Oct 20, 2021 in Research Essays

Euthanasia Jack Kevorkian and Aristotle’s Views

The topic of euthanasia has been relevant in the modern world for many years. The basic ethical principle of bioethics is respect for the honor and dignity of a human being. In addition, it considers the individual’s right to a free choice of life or death. The attitude to euthanasia has been ambiguous in most historical eras. For example, the philosophers of Ancient Greece, including Socrates and Plato, as well as the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, justified the killing of seriously ill people. They believed that it was the moral duty of hopelessly sick people to make this choice. In contrast, Aristotle was an opponent of killing such individuals. The philosopher emphasized the asociality and cruelty of this action. It is irresponsible and can be considered a crime against the state. The paper discusses euthanasia in the examples of the case of Jack Kevorkian and Aristotle’s views on euthanasia.

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The Concept of Euthanasia

Today, the term euthanasia has several different meanings. On the one hand, it is an approximation of the death of the seriously ill and terminally ill people. On the other hand, it is the termination of the life of extra people (for example, in the case of the death penalty). Overall, euthanasia is considered a mean of caring for the dying. It provides an ill person with the possibility to die.

Euthanasia can be either passive or active. Passive euthanasia is a refusal of the treatment, which is either ceased or not provided at all. Active euthanasia is a deliberate action for cutting the patient’s life short. Primarily, the difference between the direct and indirect euthanasia considers the sphere of the motivation of professional decisions and participation of a physician. Direct euthanasia is carried out when a doctor has an intention to shorten the patient’s life. In its turn, indirect euthanasia is carried out when the death of a patient is an indirect (secondary) consequence of the doctor’s actions that aim at achieving a different goal. Lastly, voluntary euthanasia is the execution of the request of a patient.

There are several strengths of the moral position against euthanasia. Active euthanasia is an infringement on human life, which is of primary importance and value. This choice can be unreasonable since there always exists the possibility of a diagnostic or forecasting error of a doctor. Moreover, there is the possibility of the development of new medicines and methods of treatment, as well as effective painkillers. There is the risk of abuse by the staff. I such a manner, if active euthanasia is legalized, the medical staff will be tempted to use it not based on the patient’s interests and desire, but on much less humane considerations. Meanwhile, there are also moral aspects of using euthanasia as a kind of suicide. In such a manner, “The Pythagorean opposition to all forms of suicide, including euthanasia, ultimately rests on a religious principle” (Carrick 153).

However, there are particular weaknesses of the viewpoint that refuse people the right to euthanasia. In particular, arguments for euthanasia include the right of a human being to the self-determination, even to the point that he or she can choose whether to continue the own life or cut it short. According to Carrick, the Greeks did not consider euthanasia away of causing death (147). In their understanding, it was a possibility to end one’s life in a bloodless manner. A person must be protected from the cruel and inhuman treatment. Papadimitriou et al. state that according to Hippocrates, medicine was powerless in helping gravely ill patients. Since a person undergoes terrible suffering, it cannot be considered a normal life. It is full of negative feelings, pain, and thoughts. Thus, euthanasia can be considered a humane and reasonable decision. A person has the right to be an altruist. Seneca also supported the idea of euthanasia since he considered it “a real choice that epitomized moral freedom” (163).The economic side of the problem is related to the fact that the treatment and maintenance of the doomed requires a lot of money from the society. The maintenance of an ill person is very expensive. As a rule, relatives give their last money, for example, sell houses, in order to support the life of a person, who cannot live a normal life.

Doctor Death

The most known case of euthanasia is the one of Doctor Death. In 1999, a jury sentenced 70-year-old Jack Kevorkian to a ten-year prison term for assisting in suicide to a man, who had suffered multiple sclerosis for many years. In 2008, Kevorkian was released prematurely due to his incurable disease. In June 2011, “doctor death, passed away. His death caused a new wave of discussions on the problem of euthanasia (Schneider).”

Kevorkian was born in 1928 in the United States. In 1958, he began to spread the idea of euthanasia (Schneider). He took part in the Korean War; later, the man worked as a pathologist at various hospitals across the country. In his medical practice, he advocated euthanasia in cases when a patient could not be provided with medical assistance and his or her suffering was too huge.

Kevorkian began with developing the theory of euthanasia. He published several articles in American and German journals. He planned to conduct the first experiments in prisons for the suicide bombers. However, his requests were rejected by correctional institutions. The man had to work with the live material. Then, Kevorkian gave the first announcement in the Detroit newspaper. He told a story of a consultant doctor, who gave advice to a patient on how to cut the life short voluntarily. In such a manner, Kevorkian became the first person in the modern world, who officially advertised the suicide aid.

In the 1980s, he personally developed and built the so-called mercitron that, in fact, was a suicide machine (Schneider). It injected a lethal dose of analgesics and toxic drugs into the patient’s blood. The device also provided a special option for interrupting the procedure in the event a person changed the own decision unexpectedly.

After long negotiations, one of the newspapers decided to publish the advertisement of Jack Kevorkian of the easy death. On June 4, 1990, with the help of mercitrone, the first patient with Alzheimer’s disease ended her life. The doctor’s first patient was a 54-year-old woman, Janet Atkins (Schneider). In his old bus, which was equipped with a specific laboratory, Kevorkian launched the death machine. The last word that he heard from the patient was, “Thanks!” The injection mechanism was activated by Janet herself. Having registered her death, Kevorkian informed the police and presented the videotaped conversation with the patient and an act of suicide. The family confirmed the decision of Janet to die and gave the police her suicide note.

Kevorkian was arrested but was released by the decision of a judge, who explained to the media that the fact of voluntary suicide was proven. Suicide was not a crime; thus, assisting a patient could not be considered a crime, as well. In a few days after being released, doctor Kevorkian helped another hopelessly sick man to die. He again provided a videotape, on which a patient himself switched on the device. America was alarmed. In Michigan, the faithful picketed the house, in which Kevorkian rented an apartment. Journalists gave him the nickname doctor Death. According to Rushe, Kevorkian “helped 130 people commit suicide when terminally ill.” The man was not afraid of helping people leave this life. He considered helping patients in such a manner his moral duty. Until the last minute, each patient had the choice whether to live or die.

Aristotle’s Ideas

The value of the human life is an important argument against euthanasia. Euthanasia violates the basis of the sanctity of the human life since the main argument in favor of euthanasia is the statement about the goodness of not life itself but of life with certain characteristics. In this context, Aristotle’s reasoning in the Nicomachean Ethics concerning the topic of euthanasia is of great interest. He also touched upon the issues of involuntary actions carried out by a person not according to one’s will and arbitrary actions, with the help of which a person could achieve the own aim, Aristotle singled out a special class of mixed actions. These actions are committed under a stringent pressure of circumstances.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle arrived at the conclusion that only the human mind was immortal; after person’s death, it merged with the universal mind. He gave a definition of death through the opposition. According to Aristotle, death is a definite destruction and the opposite of life. Therefore, life is an occurrence and to live means to arise.

The legality of mercy killing was refuted by Aristotle. He argued that suicide (including euthanasia) violated the nature and was a grave crime against the state. Aristotle condemned such actions and regarded them a refusal to fulfill own civic duties by censuring the cowardice of the behavior of such citizens, which affected both the economy of the state and the human resources, which were suitable for the military service (Carrick 167). Moreover, Aristotle believed that death came timely. According to him, suicide was a manifestation of cowardice even if being an escape from the mental or physical illness (Papadimitriou et al.).

In nature, as in the artificial world, everything has the goal of the own existence, which is inherent in every living creature. These teleological ideas were spread by Aristotle to the whole humanity, and the target reason was the eternal and universal good. The internal plan for the realization of every living creature in the world is integrated into one’s mind and requires being implemented. Aristotle considered the realization of the inner plan a pass to comprehension (awareness). This pass becomes the basis for the development of true logic and life strategy of a person, who is trying to build the own way of life. It leads to the maximization of a person’s inner potential and the achievement of a good. At the same time, it limits the human development. A single goal is an ideal, which everything and everyone targets. The identification of the good and the goal led Aristotle to the idea that the result of a person’s life path was not always marked by the achievement of the genuine good that should be properly determined.

In the own life, a person should achieve the realization of his internal plan through the personal improvement, development of the creative potential, the realization of inherent abilities, and contribution to the improvement of the public life. The realization of potency can be considered a true victory over the finiteness of the being. However, it may not happen since a person can put an end to it on his or her own. A suicide that is the decision to use euthanasia was considered by Aristotle an obstacle that deprived a person of the opportunity to realize the own social and cosmic mission during the life. It is no accident that in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle condemned suicides and asserted that it was justifiable from the point of view of morality that the state imposed a suicide and a kind of dishonor if being pursued by a citizen, who acted improperly towards the state. In general, suicide in Aristotelian philosophy is a symbol of incompleteness and inexpediency. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle stated that only death could put an end to the self-realization and perfection of a human being. As compared to suicide, death is the natural limit of the human existence and development.


The topic of human freedom of will formed different approaches to understanding the issue of euthanasia in the history of philosophical thought. It provides different answers to the question of whether a person has the right to choose the time of the own death. Euthanasia is a deliberate killing by a method that presupposes the least pain and suffering with the view to finishing the unbearable suffering or avoiding difficulties of a life that is considered inhuman. The brightest example of the use of euthanasia was the case of Doctor Death, who helped people to commit suicides with the help of a special device. Using the freedom of will, a person chooses his or her own; therefore, one is responsible for what is happening. However, opponents of euthanasia condemn this practice; they argue that suicide has an impact on society as a whole. It is one of the most common standpoints in the history of philosophy, which was offered by Aristotle. Aristotle condemned euthanasia because of considering it a lack of courage, cowardice, and fearfully hiding from suffering.

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