Common intuition distinguishes a difference between active and passive euthanasia by the human decision to take another’s life. It is common belief that it is wrong to kill another human. Committing murder requires an action to end another human’s life, which makes a person responsible for the death of another. Using this logic, many are unable to find a moral difference between murder and performing active euthanasia. Opponents to active euthanasia deem this action wrong because they believe the decision to end human life in all circumstances is morally impermissible. On the other hand, passive euthanasia allows no one takes responsibility for a person’s death because a life ending human decision is not made. These common intuitions fail to take into account the action of inaction.
Though many will agree with the idea that passive euthanasia seems more morally permissible than active, James Rachels denies this viewpoint. “It is not exactly correct to say that in passive euthanasia the doctor does nothing, for he does one thing…. he lets the patient die.”(106) He explains that if one kind of euthanasia is morally correct then both are and vice versa. Rachel uses an example of making the decision to shake someone’s hand. When two people meet for the first time, .the traditional action to take would be to shake hands. If one person does not shake in an introduction, a conscious decision of inaction is made. From this inaction, there is a consequence of alienating the person being met. So by not taking making an action, there still is a consequence.
This rationale is then used by Rachels to prove that there is no moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia. He uses the example of Smith and Jones to prove this point. Smith will receive a large inheritance if his baby cousin dies. So while his cousin is taking a bath, Smith walks in the bathroom and drowns the baby, making it look like an accident. Jones also will receive a large inheritance if his baby cousin dies. While his cousin is taking a bath, Jones walks into the bathroom intending to kill him. Instead, his cousin hits his head and falls in the water upon Jones’ entry. Jones does not save his cousin; he sits back and waits for him to die, thinking about the inheritance he will receive when life ends. Rachels explains, “both men acted from the same motive, personal gain, and both had exactly the same end in view when they acted.”(105) There is no moral defense in these situations, therefore, the acts are deemed immoral. So if a doctor lets a patient die for humane reasons, this act uses the same moral rule to allow for a lethal injection for humane reasons.
The rule, which makes passive euthanasia as morally wrong as active, is the idea of positive rights. Positive rights are when someone has the right to be provided with something. There are two people on a country road, an adult riding his bike east and a seven-year-old boy riding his bike westbound. Just as the adult passes the young boy, a speeding car hits the boy and races off. The boy is now lying on the ground crying for an ambulance. Since the adult is the only person that knows of this accident, he is obligated to find help as fast as possible. The boy has a positive right for the adult to find him medical attention. In the situation with Jones, the little cousin has a positive right for Jones to save him. The baby