Sample Applied Ethics Essay on Death

Applied Ethics

Question 1

Death in the context of a necessary evil has been the object of debates as to whether it is actually that undesirable or not. In the consideration of death as an evil, it is described as a loss to the person who dies and thus bad for the dead. However, stoic philosophy proposes that death should not be feared since it is actually not that undesirable. One of the proponents of death as a loss to the person is Nagel, who supposes that since the person who dies loses his/her life, death is a bad thing.

In his work intended to support Epicurus’ view about death, Rosenbaum provides his arguments based on three main premises i.e. that a situation cannot be bad for a person unless the person experiences it: a person does not experience death and therefore death is not bad. He supports his arguments by giving the shortcomings of various works by the proponents of death as a loss. This paper focuses on his response to Thomas Nagel’s arguments.

In his argument, Rosenbaum (217) gives the proposition that since death itself, in the context of being dead, cannot be experienced by a person, then it is not bad. He gives an example of a bad Mozart performance for a deaf person. Since the deaf person does not hear, and hence does not experience the performance, it cannot be bad for him/her. He also gives the example of a person born without the sense of smell who cannot experience an unpleasant odor.

In responding to Nagel’s argument, Rosenbaum asserts that for death to be considered a loss to the person who dies, there must be fulfillment of the stated premises guiding the consideration of an event as bad. Contrary to Nagel’s argument that something may be bad to a person even though the person may not be aware of it, Rosenbaum argues that awareness and experience are two separate things, and that one can experience something without being consciously aware of it. He further asserts that the consideration of death as depriving the person of a chance to live should be taken in symmetry with the consideration of late birth as also depriving the person of a chance to live earlier (221). Since the latter is not a valid argument, according to Nagel, the former therefore proves to null. These arguments are in line with the definition of death as given by Rosenbaum. However, there remains a question as to whether the impact of death as an instantaneous event is bad or good, especially in consideration of the Consequentialism theories. Moreover, these arguments call for a proper definition of what is to be considered as experiencing an occurrence.

In countering my arguments, Rosenbaum may argue that even though death may be morally bad in Consequentialism[1] principles, since it does not occur for a common good to many people, it does not translate into a loss for the person who dies since he/ she does not actually experience death. Also, the mere observation of an event can be described as experience without conscious awareness, hence the premise of compulsory experience still stands.

From my point of view however, these potential arguments by Rosenbaum in response to my assertions are limited in application. This is because Consequentialism bases its argument on whether the event results in good for many and not whether it results in good for the person directly involved in it. Consequently, death may be considered as bad. Secondly, considering experience as the act or belief of having gone through a condition, the dead experience death.

Question 2

The question of the existence of heaven and hell and the respective descriptions of the two states relates closely with consideration of the necessity of death. It is one thing to agree that heaven and hell do exist and an entirely different thing to agree on the desirability of the states. Religious believers portray the desirability of heaven over hell without hard proof of the same.

According to Ribeiro (46), heaven may exist. However, the desirability of heaven is not such that he may be attracted to it for three reasons. He states that having all eternity to enjoy his earthly desires would render them undesirable, having all eternity to live a life characterized by repetitive activities would be boring, and that having to live all eternity as a modified version of himself would also be inconvenient. This essay focuses on his proposed objection to his own arguments against identity loss in heaven.

In providing an alternative view to his own assertions, Ribeiro provides the probable objection to his arguments that suggests that human life is characterized by constant changes, and that these constant changes do not always result in identity loss (59). The proposal that an experience of heaven may also involve such a change, defined as purification without resulting in identity change is contested by Ribeiro. He gives the example of radical earthly changes that may be likened to a mule kick.

Despite his description of earthly changes as radical, Ribeiro clearly explains that such changes are never instantaneous or un-mixed, and neither are all of them directed from outwards. In his argument, Ribeiro explains that heavenly change is most likely to be instantaneous, radical, unmixed and originating from outwards. Such changes, he says, are characterized by a complete identity change. He likens such changes to a mule kick to the head that causes irreparable and intolerable damage to the brain. Although his arguments are valid, Ribeiro fails to recognize the possible necessity of such changes to the kind of life that heaven may provide. For instance, he does not recognize the probable benefits of the feared changes to living a life in eternity whether the earthly self is maintained or modifications are made. In addition to this, he also fails to recognize that the radical, instantaneous, unmixed and external changes may be more bearable in achieving the desired perfection. For instance, it may more bearable in the earthly life to obtain a lash for a mistake made than to be punished indefinitely through easier methods such as a slap.

In opposition to my point of view, it is possible for Ribeiro to claim that the changes that occur during earthly life are controllable, and hence can be bearable. In addition to this, he may also assert that most changes that actually occur in desires and life styles are within individual control, hence do not cause irreparable damage. He may also claim that the exclusion of immortality in heaven may lead to the irrelevance of purification changes.

However, these assertions have limitations in that they do not put into consideration actual evidence-based arguments in support of the heavenly purification process, hence may be skewed. In addition to this, the aspect of immortality is one of the features that make heaven what it is; exclusion of immortality would make heaven lose its allure. In addition to this, the purification processes may not be that instantaneous, considering the possibility of purgatory as proposed by Roman Catholic doctrines.

Question 5

What happens after death is a process that is inexplicable by human precepts. However, one clear concept is that there is a difference between a dead man’s body and the man himself. A distinction also exists between the human body and the soul. As much as an individual’s posthumous existence or development is independent of the individual’s decisions, it is true that an individual may accomplish some of his life’s objectives posthumously through will.

In his arguments about the right of veto in the issue of organ donations, Wilkinson asserts that there are four possible outcomes, concerning discrepancies between the dead man’s wishes and the relatives’ wishes. The outcomes include the possibility of the victim’s wish to donate organs overriding that of the relative’s wish to deny donation, the relatives’ wish to donate may override the victim’s wishes, amongst other possible outcomes (30). This essay aims at addressing the assertion that what happens posthumously can complete the development of the self with respect to Wilkinson’s arguments.

In support of this claim, Wilkinson likens the abuse of a victim’s wishes to a violation of his/ her autonomy[2], with examples of how the victim’s bodily integrity may be abused by failure to honor their wishes posthumously. He gives an example of a paralyzed patient who is injected against his wishes and argues that just as this is synonymous with abuse of bodily integrity, the denial of a dead man’s wishes for or against the donation of his body also abuses the victim.

In explaining how the desires of the self may be achieved posthumously, Wilkinson (31) argues that through the organization of what happens after death and the implications of the outcomes of an individual’s death, there is no need for self development to end with death. He supports this argument by asserting that the concept of posthumous autonomy should be protected by rights since it relates to the body of the self. In his argument, he further states that since the issue at hand is about the donation of the victim‘s organs, it should be primarily in his/ her power to make the decision. In doing this, the victim shapes what happens posthumously hence providing for further self-development after death On the other hand, he also gives possible objections to his stand by providing that statements that opponents of posthumous autonomy may use against his proposition. Although Wilkinson achieves the desired aim of the article in identifying the role of autonomy in controlling the powers of veto[3] over organ donation, he fails to identify possible implications of each of the probable outcomes with regards to self development.

From the author’s point of view, it may be argued that since the implications of each of the probable outcomes is not within the scope of the paper, it is sufficient to provide the modes of carrying out the various probable outcomes as well as the dynamics involved. In addition to this, the idea of continued self-development posthumously is independent of the discussion of the probable outcomes.

This argument is however misdirected since each of the stated outcomes has an implication on its ability to maintain self-development after death. For instance, the in case the victim’s wish to donate overrides the family’s wish to withhold organ donation, then there is a possibility of further self development as the victim’s wishes direct what happens after death. On the other hand, in case the family’s desire to donate body organs overrides the victim’s wish not to donate, the victim is denied the chance to exercise posthumous autonomy hence further self-development is hampered.

Question 7

The issue of validity of precedent autonomy[4] versus the contemporary desires arouses sincere interests, particularly with respect to demented patients. This is especially in relation to issues of health and wealth management. There are two possible outcomes which may or may not be desirable, considering the time in which an action is to be taken. In severely demented patients, it is possible to assign the major decisions to a chosen individual. In this case, the victim enjoys the benefits of beneficence. On the other hand, there may be the choice to work with the victim’s prior directions.

In his work on dementia, Dowrkin  argues that in taking care of demented patients, consideration should be made of precedent autonomy regardless of shifts in beliefs and directions from the patient, since the status of victims often does not allow them to make valid decisions, even in the case of self-regarding decisions (225). This essay seeks to address the issues raised by Dowrkin on the concept of precedent autonomy with regards to demented patients.

In advancing his arguments, Dworkin gives an example of demented patients such as Mary and Margo, whose rights to precedent autonomy may be handled in different ways. He describes Mary’s condition as deteriorating with possible outcomes being described (220).

Dworkin describes the importance of autonomy in dealing with normal individuals. In this case, he says that individuals are plausible to autonomy regardless of what they might do when given that right. For instance, normal people are free to make wrong decisions regarding their lives, investments, or any other self-directed decision. On the other hand, demented patients may only be allowed to do as they wish in the present time due to other reasons, besides autonomy. However, he clearly defends the aspect of precedent autonomy, explaining that since the victims are not normally able to make decisions that influence them positively, it would be reasonable to accord them the advantages associated with precedent autonomy (222). The main limitation of this work by Dworkin is that it fails to consider the ethical implications of various decisions. For instance, in the case of the seemingly happy Margo, it may be unethical to exercise previous directions based on precedent autonomy that state that she should be put to death in the event of dementia. However, in avoiding this decision, Margo’s right to precedent autonomy may be abused. It is important to determine how to make reasonable decision faced by the dilemma of choosing between ethical practice and the rights of the victim.

In answer to my assertion that the work fails to consider the ethical implications of possible decisions, it is possible for Dworkin to propose that the practice of exercising the victim’s instructions based on the available information and under the compulsion of precedent autonomy, is in itself ethical. The abuse of an individual’s rights may be considered unethical. This may be in line with the deontological theories[5] which consider an act to be right without considering the implications. This belief, however, is misguided since it may give a lee way for the abuse of other rights of the individual. For instance, by taking a patient off life support, his/her right to life is curtailed even though his/her desire is fulfilled.

[1] Theory of Consequentialism states that an act is morally right if it results in good for many people

[2] Self rule – the right to make decisions affecting one without being compelled by outside forces

[3] Power of prohibition

[4] Precedent autonomy is the right to self-rule possessed by an individual prior to the contemporary situation of the individual

[5] Deontological theories define an act as right or wrong without consideration of its outcome.