Euthanisa and Self-Defense: A follow-up to yesterday’s post …

So, yesterday, I talked extensively about when it’s okay to kill in relation to the issue of abortion and a recent controversy in Phoenix:

Now, a couple of other issues have been raised in discussing this.  Euthanasia was raised in Conte’s original essay, and discussion comments have talked about killing in war.  So it’s probably a good idea for me to discuss them.

For euthanasia, note that my ultimate reply in the abortion case was that the foetus should, morally, sacrifice its life to save that of the mother since it will die regardless.  Thus, those appointed to make moral decisions for the foetus should make that choice as well, which would make it a case of a willing sacrifice as opposed to a direct killing and would make it moral.  This isn’t the case for euthanasia.  The person being killed isn’t sacrificing their life for someone else, but are instead just asking to be relieved of their suffering.  Even if that’s moral — and again at least the Stoics and the Catholics will disagree — that’s a decision that cannot be made for the person being killed by anyone else, since only that person can decide how much suffering they are willing to take.  There is no moral demand under pretty much any moral system I can think of — well, perhaps under exceptionally strong forms of Utiltarianism — for someone who is suffering to kill themselves.  So those who are making the decisions for them have no moral basis to decide that morally they should be killed, and so direct killing is still direct killing, and so is still wrong.

Note that it is slightly different if someone is, in fact, taking a direct action to preserve their live.  Morally, that would come down to considering whether or not one should prolong their suffering, which is an entirely different matter and is probably a case of indirect killing.

But war … war is different (even as it never changes).  That’s clearly direct killing, and it’s normally considered morally justified, even by religions.  Most commonly, it’s defended under the principles of self-defense; if someone is trying to kill you or someone else, you’re allowed to kill them to stop that.  This might be iffy for the Stoics and Kant, but it’s closer than the euthanasia or abortion cases.  And one of the reasons for that is because of how Conte talks about the abortion case:  if someone is taking an immoral action, they aren’t innocent.  In the euthanasia and abortion cases, the person being killed is innocent, which is not the case in war or in self-defense.  It’s always wrong according to Conte’s interpretation of Catholic doctrine to directly kill an innocent person, but the people being killed in war or in self-defense are not innocent, so that isn’t the same moral case at all.

Being Stoic-leaning, I’m not convinced that that really makes a difference, and yet the Stoics did agree with fighting in wars and defending people.  Thus, that’s a bit of an open question, but there is a real difference to look at there.  The final answer to these cases might well have to wait for a fully-fleshed out theory of morality to solve.


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