Explain there are severe problems for the Utilitarian

Explain there are severe problems for the Utilitarian

Explain the Utilitarian approach to Euthanasia. I think that both the Hedonistic and the Ideal Utilitarian would argue that voluntary euthanasia is often right. The Hedonistic Utilitarian would say that situations often arise in which a person’s continued existence brings more pain than pleasure both to them and to all those who are distressed by their suffering – not to speak of the resources which are being spent on keeping them alive and which would produce more happiness if used in other ways.The Ideal version of Utilitarianism is even more in tune with the views of those who advocate the possibility of death with dignity through voluntary euthanasia.

For Ideal Utilitarians can counter the familiar objection to euthanasia – that no one who receives proper expert care need die in pain and distress – by saying that the good that they seek is not mere absence of pain, physical or mental, but the preservation of dignity and the exercise of the human endowment of autonomy.However, there are severe problems for the Utilitarian approach to the defence of voluntary euthanasia. The first is that it seems to justify too much: might it not sometimes justify involuntary euthanasia? If sufficient numbers of people would gain in happiness and quality of life from the death of one person, the Utilitarian has to agree that such an action would be justified, provided it could be carried out without causing a general panic which would outweigh the hoped-for gain in happiness. This problem is one example of a general difficulty with Utilitarianism of any kind.If the rightness of an action is to be measured in overall consequences, there is no protection for the individual against the majority: they may do whatever they like to him, provided there is sufficient gain to outweigh his loss. We might put this point by saying that Utilitarianism does not safeguard the individual’s rights. And it is just this inability to safeguard individuals’ rights that leads many to reject the Utilitarian approach, as yielding results which are too much at variance with our moral intuitions.

A second problem is the line that the Utilitarian has to take on changing the law. We are apt to assume that the law should reflect private morality: if an action is right, then the law should permit it. But for the Utilitarian a law is right if it is useful: that is, if having such a law would maximise the good results in which he believes. Some Utilitarians say that a change in the law, to permit voluntary euthanasia with due safeguards, would indeed do this.

But a more cautious Utilitarian might believe that the existence of such a law would not have the best possible consequences overall: for example, he might think that it would increase distress because ill people would come to feel that they had to ask for euthanasia although they did not want it. On the Utilitarian view a law which does not have the best consequences is not the right law; so the cautious Utilitarian would have to advocate in public that the law should continue to forbid euthanasia, but in private that people should frequently break it.This possibility of incoherence between what is publicly supported and what is privately enjoined is an example of another general difficulty with the Utilitarian approach: it often means preaching one thing and hoping that people sometimes do another. This kind of dishonesty is another respect in which Utilitarianism goes against many of our moral intuitions. Modern Utilitarians have sophisticated replies to the difficulties which I have raised. But I shall unfairly assume that in the end they cannot be solved, and turn to another approach altogether.

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