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J Med Ethics 39:15-16 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100807
  • Current controversy

Dependent relational animals

  1. Michael Bevins
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Bevins, Palliative Care, Scott & White Healthcare, 2401 S 31st St, Temple, TX 76508, USA; mikebevins{at}ymail.com
  • Received 8 May 2012
  • Accepted 21 July 2012
  • Published Online First 10 August 2012

Typically when a person dies, a number of negative consequences result. Some of these consequences can be framed in terms of loss: lost opportunities, lost income, lost abilities and lost relationships, to name a few. In addition, dying often involves physical and existential suffering, causes grief for loved ones and may result in temporary or eternal damnation. In fact, it may be that killing is considered so very wrong—relative to other harmful actions—because of the many varieties of harm it causes.

In a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Franklin G Miller claim ‘we need an explanation that captures the full extent of what is wrong with killing’.1 But of course we don't. There is no shortage of reasons why killing is wrong and there is no reason to think something must be wrong for only one reason. Their contention that ‘there is nothing bad about death or killing other than disability or disabling’ simply defies common sense. While disabling someone is indeed harmful, from a moral standpoint there is more to death than disability and there are always other negative consequences to killing that can be legitimately offered as reasons why it should not be done. Rather than a full account of why killing is wrong, I suspect what Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller are after is a sufficient explanation of the wrongness of killing. Such an account would allow for other negative consequences of killing, but in no case would it need them to explain why killing is wrong. Unfortunately, as I discuss below, their account fails both as a full and as a sufficient explanation of the wrongness of killing.

To argue their point, Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller begin with a thought experiment in which Abe robs and fatally shoots Betty. Why is …

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