Brock: "Voluntary Active Euthanasia"

I. Brock's Main Goal

To formulate and evaluate the main arguments for and against voluntary active euthanasia (10).

II. Some Distinctions (10-11)

A paradigm case of physician-assisted suicide: A competent patient voluntarily ends her life with a lethal dose of a medication persistently requested of and eventually provided by a physician for that purpose.

A paradigm case of voluntary active euthanasia: A competent patient makes a voluntary and persistent request to a physician for help in dying. The physician administers a lethal dose of medication because the patient cannot do so herself.

A paradigm case of involuntary active euthanasia: A physician administers a lethal dose of medication to a competent patient even though she has refused euthanasia.

A paradigm case of non-voluntary active euthanasia: A physician administers a lethal dose of medication to a patient who is not competent and who is unable to indicate whether she wants euthanasia.

Some commentators use "passive euthanasia" to refer to withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. 

III. Main Argument for Voluntary Active Euthanasia (11)

We believe that it is legitimate for patients to make decisions about whether to initiate or continue life-sustaining treatment.

The basis of our judgment that this is legitimate is an appeal to the goodness of self-determination (autonomy) and well-being.

But voluntary active euthansia would also promote these values.

So we have significant reason to be in favor of voluntary active euthanasia.

IV. Objection and Replies

Even when voluntary active euthanasia would promote a patient's autonomy and well-being, it is wrong. For it involves the deliberate killing of an innocent person and such killing is wrong.

Reply: Withdrawal of treatment is also deliberate killing of an innocent person. (Greedy son thought experiment.) So either we are mistaken in concluding that it is morally permissible or deliberately killing an innocent person can be right.

Reply: Even if withdrawal of treatment is not deliberate killing of an innocent person, voluntary active euthanasia might be morally permissible. For deliberately killing a person when he has waived his right not to be killed can be morally permissible.

V. Advantages and Disadvantages of Legally Permitting Voluntary Active Euthanasia


We would respect the self-determination of those who are competent and want to die, but cannot under current law.

We would give people the comfort of knowing that if they find themselves in a situation in which they would prefer voluntary active euthansia, it would be available to them.

We would relieve pain and suffering, both physical and psychological.


We would undermine the fundamental professional and moral committments of physicians. (Disputed by Brock.)

We would make certain people worse off by giving them the choice of whether to opt for euthanasia. (Not seen as particularly serious by Brock.)

We would fall down a slippery slope to non-voluntary or involuntary active euthanasia. (Considered as potentially serious, but not conclusive, by Brock.)

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