Euthanasia, Virtue Ethics and the Law
van Zyl, Liezl
New Zealand Bioethics Journal 2002 February; 3(1): 18-27
Following the recent revival of virtue ethics, a number of ethicists have discussed the moral problems surrounding euthanasia by drawing on concepts such as compassion, benevolence, death with dignity, mercy, and by inquiring whether euthanasia is compatible with human flourishing. Most of these writers assert, or simply assume, that their arguments concerning the morality of euthanasia also support their views with regard to legislation. I argue, against these writers, that legislation cannot and should not be based on our moral and religious beliefs concerning whether euthanasia allows a person to die a good death. I then outline an Aristotelian approach to the role of law and government in a good society, according to which the task of the legislator is not to ensure that people actually act virtuously, but is instead to make it possible for them to choose to live (and die) well by ensuring that they have access to the goods that are necessary for flourishing. In the second half of the paper I apply this approach to the question of whether voluntary active euthanasia should be legalised by asking (1) whether euthanasia always deprives people of the necessary conditions for flourishing, and (2) whether the option to request euthanasia is ever necessary for flourishing.
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