating the suffering provides greater amounts of immediate and long-term net good for the patient and their family.
Bentham’s Felicific Calculus
Bentham’s felicific calculus is a tool that can be used to estimate the amount of net good received from any given action by analyzing various factors involved. The process of using it involves considering several variables, which are as follows (Pirani and Badruddin 104):
- The strength of pleasure (intensity).
- Likelihood of pleasure occurring.
- The propinquity of pleasure.
- The probability of follow-up sensations.
- Purity (lack of negative feedback).
If applied to euthanasia, Bentham’s felicific calculus can provide a picture of effects that are anticipated as the result of the intervention. For the patient, the calculus would be as follows:
- The strength of pleasure: Great.
- Duration: Short-term.
- Likelihood of pleasure occurring: Very high.
- The propinquity of pleasure: Immediate.
- The probability of follow-up sensations: None.
- Purity: Absolute.
- Extent: Patients, physicians, family members.
As it is possible to see, euthanasia offers an escape for the patient in chronic and unmanageable pain. From a utilitarian perspective, healthcare, as an industry created to promote health and minimize suffering, should endorse euthanasia.
According to Garcia (3), Bentham urged that morality is not a matter of pleasing God, nor is it a matter of faithfulness to abstract rules. It is a matter of making the life on the planet better through maximizing pleasure and reducing the amount of pain in the most consistent way possible. Euthanasia brings the most net good to patients suffering from painful terminal diseases. Although families may experience grief from losing a relative sooner than later, the total net good for them would also exceed their suffering in mid-term and long-term perspective.
Garcia, Grant. “Considerations Regarding the Viability of Voluntary Active Euthanasia.” Sound Decisions: An Undergraduate Bioethics Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-12.
Hughes, Mark T., Thomas J. Smith. “The Growth of Palliative Care in the United States.” The Annual Review of Public Health, vol. 35, 2014, pp. 359-475.
Pirani, Sehrish, and Shirin Badruddin. “Euthanasia: A Fight for Respect and Autonomy.” International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, vol. 6, no. 7, 2015, pp. 104-107.