Week 9: Life and Death Issues


Exercise 3 due Nov. 22.

Exam 3 Nov. 29.

Ethics and Emotions

Are ethical judgments emotional, and should they be?

Cognitivism: Ethical judgments should be based on reasoning about consequences and/or rights and duties.

Emotivism: Ethical judgments are merely expressions of emotional preferences.

Synthesis: Judgment is both cognitive and emotional, and is most effective when they interact.

Articles on emotional reason.


Abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy prior to fetal viability.


1. All abortion is immoral.

2. Abortion is moral if it is necessary to save the mother's life.

3. Abortion of early pregnancies is moral.

4. Abortion is never immoral.

What follows focuses on the most typical cases: abortion where a mother's life is not directly threatened, occurring in the first 5 months of pregnancy.

Consequentialist arguments for abortion

Unwanted pregnancies cause great distress.

Requiring tribunals to make decisions causes stress and late abortions.

Illegal abortions cause medical problems.

Unwanted children cause social problems.

Consequentialist arguments against abortion

The fetus never gets to experience anything.

Women who have abortions feel guilty about it.

Rights-based arguments for abortion

Women have a right to choose: autonomy, security, control of body.

The less than 5-month fetus is not a person, because it is not sufficiently developed (Sumner).

The fetus is not a person, because it has no relations to other people except the mother (Sherwin).

Rights-based arguments against abortion

The fetus is a person from conception, because that is when the soul enters. Hence the fetus has a right not to be killed.


Kinds of Euthanasia

Euthanasia: Killing the hopelessly sick for reasons of mercy.

Passive: Letting them die.

Active: Causing their death.

Voluntary: Causing their death at their request. = Assisted suicide.

Involuntary: Causing their death against their wishes or interests.

Recent Cases

Sue Rodriguez.: severely disabled from Lou Gehrig's disease. Requested the courts to allow a doctor to assist her in committing suicide. This would be voluntary active euthansia, as practiced in the Netherlands and by American Dr. Kevorkian.

Tracy Latimer: girl with severe cerebral palsy. Killed by her father, who was sent to jail for murder.

Gloria Taylor 2011 won B.C. Supreme Court ruling in favor of doctor assisted suicide.

Consequentialist Arguments for Voluntary Euthanasia

It alleviates the suffering of the person requesting to die.

It reduces distress for others perceiving the suffering.

It reduces health care costs.

Consequentialist Arguments against Voluntary Euthanasia

It may lead to premature death and lost valuable experiences.

Practicing it may lead to the devaluation of life (slippery slope).

Rights-based Arguments for Voluntary Euthanasia

A person has a right to die as well as a right to live, so respecting autonomy requires supporting suicide.

Rights-based Arguments against Voluntary Euthanasia

A person's autonomy may be compromised by doctors or family members who want them gone.

A person has a duty to stay alive.

Slippery Slope Argument against Voluntary Euthanasia

If we allow voluntary euthanasia, then other kinds of killing will be accepted.

Slippery slope arguments are weak unless there is substantial justification tying the THEN to the IF.

They also require arguments that the THEN part is bad.

Arguments that Passive Euthanasia is no Better than Active Euthanasia

Rachels: Passive Euthanasia may involve more suffering.

Quill: The foreseen effects of both kinds of euthanasia are the same.

Review Questions for Week 9

1. Why did the Supreme Court of Canada rule against section 251 of the criminal code that made abortion illegal?

2. What is Sumner's alternative to extreme liberal and conservative views on abortion? What is his developmental view of a person?

3. What is feminist about Sherwin's perspective on the abortion issue?

4. Short essay question: Is abortion moral? Critically discuss considering both consequences and rights. For each option, discuss: consequences pro, con, and overall; rights pro, con, and overall; your overall conclusion concerning the options based on consequences and rights.

5. What is the difference between active and passive euthanasia? Why does Rachels think this is a dubious distinction?

6. What does Doerflinger think are the main arguments about assisted suicide?

7. What is the rule of double effect and what is problematic about applying it to passive euthanasia?

8. Short essay question: Discuss the ethical arguments for and against assisted suicide. For each option, discuss: consequences pro, con, and overall; rights pro, con, and overall; your overall conclusion concerning the options based on consequences and rights.


Phil 226

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Nov. 5, 2012