The Dilemma of Marquis’ Future Like Ours Argument when applied to Euthanasia In his essay “Why abortion is immoral”, Don Marquis defends the anti-abortionist view. He bases his defense on the moral impermissibility of killing in general through what he calls the deprivation thesis (DT), which is that killing is wrong if the subject of the killing has a future like ours because killing the subject deprives it of its future.
Marquis’ argument, known as the future like ours (FLO) argument against abortion is as follows: If X has a future like ours, killing X is morally wrong (from DT) Therefore, if a fetus has a future like ours, killing a fetus is morally wrong (from 1) A standard fetus has a future like ours Therefore, killing a standard fetus is morally wrong (from 2 and 3) In this essay I will apply Marquis’ argument on the moral impermissibility of abortion and killing in general, to euthanasia.
First, I will define the four main types of euthanasia, then I will provide background to the court case of Bouvia v. Superior Court. Next, I will apply the Bouvia case to two interpretations of Marquis’ FLO argument: a conservative view which considers merely survival and awareness, as well as a more liberal interpretation which considers the quality of life in addition to survival and awareness. I will show that both interpretations of Marquis’ argument lead to a moral dilemma, and will conclude by suggesting two provisions for fixing this dilemma.
Marquis claims his argument does a good job explaining the moral reasoning on the wrongness of killing in general; and also claims to provide a plausible account on the moral permissibility of euthanasia and contraception (202). In evaluating this account on the moral permissibility of euthanasia, I will apply the four types of euthanasia that the philosopher Phillipa Foot talks about in her essay: “Euthanasia”. These four types are: active voluntary, active nonvoluntary, passive voluntary, and passive nonvoluntary.
Active voluntary euthanasia includes being given a lethal injection with consent, active nonvoluntary euthanasia is essentially murder because it is directly killing a person without t out their permission. Passive voluntary euthanasia is letting someone die with their permission (which includes withdrawing treatment and withholding treatment (ex. ending life support, not performing an operation). Passive nonvoluntary euthanasia is letting someone die without their consent (either because they did not give it or are unable to because of age or mental state).
In the case of Bouvia v. Superior Court, Elizabeth Bouvia, was a college educated,”mentally competent, young, quadriplegic woman who suffered from cerebral palsy, leaving her completely bedridden and dependent on others to perform all her activities of daily living”(Bouvia v Superior Court, 179 Cal. App. 3d 1127). Following the accident, she “sued the court for the right to have her nasogastric tubes removed and stop all medical measures to which she did not consent”(Bouvia v Superior Court, 179 Cal. App. 3d 1127).
When the case was first heard by a lower court, the court determined that since Bouvia could live for about another 20 years with medical aid, she had a future like ours, and should not be given medical aid even if she does not want it. This court’s ruling is the conservative interpretation of Marquis’ FLO argument that I will discuss. When the superior court heard the case, they determined that the lower court was wrong in considering quantity of life as opposed to quality, ruling that considering the quality of life is just as important if not more.
The view of the superior court is the more liberal interpretation of Marquis’ argument that I will discuss. With the Bouvia case in mind, I will first discuss the conservative view of Marquis’ FLO argument. This view is that mere survival and awareness are the only conditions that need to be met for someone to have a future like ours. The first court that heard Bouvia’s case used this interpretation to determine that Bouvia had a FLO since she could live for approximately another 20 years.
According to this interpretation of Marquis’ argument, active and passive nonvoluntary euthanasia would not be morally permissible in this case, since they would be infringing upon Bouvia’s future like ours. The problem with this view is that it does not account for quality of life. This view means that the two types of voluntary euthanasia: active and passive voluntary; would also be morally impermissible, since she has a FLO.
This means that if Elizabeth Bouvia faces 20 years of pain, misery, and dependence on others, and wishes to not go through such suffering, it would be considered morally impermissible. This questionable conclusion on the poses the first problem to the conservative view. Next, I will discuss the conservative interpretation of Marquis in the context of a gruesome hypothetical situation where the doctors want to commit active nonvoluntary euthanasia by harvesting Elizabeth Bouvia’s organs against her will.
The doctors want to use the organs of Bouvia to save the lives of ten people who need them. The conservative view succeeds in this hypothetical, because it leads to the morally intuitive conclusion that it would be impermissible and inhumane to harvest her organs. However, if Elizabeth Bouvia were in a persistent vegetative state, the conclusion would not be morally comforting. Suppose, Bouvia, in a persistent vegetative state, has no chance of recovering, lacks awareness, and as a result does not have a future like ours.
Because Bouvia lacks a future like ours, active and passive nonvoluntary euthanasia would be morally permissible, leading to the disturbing conclusion that the doctors could harvest her organs. This is the second problem with the conservative view, and the first half of the dilemma facing Marquis. The next interpretation of Marquis is the more liberal view: that quality of life needs to be considered in addition to mere survival and awareness. This is the view the appeals court took when it heard the Bouvia case.
According to this view active and passive voluntary euthanasia would be morally permissible for Elizabeth Bouvia because of the poor quality of life she would face if she chose to not undergo euthanasia. Marquis briefly explains this view in his essay saying that “the claim that the loss of one’s future is the wrong-making feature of one’s being killed does not entail, as sanctity of human life theories do, that active euthanasia is wrong. Persons who are severely and incurably ill, who face a future of pain and despair, and who wish to die will not have suffered a loss if they are killed”(191).
The first problem with this view is the slippery slope of determining how much pain and despair is enough to make euthanasia morally permissible. Determining such an amount is arbitrary and impossible. The best response for proponents of this liberal interpretation of Marquis would be to claim that despite the amount of pain being arbitrary, it is not for a third party to determine, but rather for the individual deciding on euthanasia to assess.
The next problem for the liberal interpretation is the same organ harvesting case I mentioned previously. Like I did for the conservative view, I will first discuss the case of the doctors wanting to harvest Bouvia’s organs against her will, followed by the case of Bouvia in a persistent vegetative state. The liberal interpretation of Marquis makes euthanasia of Bouvia morally permissible, but gives no rules or limitations on what kind of killing would be morally impermissible.
This means that even in the cruel case of active nonvoluntary euthanasia through harvesting Bouvia’s organs against her will, euthanasia would be considered ‘morally permissible’. The next problem with the liberal interpretation of Marquis is the hypothetical case of Bouvia in a persistent vegetative state. Just like in the conservative view, active and passive nonvoluntary euthanasia would be morally permissible in this scenario. This is because Bouvia, in a persistent vegetative state would lack awareness and quality of life, so she would not have a future like ours.
This leads to the disturbing problem of active/passive nonvoluntary euthanasia through organ harvesting being considered morally permissible. Both the conservative and liberal interpretation of Marquis are flawed, leading to a dilemma. The conservative view fails to account for quality of life, forbidding euthanasia when there is survival and awareness, regardless of how miserable a life may be; however the conservative view succeeds in forbidding active nonvoluntary euthanasia in the case of harvesting Elizabeth Bouvia organs against her will.
While the liberal view succeeds in considering the quality of life, it leads to the troubling conclusion of allowing active nonvoluntary euthanasia being permissible in the case of harvesting Elizabeth Bouvia organs against her will. Both views allow organ harvesting in the case of a persistent vegetative state, which is a disturbing and unethical conclusion, that should not be considered morally permissible. So how can this dilemma be fixed?
Marquis’ argument comes close to explaining the moral wrongness of killing in general, but fails to consider how a person gets killed, which becomes important when discussing euthanasia. To fix the dilemma, Marquis should add a provision to his argument talking about the types of killing that would be considered morally impermissible regardless of whether a person has a FLO. Marquis should say that a person has a right to autonomy, and types of killing that violate a person’s autonomy are morally impermissible, regardless of whether the person has a future like ours.
Another provision that is needed, is condemning some methods of killing as unquestionably unethical, such as organ harvesting. Such provisions would fix the problem of the liberal view allowing active nonvoluntary euthanasia by organ harvesting, and the problem of both the liberal and conservative views allowing active/passive nonvoluntary euthanasia in the case of organ harvest of a person in a persistent vegetative state. These provisions are necessary for solving the dilemma facing Marquis’ FLO argument, and making Marquis’ argument more aligned with moral intuition.
Throughout this essay I have shown two interpretations of Marquis’ future like ours argument when applied to euthanasia: a more conservative view and a more liberal view. I have shown the dilemma that both views lead to troubling moral issues that run counter to our moral intuition in cases of organ harvest and nonvoluntary euthanasia. Although the moral dilemma is serious, it is not unfixable, and as I have shown with the proper provisions it is possible to solve this dilemma and make Marquis’ FLO argument more suited to cases of euthanasia.