Medical Ethics
Michael Green
Manuel Vargas
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Course Readings
Final Exam
First Assignment
Getting in touch

Medical Ethics: Second Assignment

This was distributed by email on 11 May. Paper copies are available outside my office. Please note that the due date is not the same as the one listed in the syllabus.

Respond to one of the following in five pages, using a twelve point font and double-spaced lines. Papers are due in class on Wednesday, 27 May. Good luck!

1. What if the law enshrined Sullivan's distinction between killing and ending extraordinary treatment, such that the former is always forbidden but the latter is sometimes permitted. Thus terminal patients in extreme pain could be "terminally sedated," that is, they could be put under heavy sedation and allowed to die without treatment. To what extent would this meet the concerns of those who advocate physician-assisted suicide? Would it do everything for patients that a right to physician-assisted suicide would? Which would be the better policy: this one or a right to physician-assisted suicide?

2. According to Dworkin, legally banning physician-assisted suicide seems undesirable because doing so deprives some people of their best chance at a relatively easy death. According to Velleman, legally permitting physician-assisted suicide seems undesirable because doing so will force some people to make deliberate choices about whether to live or die and will lead some to think their lives are worthless. If you had to choose our society's policy on physician-assisted suicide, how would you weigh these disadvantages against one another? If these were the only considerations, would you prohibit physician-assisted suicide or permit it?

3. Suppose someone said this. "According to Rachels, passive and active euthanasia are morally equivalent: he argues that if we permit the one we should permit the other. But we all agree that killing a person is worse than letting one die. So, Rachels must be wrong." Explain why someone might think this, giving what you believe to be the strongest argument for thinking that killing is worse than allowing someone to die. Then, offer your assessment of this objection. How would someone defending Rachels reply to the objection? Which is correct: the objection or the defense?

4. Many believe that if physician-assisted suicide were legalized poor patients would have a greater tendency to choose death than wealthy ones. Some think that this shows that legalized physician-assisted suicide would be unfair. Others think it shows that legalized physician-assisted suicide would benefit the poor, partly rectifying inequities in the health care system. Explain each side's position. Which side is correct, in your opinion?

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