Research Seminar - Mercy and Autonomy at the End of Life

Carl Fox will be presenting for approximately half an hour, which will be followed by an informal discussion. All are welcome and there is no need to book.

Ben Colburn (2015) points out that a choice motivated by a desire to escape pain and suffering is involuntary for the reason that it is taken precisely because there is no acceptable alternative to death. This presents a problem for the idea that terminally ill patients can be entitled to our help in bringing their lives to an end on the grounds of autonomy. I will argue that while the autonomy reasons may not be strong enough to support the judgment that a forced decision to end life is by moral right purely the provenance of the patient, those reasons acquire an urgency in an end of life context which makes them decisive for the rest of us. In order to secure a measure of control for patients, and to avoid arbitrariness and unfairness, we ought to sanction a legal right to an assisted death as a collective act of mercy towards competent terminally ill patients. This means, first, that it would be wrong to deny competent terminally ill patients a legal right to an assisted death, but also, second, that the choice to grant that legal right resides with us as a community.