Almost each professional sphere has its own code of ethics. It is especially needed when people’s life is affected, so health care is not an exception. In general, the mission of a doctor is to help a person to become healthier. Sometimes the mission of a physician is understood broader, as if his job is to improve the overall welfare of the patient. Since welfare can never be absolute and is always achieved at some compromise, controversies are inevitable. Something is always sacrificed for greater good, and the question is whether it is the doctor who takes decision on what is to be sacrificed and why. On the one hand, it seems to be his duty as soon as he is qualified and armed with knowledge, skill and practice. On the other hand, however, it seems natural to take to account the patient’s free will.
Still, there are situations affecting not only the patient’s welfare, but also his family, community or society on the whole. Euthanasia is among such problems health care ethics is called to solve. By the moment, there is no single view on this problem which would be acceptable throughout the globe. There are different ethical theories, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. This research will focus on utilitarian evaluation of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. The attempt to analyze some tricky subjects will be made.
What is Utilitarianism?
Each situation, question or problem has a number of options of how to behave and how to find a solution. There are different ethical theories providing answers, and most of them are mutually controversial. The best way to assess a theory is probably to pay attention to the consequences. Utilitarianism argues that the best solution is the one with positive results for the greatest number of people. The greatest good for the greatest number is the sense of utilitarian approach. When this approach is applied, the utility is called to be maximized while the least harm is produced within the options available. For example, paying taxes is not the most pleasant thing in the world. It decreases happiness and welfare of an individual, but the focus should be shifted from an individual to a community, or even the society and the state on the whole. A larger number of people can become happier through the taxes. In fact, it is rather hard to weigh up the results properly because not all the consequences can be foreseen. Besides, the probable outcomes may conflict with our understanding of what is right and what is wrong. When applying utilitarianism, there are also wide-spread conflicts between short-term and long-term outcomes, short-term and long-term goods. However, this approach has proved its effectiveness in certain controversial situations and sometimes it looks rational to apply utilitarianism to health care issues.
Ground for Physician Assisted Suicide
Incurable diseases and disabilities affect not only physical health of the patient. While they suffer from constant pain that is hard or even impossible to relief without medicine and even with them, their quality of life is severely damaged by incontinence, nausea and vomiting, breathlessness, paralysis and difficulty in swallowing. In addition, such a person is no more able to lead a full and active life. The style of life changes essentially; the patient begins to suffer morally too, and social stigma make matters worse. From this perspective, it becomes disputable whether the person should have the right to refuse living full of sufferings and, what is more, whether the doctors should assist in such decision. If a person turns to the doctor for him to commit life termination, this process is regarded as euthanasia (rather voluntary euthanasia). This process is also known as physician assisted suicide which may include drugs provision, disconnection of life support system or any other way to provide painless death.