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John Stuart Mill
“Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain. ” – John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill defines utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that “actions are right in proportions as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Sparknotes Editors). There are a few important aspects of this definition.
It presents utility, the existence of pleasure and the absence of pain, as both the basis of everything that people desire, as the foundation of morality. This however, does not state that it is moral for people to pursue what makes them personally happy (Sparknotes Editors). The question at hand is what would John Stuart Mill advise the doctor to do? Fulfill the Joes request and assist him with his death or respect the family’s wishes by keeping Joe alive.
From my viewpoint, I would say that Mill would tell the doctor to go forth with the family’s wishes because of his statement “is it not moral for people to pursue what makes them personally happy” (Sparknotes Editors) and in this case – it would not be moral to do as the patient wishes because the end result would be that it would only make the patient happy. However, from a utilitarian view point, a physician assisted suicide can appear to be morally justified in all cases. But in this case, it would be only morally justified in the patients’ case because he is the only one who is on board with the idea of physician assisted suicide.
The only way this way this would be morally justified in all cases is if not only the patient was on board, but the entire family would have to be as well, by looking at such things like the physician assisted suicide as an elimination of the financial burden due to medical costs. Mill’s Utilitarianism states that in order to be moral, one must make decisions based upon the greatest happiness. In terms of physician assisted suicide I feel that death, no matter the form, usually brings many emotions such as both positive (the end of the patients suffering; then end of medical costs), and negative (feeling of loss and sadness of a loved one).
According to Mill, the utilitarian doctrine states that “happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end. ” (Mill) so what he is saying is that we are to treat others and ourselves included as a means to an end, and that it would be immoral to use other people and ourselves as a mere means. If you think about it, happiness is only something that can be experienced when we are alive and in reality, there is nothing desired except happiness and our actions derive from the pursuit of happiness. So if our ultimate moral end goal is happiness.
My argument would be that the patient is not seeking happiness as an end but only a means because he is seeking it for himself to end his suffering. The process of physician assisted euthanasia would be considered a mere means if it were both what the patient and his family both wanted – but in this case this is not what both parties want. They each want the end result to be different. Mill also argued that individuals are the best judges and guardians of their own interests. So in this case, he would be stating that Joe is capable of making his own decision(s) and his family should allow him to make his own decision in this case.
The only way Mill would state otherwise is if Joe was not capable of making his own decision, an example would be if he was in an unconscious state or otherwise mentally impaired. At this point a case could be made in the fact that Joe is unhappy and he knows eventually that his illness will lead him to much discomfort and possible pain. The only thing in Joe’s mind that will make him happy is to end his suffering and end the suffering of his family who would have to watch him battle this sickness. This would be a “win-win” situation in Joes mind.
Another case could be made using the assertion that “the right thing” would be to use any means necessary to alleviate the pain and suffering Joe may face in the future. This renews and reaffirms Joe’s importance to himself and his family members. Mill has also stated “all selfish interests must be terminated by death. ” I think that by this he is saying the only way to end Joe’s want for physician assisted suicide is by death. He is stating that this is a selfish want on Joe’s part – he could also be stating that the family too is being selfish in not wanting to end Joe’s suffering.
So neither party’s selfish wants are going to be subsided until death. I feel that John Stuart Mills’ utilitarianism would support the idea of what the family feels and wants rather than supporting physician assisted euthanasia. Only because his main focus is happiness and one cannot experience happiness in death. Works Cited Mill J. S. , Utilitarianism. New York; Longmans, Green; 1907 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Utilitarianism. ” SparkNotes LLC. n. d.. http://www. sparknotes. com/philosophy/utilitarianism/ (accessed October 17, 2012).