Ethical Egoists and Social Contract Ethicists on Euthanasia

Euthanasia is a highly morally controversial topic that has been the subject of much debate and disagreement. The term refers to deliberately taking someone’s life to stop an enduring pain or suffering (Harris, 2006). The paper will look into the debate on euthanasia, which accompanies moral controversy, disagreements, and disputes among different social spectrums. According to Grassl (2020), on one side of the debate, proponents of euthanasia (pro-euthanasia or “death with dignity” advocates) argue that it is a moral right for individuals to have control over their bodies and to be able to end their suffering. They argue that euthanasia is a compassionate act that allows individuals to die with dignity and without prolonged pain. On the other side, opponents of euthanasia (anti-euthanasia or “right to life” advocates) argue that it is morally wrong to end a human life intentionally and undermines its sanctity. They argue that alternative methods, such as palliative care, should be used to alleviate suffering. In the ethical argument, each side’s perspective must be explained comprehensively, together with the moral justifications used to rationalize their position as the acceptable one.

When the two positions are evaluated using the studied moral theories that Harris (2006) highlights, an ethical egoist, who believes in self-interest guidance for moral decision-making (Grassl, 2020), would assert that the optimal course of action is to permit euthanasia since it is in the best interests of the person. The ethical egoist would advocate for the legalization of euthanasia and argue that it is in the patient’s best interest to choose when and how they end their suffering. They would also argue that the individual’s right to autonomy must be protected and that there is no need to prolong the individual’s suffering in any manner, according to Harris (2006). They recognize that the laws and institutions of society should not constrain a person’s ability to make choices in their best interest.

However, a social contract ethicist would take a nuanced position. Referring to Grassl (2020), in understanding the social contract ethicist, for a society to coexist peacefully, they must first agree to adhere to a preset set of ethical and political values. Some believe that if individuals adhere to the social contract, they can live moral lives of their free will instead of being compelled by a higher power. A social contract ethicist would argue that individuals have a moral imperative to respect the rights and well-being of others, in addition to societal norms and rules. They would argue that euthanasia should be authorized under certain circumstances, such as when a person has a terminal illness, and there is no chance of recovery (Grassl., 2020). On the other side, they would argue that it is the responsibility of society to prevent euthanasia from being abused or employed in a way that causes harm to others (Grassl, 2020). So, the social contract ethicist would only advocate for euthanasia on the condition of set society laws but should not be executed for any pain or suffering where an individual has a recovery option.

From a different perspective, according to the American Medical Association’s (AMA) code of ethics for medical professionals (n.d, p. 10), doctors “have a duty to alleviate pain and suffering and to protect the dignity and autonomy of their patients.” It also states that medical professionals “should not be a participant in a legally sanctioned execution.” However, they “may provide terminally ill patients the necessary tools to alleviate suffering and discomfort” (p. 8). In addition, it states that “physicians should not administer lethal medications with the intent to end a patient’s life” (pg. 8). This code of ethics is relevant to the topic of euthanasia because it recognizes the physician’s role in alleviating pain and suffering and promoting autonomy, but prohibits physicians from actively ending the life of a patient. This code of ethics presents a tension between professional and family obligations since it specifies that doctors should not engage in the termination of a patient’s life but also recognizes the importance of the patient’s autonomy and the alleviation of pain and suffering. This code of ethics creates tension between professional and family responsibilities by stating that doctors should not engage in a patient’s euthanasia.


In conclusion, euthanasia is a morally controversial topic that has been the subject of much debate, controversy, and conflict. Anti-euthanasia activists believe that euthanasia is immoral because it is a type of killing, that it devalues human life, and that it might result in the abuse and maltreatment of vulnerable persons. Proponents of euthanasia claim that people have the right to make choices over their bodies and to terminate their suffering whenever they are willing. This is an indication of a sparkling debate that is never-ending. However, many individuals within the social clique would advocate for euthanasia for one’s respect of self-interest and for society’s moral value of eliminating a person who seems to endure pain or suffering, with death as the only solution to an individual’s travail.


American Medical Association (AMA) (n.d). Code of Medical Ethics. Opinions on Caring for Patients at the End of Life. Chapter 5.

Grassl, F. F. (2020). Book Review: Craig A. Boyd and Don Thorsen, Christian Ethics and Moral Philosophy: An Introduction to Issues and Approaches.

Harris, J. (2006). The value of life: an introduction to medical ethics. Routledge.

Author: Mickey Muennig
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