The debate on killing versus letting die is a difficult topic to address due to the emotional weight of the subject and the challenge presented by taking a purely rational approach to assessing the resulting moral implications. Using a bare difference argument allows us to see that there is no difference between the two when it comes down to either actively taking part in another person’s death or passively allowing it to happen.
In this paper I will explain how Rachel’s use of the bare difference argument as a method works to support his conclusion, as well as argue why his bare difference argument of Smith and Jones effectively supports the thesis that killing is no worse than letting die. In order to fully understand Rachel’s argument it is necessary to understand the type of argument it represents. The bare difference argument takes the thesis of one argument and applies it to a very different situation.
In this case the argument of active versus passive euthanasia is applied to the illustration of Smith and Jones, two individuals presented with a drastically different scenario than someone diagnosed with a terminal illness. The bare difference argument works because if in one situation a thesis is doubted, it allows an opportunity for the thesis to be clarified and gain a better understanding whether you agree with it or disagree by presenting the thesis in contrasting scenario that eliminates variations in order to focus on the specific issue. Rachels 79) Rachel’s argument states that killing is no worse than letting-die, which is proven through the illustration of the case of Smith versus Jones. Both Smith and Jones stand to gain a large sum of money through the death of a six- year old cousin. On one occasion when Smith is watching the six-year old, the child takes a bath. Smith sees this as an opportunity to kill his cousin, and drowns the child. In a similar scenario, Jones also plans to drown his cousin while watching the six-year old bathe.
However, before he can act the child slips, hits his head, and drowns all by himself as Jones stands watching nearby, not taking any action to save the child, though prepared to act if necessary to ensure the child’s death. Smith actively killed the child while Jones allowed the child to die. (Rachels 79) In each case, the desired result was obtained for both Smith and Jones, and both played a role in the death of the child, one passive and the other active. Many people cannot accept
Rachel’s conclusion that killing is no worse than letting die when considered in this context due to the moral implication of responsibility, and in Rachel’s article it is assumed that this view results from the laws and moral teachings in the society we grow up in that killing is worse than letting die. “The reports on the news of murders are terrible tragedies and we all know this as true, but there are never reports of someone letting a person die except for the occasional doctor for humane reasons. (Rachels 79) The argument is made that motivation plays a role in determining whether one is worse than the other. However this does not support the argument that the act of killing in itself is worse than letting die due to the dissimilar nature of the circumstances. Many people object to the relevance of this argument to passive and active euthanasia and point out that this does not apply to the medical world in the sense that doctors have no motivation or do not receive a personal gain in determining active or passive euthanasia.
This is irrelevant to determining whether killing is worse than letting die, “Whether a doctor partakes in euthanizing his patient or has no moral difference than letting him die. ” (Rachels 79). In fact, this is incorrect. In passive euthanasia the doctor is actively not treating the patient to keep him or her alive, and in so doing is “performing an action that one may perform by way of NOT performing certain other actions. ” (Rachel 80) According to Rachel, if a doctor lets his patient die for humane reasons, he has done the same as giving the patient a lethal injection.
If his decision either way was wrong because he discovered the illness was curable, both decisions are regrettable and the doctor’s actions would be equally considered as directly leading to the patient’s death. “If a doctor let a patient to die from a curable illness, then he would have charges pressed against him and held responsible just as he would if he killed the patient. ” (Rachels 79) And as Rachel states, “If the doctor’s decision was the right one, the method used is not in itself important. (Rachels 79) It is obviously important to understand the circumstances in which both passive and active euthanasia could be deemed permissible. This argument is not to say that passive and active euthanasia should be taken lightly, but to put them on the same moral level and remove the objection to an action that could very well be considered the more humane and considerate when weighed against the passive response that allows considerably more suffering. (Oddie
Value 3) Rachel’s argument is trying to simply show that killing is no worse than letting die regardless of the circumstancef which is why the bare difference argument works so well in creating a great contrast in situations while still holding true to the thesis. Rachel’s bare difference argument involving Smith and Jones offers a new perspective on killing versus letting die in relation to active versus passive euthanasia and focuses the moral discussion on the most relevant aspects of the issue, namely that the ethical argument does not hold up against the stark reality of the circumstances in which doctors routinely find themselves.
This argument is designed to show that killing is no worse than letting-die and that when considered for humane purposes, the consideration of passive versus active euthanasia are on the same moral level. The employment of a bare difference argument proves this to be true.