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Kant and Suicide

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By kelsja
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Kant is incorrect in saying that euthanasia is wrong because someone utilizing euthanasia is treating their humanity not merely as a means, they are making the decision and by doing so, recognizing and respecting theirs and others capacities as rational beings.
One of Kant’s main arguments is that suicide is using yourself as a means to an end. By using your own capabilities to end your life, you are not treating yourself as an end. The means is ending your life and the end, in the case of terminal illness, is ending pain and suffering. However, if you read Kant’s humanity formula, you see it says that you cannot use someone as merely a means (Timmons, pg. 16). Merely is using them as nothing else than for your own ends and disregarding the ends they have themselves. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that we can’t avoid using people as a means, but it is acceptable as long as they are “at the same time being treated as an end in itself” (Johnson, SEP). In this way, the patient considering euthanasia is both a means and an end, but not merely a means. Though they are using themselves as a means, they are also pursuing their own ends and treating themselves as an ends.
The humanity formulation also says that humanity, not humans, should be treated as an end. Humanity is defined in an article from the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy as “ the capacity for autonomous action” (Gentzler, p. 462). A person with autonomy makes decisions and imposes laws on themselves, as does a dying patient who wishes to end their life. In the case of the terminally ill, it could be said that suicide is not a disrespectful act to humanity because they are using their human capabilities to make the most rational decision about the end of their life while they still have that capability intact. With one of the central arguments on the basis of an actions moral worth being autonomy, Kant cannot say that euthanasia violates a person’s humanity as a rational and autonomous being. In Michael Sandel’s discussion of Kant, he said that Kant would believe that an action would have moral worth if it rose above self-interest. Sandel also said that it is moral to act out of duty. For many people suffering a long term or lethal disease, it is not necessarily in their best interest to commit suicide. It could be in the best interest of the family though, who deal with suffering and hardship regularly. The families of the ill person bear a great burden, so the death of that person could provide relief for the family in that they could cease being physically and emotionally drained. In this way, the person is not committing suicide based only on self interest but of also respecting their loved ones. This decision is made clearer by John Hardwig’s article, “A Duty to Die”. Though this is not Kantian morality, however it states, “We have… an obligation not to make choices that will jeopardize or seriously compromise their futures” (Hardwig, p.123). This sounds similar to Kantian morality; there is a duty to respect others humanity and the rights that come along with it. Suicide would not be a moral choice for everyone. For terminally ill people, it can be a moral choice because they are not treating themselves merely as a means. Though Kant believes suicide is wrong, many of his formulations support the rights of suffering people to make decisions in regards to their basic humanity and the humanity of the other people surrounding them. Euthanasia can be an autonomous act of duty towards oneself and towards humanity.

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