PAPER TOPIC NUMBER FOUR
PAPER TOPIC IV
"The Survival Lottery"
Whenever doctors have two or more dying patients who
could be saved by transplants, and no suitable organs
have come to hand through 'natural' deaths, they can ask
a central computer to supply a suitable donor. The computer
will then pick the number of a suitable donor at random and
he will be killed so that the lives of two or more others may be
saved." - John Harris, Philosophy, Vol. 50, 1975, pp. 81-7
Consider the following:
Many believe that what Harold did was wrong. What do you think? Do you agree?
If so, on what moral grounds? If not, why not? What's the moral argument?
In the situation described above Harold could have let his brother die. As the doctors said his brother Matthew had about a year to live. Harold, however, chose not to wait. He shot and killed his brother. Was his decision justified?
On the basis of what fundamental moral principle might Harold's decision be justified or not?
Some would argue that the principle which states that "each and every human life is precious, valuable and uniquely sacred" shows that Harold's decision was not justified: The intentional, deliberate killing of an innocent human being is always wrong.
What do you think? Do you agree?
Some believe there is an important distinction to be made between killing and letting die and that Harold, in acting as he did, failed to honor this distinction.
And yet, as James Rachels writes in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1975, "one reason why so many people think that there is an important moral difference between active and passive euthanasia is that they think killing someone is morally worse than letting someone die. But is it? Is killing, in itself, worse than letting die?"
To investigate this issue, two cases may be considered that are exactly alike except that one involves killing whereas the other involves letting someone die. Then, it can be asked whether this difference makes any difference to the moral assessments. It is important that the cases be exactly alike, except for this one difference, since otherwise one cannot be confident that it is this difference and not some other that accounts for any variation in the assessments of the two cases. So, let us consider this pair of cases:
The Solicitor General of the United States would have none of this, He argued before the United States Supreme Court in the Nancy Cruzan case in 1984 "though government may not prevent a doctor from discontinuing life support if the patient insists, it may absolutely prevent him, in any and all circumstances, from prescribing lethal pills the patient requests, because in the former situation the doctor only omits to take action that could save life while in the latter he positively contributes to causing death."
And the American Medical Association has gone on record, stating that "the intentional termination of the life of one human being by another" is "contrary" to the policy of the AMA.
But is there a difference, a moral difference, between killing and letting die? Rachels seems to think there is none. See what he says in full. Here is his article attached as a PDF File: Active and Passive Euthanasia.
What do you think? Is there a moral difference between causing and allowing, between causing and allowing someone to die. Never? Sometimes? in some cases? But if this is so, what is it about those cases that makes them candidates for the applicability of the killing/letting die distinction? Or perhaps you think there is no distinction to be made, that is, that there is no moral distinction, between killing and letting die, that people like the Solicitor General of the United States are just confused when they think there is.
This, of course, is exactly what Harold did. He intentionally terminated the life of his brother by shooting him.
[Suppose] that everyone be given a sort of lottery number. Whenever doctors have two or more dying patients who could be saved by transplants, and no suitable organs have come to hand through 'natural' deaths, they can ask a central computer to supply a suitable donor. The computer will then pick the number of a suitable donor at random and he will be killed so that the lives of two or more others may be saved.
And John Harris claims in his essay on Survival Lottery, published in the journal Philosophy in 1971, one cannot object to it "on the ground that it involves killing the innocent" because any alternative, all the alternatives also "involve killing the innocent" and, Harris goes on to say, if one does wish to object one "must point to some morally relevant difference between positive and negative 'killing'."
John Harris essay is also attached and you may wish to take a closer look at John Harris's essay by clicking HERE.
Drawing on the reading and your own sound reasoning and good judgment, is the scheme proposed in Harris' essay morally wrong? If so , on what moral grounds and which moral theory and or principle or principles best support and explain your reasoning? Or is it perhaps not morally objectionable or what moral objections there are may be overcome or overridden by other moral considerations. Perhaps as far as you are concerned the scheme is "for the best" from a moral point of view. If so, what makes it justified? Again: what moral theory or principle or principles best support and explain your position?
What, if anything, is morally wrong with Harris' survival lottery? What's your defense of your answer and what objections might be raised to your defense and how might you best respond to them?
In the course of giving your answer how does it square with, help to explain your judgment of Harold Donnelly's decision described above? Does the theory and principle or principles you propose that best support and explain your position on the survival lottery also support and explain your position on that case?
Recall, too, some of the cases we have already discussed - at least to some extent - in class: The Trolley Problem, "Baby Theresa" , John in the Amazon, Queen v. Dudley and "The Strange Case of the Speluncean Explorers"
Do your views of John in the Amazon, The Trolley Problem, The Baby Theresa Case square with your view of the Donnelly Case and your judgment of Smith and Jones in James Rachels' example and how you judge the Survival Lottery?
Does your moral theory, principle or principles best capture your intuitive judgment of how these cases ought to be decided. And if you think your theory and principle or principles apply to all these cases, think of several objections to your appeal to this theory or that principle or principles, and respond to them.
You may want to take a look again at the moral theories laid out in the reading in the Perry, Bratman, Fischer text, in the Oxford edition of the Introduction to Philosophy in the section with the title: "Ethics and Society" at utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue theory, and the social contract theory of John Rawls.
You may also find the different positions taken by Onora O'Neill in her "Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems" and by Peter Singer in his Singer's "Famine, Affluence and Morality" provide some insight into how philosophers argue for and against contemporary moral issues as well as some insight into how philosophers apply different moral theories to moral problems.
But again, to paraphrase what one, very good contemporary philosopher, J. R. Lucas, has said:
"Philosophy has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's philosophizing may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."
And as with the other topics, please feel free to talk to others in the class as well as to talk to family and friends, to show them the paper topic, to brainstorm and consult with them. If you feel confident about your answer, it may help to ask others what they think is wrong with your answer as well as to ask if they think you may have overlooked something and if so, what?
Once you have sorted out what you think, do not feel shy about drawing on the readings from the Perry, Bratman and Fischer Introduction to Philosophy text for support of or objection to one or more of your arguments
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Last Modified: 11/05/11
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