James Rachels\' Death and Dying


James Rachels is one of the most controversial philosophers talked about
in today\'s society. One of his most talked about topics is whether a person has
a right to die or not. Not much is known about Rachels expect for the many
articles and books he has written. In the controversy of letting a person die
or killing him, he does not try to explain which method is good and which method
is bad. He however tries to explain why they both are bad to a certain degree.
Rachels does not take one side, but tries to convince why one is better than the
other. In his opinion, letting a person starve to death or just putting him out
of his misery by killing him is an ongoing struggle. If you let a person starve
to death, it might be putting that person through a lot of pain but he\'ll still
be alive (who knows, maybe a miracle cure will be found.) If you killed him on
the spot with a lethal injection, it would be a more peaceful death but you
would be shortening that person\'s life. Putting a person to death in a peaceful
manner is called euthanasia. Euthanasia is an ancient word that means "easy
death." There is also the issue of morality. Would killing someone by their
own will or suicide be a moral act? What about a patient that is suffering from
cancer? Is it moral to let that person suffer? These are some of the many
questions people have been trying to answer for year without success.
Euthanasia is a very uncomfortable subject to talk about for most people
because who wants to think about having to kill oneself or a person that is dear
to his or her life. Even though nobody wants to go through the hardship of
deciding whether a person should live or die, it happens everyday. There are
two forms of euthanasia. There is an active euthanasia and a passive euthanasia
(Jussim 7-13). This so-called distinction between active and passive was
challenged by Rachels in a paper first published in 1975 in the New England
Journal of Medicine. In that paper, Rachels challenges both the use and moral
significance of that distinction. He argues that active euthanasia is in many
cases is more humane than passive euthanasia. Rachels urges doctors to
reconsider their views on active euthanasia. He writes: "To begin with a
familiar type of situation, a patient who is dying of incurable cancer of the
throat is in terrible pain, which can no longer be satisfactorily alleviated.
He is certain to die within a few days even if present treatment is continued,
but he does not want to go on living for those days since the pain is unbearable.
So he asks the doctor for an end to it, and his family joins in this request
(Rachels 106-108)." "Suppose the doctor agrees to withhold treatment. The
justification for his doing so is that the patient is in terrible agony, and
since he is going to die anyway, it would be wrong to prolong his suffering
needlessly, but now notice this if one simply withholds treatment, it may take
the patient longer to die, and so he may suffer more than he would if more
direct action were taken and a lethal injection given. This fact provides
strong reason for thinking that, once the initial decision not to prolong his
agony has been made, active euthanasia is actually preferable to passive
euthanasia, rather than the reverse (Rachels 106-108)." Let\'s take for example
one of my favorites, Baby Jane Doe. She is a baby that was heavily deformed
mentally and physically. The doctors said that she doesn\'t have a chance to
live if she doesn\'t go into surgery. However, Baby Jane Doe has a slight chance
of living if the surgery is done, but she would most likely live to be 18 years
old or less. She would still be mentally retarded and would need constant
attention from her parents. So if Baby Jane goes into surgery, it would be the
same as passive euthanasia. The parents of Baby Jane decided that it would be
better for them and her if she died peacefully rather than suffering through
what was sure to be her death in later years. However, the government decided
that it was wrong for Baby Jane to die so they were forced to have the surgery
done to their child (Rachels 60-62). So is killing someone worse than letting
them die passively? Rachels asks