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Killing, letting die and euthanasia.
  1. D N Husak

    Abstract

    Medical ethicists debate whether or not the moral assessment of cases of euthanasia should depend on whether the patient is 'killed' or 'allowed to die'. The usual presupposition is that a clear distinction between killing and letting die can be drawn so that this substantive question is not begged. I contend that the categorisation of cases of instances of killing rather than as instances of letting die depends in part on a prior moral assessment of the case. Hence is it trivially rather than substantively true that the distinction has moral significance. But even if a morally neutral (ie non-question begging) distinction could be drawn, its application to the euthanasia controversy is problematic. I illustrate the difficulties of employing this distinction to reach moral conclusions by critically discussing Philippa Foot's recent treatment of euthanasia. I conclude that even if an act of euthanasia is an instance of killing, and there exists a prima facie moral duty not to kill, and no more stringent duty overrides this duty, one still cannot determine such an act to be morally impermissible.

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