Dignity and the End of Life

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
First Aired: 
Tuesday, June 8, 2004

What Is It

Is physician assisted suicide morally okay? What about active euthanasia for patients suffering terminal illnesses? If we begin traveling down this path, how do we put a break to our slide down the slippery slope toward a world in which we license physicians to kill or assist the suicide of severely depressed but not terminally ill patients? John and Ken have a dignified discussion with Margaret Battin from the University of Utah, author of Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die.

Listening Notes

Do we have the right to end our own lives? What is the difference between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia? Ken distinguishes between passive and active euthanasia. Is assisted suicide murder? Under what circumstances should we be allowed to help someone die, if any? Ken introduces the guest, Margaret Battin, professor at the University of Utah. Why would anyone oppose a right to die? Battin outlines three opposing positions: deliberate killing is always wrong, physician-assisted suicide would undermine the medical profession, and if we allow sympathetic killings, then it will allow groups to push others to die. Can we hold human life in high regard and allow assisted suicide?

Many ethical systems regard most forms of killing as wrong. What about avoiding unbearable pain? Kant thought that suicide for any reason was wrong. Battin thinks that it is different if you reflect before deciding to die. Kant's ethical views were formed before medicine advanced enough to keep patients alive for so long. Ken mentions the worry that insurance companies might not pay for treatment for terminally ill patients when assisted suicide is an option. Battin does not think that there is much economic incentive to let or to force patients to die instead of treating them. Does banning assisted suicide protect the value of human life? 

Battin points out that assisted suicide is an international issue. It is legal in many European countries already. Is letting a person die more humane than killing that person if she or he is in extreme pain? Where do we draw the line for allowing assisted suicide? The Netherlands does not require terminal illness but it does require intolerable suffering on the part of the patient.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:50): Amy Standen interviews Gloria, a women who recently had to deal with her husband contracting a terminal illness.
  • Conundrum (Seek to 48:30): Martina from Austin calls in to ask whether she should take a corporate job that pays well but that has goals she does not support.