Kantian Ethics Regarding Assisted Suicide
Ian slouched into the padded chair alongside his father’s hospital bed; the weight of his lower half sagged along the edge of the seat and his feet were crossed on the squeaky white linoleum. The back of his neck and skull gripped the curve at the top of the backrest and anchored his body to the chair. He rested his left hand on his father’s right forearm and he hugged his own belly with his right arm. He could feel his old man’s body rising and falling with every artificial breath under his left arm and he could feel his own body do the same under his right. After two hours without movement, Ian’s breathing had began to mimic and synchronize with his father’s. Ian stared into the screen of the TV which hadn’t been turned on in months and which still remained pictureless. He recalled when he and the old man had discussed this exact situation in the past. “If I ever get to the point where my life is wholly dependent upon machines, Ian, I want you to put me out of my misery. If I ever can’t wipe my own ass or put my own fork to my own mouth, or if I’m ever pumped so full of drugs that I can’t tell the difference between up and down or asleep and awake, put me out of my misery. If I can’t live without a machine doing all the work that my body should be doing naturally, don’t think twice. What kind of life is that for a person to be living. That’s not life!” The old man had looked at those who couldn’t fully experience all that life had to offer with pity, he looked at them with a sort of sadness. He had a knack for adventure and had lived a life that most have only ever read about. His body was used up and he once had the stories to prove it. To him, that was life; adventure and experience. To him, this was hell; being confined to a bed by the betrayal of his own body. Ian had thought twice. As a matter of fact, he’d thought countless times and was yet to follow through on his father’s direction. It had been over a year since his father had been on his own two feet, over a year since the day the machine on the other side of the bed first began to breathe for him. Perhaps today was the day. Ian was lost in thought as he stared off into the empty glass of the television that clung to the sterile white wall. Dr. Dennis cleared his throat quietly. Ian’s body snapped upright into the floral fabric of the upholstered chair. Ian’s dad remained silent and motionless. “Hey Dr. Dennis, I didn’t see you come in. Thank you so much for meeting me. How’ve you been?” “It’s not a problem, Ian. I’ve been well, how about yourself?” “Oh you know, hanging in there, trying to keep busy.”
The two men stood in an awkward pause before Ian broke the silence, “So, how’s my pops doing? Any signs of progress?” Dr. Dennis mustered up half of a sympathetic smile, “Well, no,” he exhaled heavily through his nostrils, “Ian, as we’ve discussed before, I am limited only to my practice of medicine and cannot, in turn, rely on miracles. For your father to make even the slightest progress would surely take just that, a miracle.” “I know, Doc, I know. I guess that some days I’m more superficially hopeful than others. Even though you tell me with the utmost certainty that my dad will still be in a coma tomorrow, and deep down I agree with you, a small part of me is humoring me by saying, ‘Sure, it’s more than likely that he’ll still be in a coma, but there is a small chance that he might wake up. It’s impossible to absolutely know whether or not the circumstances in the future will be the same circumstances today. How the hell can he know for sure?’” Ian looked at Dr. Dennis as he patiently nodded. He went on, “Don’t get me wrong, Doctor, I wholeheartedly trust you and I don’t mean to take anything away from your professional opinion, I even ask myself the same question when the weatherman on the news tells me the sun will rise in the morning.” “I understand, Ian, and you’re right, I can’t know with a hundred percent...
Cited: Brassington, I. "Killing People: What Kant Could Have Said About Suicide and Euthanasia but Did Not." Journal of Medical Ethics, 32.10 (2006): 571-574.
Cooley, Dennis R. "A Kantian Moral Duty for the Soon-to-be Demented to Commit Suicide." The American Journal of Bioethics : AJOB, 7.6 (2007): 37-44.
Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Ethics. Ed. L. Infield. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1979. 154-157.
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