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Moral Distinctions between Passive and Active Euthanasia


Chan, Jonathan K. (2020) Moral Distinctions between Passive and Active Euthanasia. Other, California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/3qas-p870.


Morally speaking, what distinguishes passive from active euthanasia? Is there even a moral distinction? Before we can answer these questions, it will serve us well to get a sense of what either type of euthanasia involves. Euthanasia is often termed 'mercy killing' or 'assisted suicide.' It is the intentional ending of a patient’s life to ease his pain and suffering (typically caused by some terminal illness). Euthanasia can be classified as passive or active. Passive euthanasia involves withholding common treatments (drugs, operations, respirators etc.) necessary for a patient to continue living. Active euthanasia, on the other hand, involves the use of lethal substances or forces (e.g. a lethal injection) to kill the patient. The prima facie distinction between active and passive euthanasia is that the former involves killing a patient, while the latter involves letting the patient die. Thus, some philosophers suggest that by asking whether there is a moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia, we are really asking whether there is a moral distinction between ‘killing’ and 'letting die.' With that said, solving this age-old 'killing' versus ‘letting die’ moral dilemma is far beyond the scope of this paper. However, I believe we need not fully resolve the dilemma in order to gain insight into the moral differences between active and passive euthanasia.

Item Type:Thesis (Other)
Subject Keywords:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize - Philosophy
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Philosophy
Awards:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize - Philosophy, 2018.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Hitchcock, Christopher R.
Group:Gordon McClure Memorial Communications Prize, Hixon Writing Center
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:16 June 2017
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:07102018-134655244
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11106
Deposited By: Leslie Rico
Deposited On:12 Jul 2018 20:44
Last Modified:22 Mar 2019 16:13

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