Volume 17, Issue 3, Autumn 2017
John K. DiBaise
Euthanasia and Quality of Life
Critique of a Subjective Standard
Euthanasia advocates argue that end-of-life decisions should be based on patients’ autonomous evaluations of their own quality of life. The question is whether a patient’s quality of life has deteriorated so far as to make death a benefit. Criteria for evaluating quality of life are, however, unavoidably arbitrary and unjust. The concept is difficult to define, and human autonomy has limits. This essay discusses the moral issues raised by quality-of-life judgments at the end of life: who makes them, what criteria they use, and what clinical actions the conclusions justify. It then looks at ways in which quality of life can be considered legitimately, in relation not to euthanasia, which is always illicit, but to specific proposed treatments. If a patient decides to forgo treatment, the decision should be based on the judgment that the treatment, its side effects, or its long-term consequences would be excessively burdensome or useless.