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In Active and Passive Euthanasia, James Rachels argues that active euthanasia should be treated morally the same as passive euthanasia. Essentially, if passive euthanasia is morally PERMISSIBLE then so is active euthanasia. Furthermore, if passive euthanasia is morally REQUIRED of a doctor, so is active euthanasia. To support this view he writes:

“One reason why so many people think that there is an important moral difference between active and passive euthanasia is that they think killing someone is morally worse than letting someone die. But is it? Is killing, in itself, worse than letting die? To investigate this issue, two cases may be considered…

In the first, Smith stands to gain a large inheritance if anything should happen to his six-year-old cousin. One evening while the child is taking his bath, Smith sneaks into the bathroom and drowns the child, and then arranges things so that it will look like an accident.

In the second, Jones also stands to gain if anything should happen to his six-year-old cousin. Like Smith, Jones sneaks in planning to drown the child in his bath. However, just as he enters the bathroom Jones sees the child slip and hit his head, and fall face down in the water. Jones is delighted; he stands by, ready to push the child’s head back under if it is necessary, but it is not necessary. With only a little thrashing about, the child drowns all by himself, “accidentally,” as Jones watches and does nothing.

Did either man behave better, from a moral point of view?… I think not.”

1) Do you agree or disagree with Rachels that there is no important moral difference between active and passive euthanasia?

2) Is it morally wrong for a doctor to grant patients passive euthanasia, but not grant patients active euthanasia? That is, is it morally wrong for a doctor to conscientiously object to active euthanasia but not passive euthanasia?

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