Health Versus Harm: Euthanasia and Physicians' Duties
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2007 January-February; 32(1): 7-24
This essay rebuts Gary Seay's efforts to show that committing euthanasia need not conflict with a physician's professional duties. First, I try to show how his misunderstanding of the correlativity of rights and duties and his discussion of the foundation of moral rights undermine his case. Second, I show aspects of physicians' professional duties that clash with euthanasia, and that attempts to avoid this clash lead to absurdities. For professional duties are best understood as deriving from professional virtues and the commitments and purposes with which the professional as such ought to act, and there is no plausible way in which her death can be seen as advancing the patient's medical welfare. Third, I argue against Prof. Seay's assumption that apparent conflicts among professional duties must be resolved through "balancing" and argue that, while the physician's duty to extend life is continuous with her duty to protect health, any duty to relieve pain is subordinate to these. Finally, I show that what is morally determinative here, as throughout the moral life, is the agent's intention and that Prof. Seay's implicitly preferred consequentialism threatens not only to distort moral thinking but would altogether undermine the medical (and any other) profession and its internal ethics.
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