Margaret Battin

Margaret Battin, “Euthanasia: The Way We Do It, the Way They Do It,” in Larry May and others, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Prentice Hall, 2011, 5th ed., pp. 510-524.

Margaret Battin compares practices in different countries and concludes that physician-assisted suicide–a practice not permitted in Germany–is defensible in the U.S.

The cultural histories of different countries help to explain different practices regarding the termination of life. Germany has not outlawed a practice of assisted suicide when the assistance is given by private parties outside the medical profession. Physicians are strictly limited in what they may do, a limitation that is emerged after the Nuremberg trials. In the

Netherlands physician-assisted active euthanasia is permitted. In the Netherlands, physicians tend to know their patients who generally are part of a family practice. The U.S. allows neither assisted suicide nor physician-assisted euthanasia. Fear of litigation in the U.S. prompts physicians to avoid assisting in either the practice of suicide or euthanasia. [Note: Since Battin wrote this article, five U.S. states–California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington–have permitted physician-assisted suicide.]

Battin concludes that in the United States physician-assisted suicide would be consistent with respect for patient autonomy. She characterizes the medical patient in the U.S. as independent, confrontational, self-analyzing, do-it-yourself, and authority-resisting.

Battin’s argument seems at first to be close to a strict deontological­­ (classic libertarian) position when she argues for physician-assisted suicide in the United States, particularly when she appeals to patient autonomy. However, the autonomy that she supports is balanced with individual well-being and the minimizing of an individual’s suffering. This balancing of autonomy and well-being characterizes a moderate deontological argument, and Battin’s argument may be considered a moderate deontological position in the Kantian tradition.

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