Tag Archives: ethics


New Essay: “The Duty to Die”


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For the record, I am not a utilitarian, and this essay helps explain why. I hope you can at least appreciate the logic I employed in crafting my thesis. Without further ado, here is my essay, “The Duty to Die”:

For those existing with the intense pain of a terminal illness, the right to life sounds like a cruel joke. Every day becomes a choice: continuing to endure the pain of disease, taking powerful pain medications to ameliorate the discomfort, or ending one’s life. Which option to pursue can become a moral dilemma to someone battling excruciating bone cancer or advanced HIV/ AIDS. Some may choose to grit their teeth and bear it, believing they must preserve their mental clarity in the final stage of their illness. Others seek comfort in the form of potent narcotics that may render them incoherent. The morally virtuous instead choose to die on their own terms, either by their own hand or with assistance.

The moral theory of utilitarianism requires us to always choose the action that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain for all those affected by the action. Thus the terminally ill patient must perform a wicked calculus; which of the three available end-of-life treatments will maximize pleasure and minimize pain for everyone involved? Obviously, in the situation of someone who is terminally ill, it’s doubtful there’s any hope of maximizing pleasure. Therefore, the patient needs only focus on minimizing pain.

This eliminates the possibility of sustaining one’s life without benefit of pain management drugs while maintaining moral correctness. As noted by Foley et al, “the suffering of an individual radiates throughout households, neighborhoods, and villages.” Toughing it out certainly does not minimize pain. In fact, it does the opposite; it maximizes pain and minimizes pleasure. The second option available is to continue existence with palliative drug treatments. While this does minimize the pain of the patient, the family and friends of the terminal patient continue to suffer. In their February 2010 article on Scientific American’s website, psychology professors Robert Emery and Jim Coan state:

During a particularly stressful experience, the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve – the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea.

Few would argue dealing with a loved one suffering from a terminal illness is not stressful. Therefore, simply by being terminally ill – whether one utilizes pain management or not – a patient is causing pain to his or her friends and family. The death of the patient is also stress-inducing, and the pain of losing a loved one can last for years, decades, or a lifetime. Friends and family suffer their own pain while the ill person is dying, and after their death. The final solution available is to terminate one’s life. Suicide, whether assisted or not, can be accomplished painlessly. The terminally ill patient’s pain ends at the moment of death. This means less pain for the patient than if they had foregone medication, and the same amount (or less) than if they had opted for palliative care. The friends and family of the patient will still experience the pain of that person’s passing in the same way as the previous two options. They will, however, be spared the pain of watching their loved one languish away. The friends and family of the ill person will skip the pain caused by watching the patient slide closer and closer to death, and move directly to the pain caused by the death itself. This means less pain for those affected by the patient’s passing than if they had continued to suffer with their disease, medication or no.

Clearly, then, of the three options available to the terminally ill patient in pain – palliative medicine, no medication, or death – self-euthanasia is the option required of the morally righteous, according to the utilitarian thesis. It is the choice that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain for all those affected by the action. The patient’s pain ceases; the suffering of family and friends is diminished. Terminally ill patients in pain not only have a right to die, they have a moral duty to pursue their own death as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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New Essay: “Who Is John Galt Having Sex With?”

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Human sexuality is a complex and diverse issue. Pornography, homosexuality, sadomasochism, other so-called perversions have real moral implications and affect real people. An issue as intensely personal as sexuality calls for a moral guide just as personal. Thankfully, in moral egoism, we have a theory of morality and ethical behavior centered on the individual. Proposed by philosophers like Ayn Rand, moral egoism in its simplest form states that an action is right for a person if, and only if, it promotes their best interests. As a consequentialist moral theory, egoism posits that the results of an action are what determine the moral worth thereof. Moral egoism also accounts for circumstantial relativism – the idea that the situation surrounding an action helps determine whether that action is right or wrong. If a given act in a given situation produces (or is likely to produce) outcomes that advance a person’s agenda, it is right. If not, it is wrong. Applied to sexual ethics, egoism requires individuals to rationally examine the potential outcomes of a sex act in a given situation to determine if engaging in the act is in their best interests. A sex act, then, is perverted (morally wrong) inasmuch as it opposes a person’s best interests. Through this lens, sexual activities that have traditionally been viewed as morally corrupt – such as promiscuity, sodomy, and masturbation – are actually morally acceptable behaviors.
Promiscuity, for example, is morally acceptable so long as the promiscuous person is honest with their partners that the relationship is purely physical in nature and safe sex methods are used. Sex is a near-universal desire in humans. Thus it is in most people’s best interests to have sex. If a person desires a large quantity of sexual contact, or multiple partners, being promiscuous could be in that person’s best interests. Desire alone does not make promiscuous behavior acceptable, however. As a consequentialist theory, moral egoism is concerned with the results of an action to determine moral rightness. It is for this reason that the would-be Lothario or Jezebel is morally obligated to practice safe sex and honesty about relationship expectations with potential partners. Unsafe sex has the potential for results not in the promiscuous person’s best interests, namely disease and unwanted pregnancy. Dishonesty with partners could create vindictive responses. Obviously, jilting Glenn Close’s character from Fatal Attraction is not in one’s best interests. Sodomy is also morally acceptable between consenting adults who find the act mutually pleasurable and perform the act safely. The egoist sodomite is morally required to use safe sex practices when engaging in anal or oral sex. As with promiscuous behavior, sodomy carries the risk of disease. Contracting a sexually transmitted is in no one’s best interests. Further, consent and mutual pleasure are morally necessary. Non-consensual sodomy carries the obvious legal ramifications of arrest and potential conviction for rape. One would be hard pressed to argue an arrest to be in one’s best interests. Masturbation is morally acceptable for those whose sexual desires cannot be met in full by their partners. Some people desire more sex than they receive from their partners, and it is in their best interests to relieve their sexual needs by themselves in lieu of engaging in rape or soliciting a prostitute.
Some will object to “deviant” sex on religious grounds. They will appeal to divine commands as condemning the immorality of non-missionary, non-heterosexual acts. The Christian Bible, for example, contains many prohibitions against sodomy and masturbation, and any sex outside of marriage is forbidden by church dogma, much less having sex with multiple partners out of wedlock. These dissenters appeal to the divine command theory of morality that states that an action is right if, and only if, God commands us to do it. According to this perspective, because God commands us not to have any sex other than vaginal sex with our spouse, these acts are immoral. Others may claim that engaging in promiscuous acts cheapens sex or fails to honor the other as a person. Deontologists like Immanuel Kant would likely take this perspective. Kant’s first Categorical Imperative states that we should only act on maxims we can will to be universal law. If everyone were to engage in promiscuity, the first Imperative argues, no one would form lasting, non-physical relationships. The second Categorical Imperative proposed by Kant states that we should always treat people as ends unto themselves, never as a means. Followers of CI2, then, object to promiscuity as failing to respect the personhood of the one-night stand. Still others object to sodomy and masturbation as defying natural law. As one of the natural functions of a human being is procreation, any sex act that does not (potentially) result in fertilization of an embryo is immoral.
Unfortunately, the objections of religious zealots appealing to divine command theory are essentially meaningless. As the existence of God cannot be proven, any morality derived from the deity is suspect. The egoist can look to studies, facts, and statistics to help determine what is in his or her best interests sexually. The first Categorical Imperative objection fails to conceive that some people might prefer not to be promiscuous. Egoists may be promiscuous or not, depending upon what best serves their interests at any given time. Kant’s second attempt at outlining a moral code also fails in condemning promiscuity adequately by failing to take into account the will of the seduced. It presumes the seducer is acting upon the seduced with no input from the seduced party. Egoism, on the other hand, only provides moral sanction to promiscuity if both parties are consenting. Appeal to the natural law theory to object to deviant sex relies on the premise that humans have a natural function. However, proving what this innate function is is impossible. There is no “functionometer” to measure how well a human functions and no means to adapt that function to varying situations. Moral egoism, however, takes into account that what’s in one’s best interests can change over time and in relation to differing circumstances.
Religious leaders and intellectuals alike struggle to rationally explain why “deviant” sex acts like promiscuity, sodomy, and masturbation are immoral. The theory of moral egoism provides a rational explanation that justifies these kinds of acts as morally acceptable in certain circumstances for a particular person. A given sexual behavior is therefore immoral only if it hinders a person’s best interests. As such, laws banning acts like sodomy and social stigmas regarding promiscuity and masturbation should be reevaluated. As there is no logical moral objection to the acts and no harm to society by engaging in them, there’s little reason to perpetuate antiquated ideas regarding these common aspects of modern sexuality.