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Virtue ethics Essay

As a physician, a person has to choose between his/her duties – the job you are commanded to do or his moral and what it is the right thing to do. Although, as we all know doctors are supposed to help to preserved life not otherwise. I asked one of my family members who is a physician back home – which is Honduras, and where the death penalty is not allowed – what does he think about doctors’ involvement in these situations, and which he responded “.

In my personal opinion I believe that physicians should not be thought in this situation because we are who we are now to our love for medicine because it brings hope and preserves lives, not because we want to be able to punish or wrong do someone with our skills, which are supposed to be used for good, and even though perhaps you are taking the life of someone who took the life of an innocent does not mean you get to choose what happens to that persons’ life”.

And I totally agree with him, I think that if people who agree with the death penalty and it are involved in the process should find a way in which doctors are not involved in this situation. Our modern criminal system has preserved the death penalty but without the conventional inhuman methods of executions.

While Europe and a few other countries have banned the death penalty, the US continues its tryst with this ancient form of punishment. However, the US has prescribed death through lethal injection as the means of humane execution. The law in at least 35 of these states requires that such executions depute a doctor for the whole process. (Black & Sade 27). This essay will seek to use and apply the concepts of a few philosophers and corresponding schools of thought to arrive at a view. The collective view will then be used to argue the principal requirement of this essay.

This essay will discuss on the ethical consideration of why a physician should not take part in such a legal and state authorized executions. Mary Midgley Padgett 2 Firstly, I will like to mention – Mary Midgley who is an English moral philosopher known for her work on science, ethics, human rights and related topics. Midgley would deal with this topic from a ‘non-reductionist humanism’ approach as written in her work “A Chimera for Self Sufficiency. ”

According to Midgley,1 humanism exists to commemorate and enhance the glory of human life. The aspect is undistracted by reverence for any entities on the outside. But as soon as we cut away those entities, precious elements in human life also go, and the center begins to bleed. (94) Clearly, she takes a humanist approach to the issue, and that it can be understood to mean to mean that she is not very supportive the violation of medical ethics, and, in fact, Midgley wrote these lines in the very same context (of medical ethics) in her original work.

By the term ‘center begins to bleed,’ Midgley is probably referring to the societal and human problems that occur due to the obvious violation of medical ethics by physicians. Therefore, from Midgley’s view on the subject one can deduce that a person as honorable as a physician should not get involved in executions that, in a way, are against the concepts of humanism as well as against the very core of medical ethics. Friedrich Nietzsche Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who wrote several treatises on Ethics and Philosophy.

Nietzsche firstly claims that life as such is the will to power. (Nietzsche 44) Then he addresses the meaning of the term ‘will to power’ by mentioning, “wants to be a master of itself and around itself and feel itself master. ” (Nietzsche 160) Nietzsche is, therefore, essentially claiming that life is inherently affirmative and, thus, one can see the devaluing of life as a 1 Padgett 3 symptom of sickness, due to the earlier claim. This claim is itself an interpretation, which we are “required to think through to its limits. ” (Nietzsche 66) Nietzsche has essentially built a very convincing view on the practice of physician participations in executions.

Due to his first claim, we can infer that Nietzsche essentially views life as a positive force since power is inherently positive. Will to power in this context could be referred to the reason for some physicians taking part in such executions merely to experience the feeling of being a master, in that to take a human life. This practice amounts to degradation of life and Nietzsche interprets this as a sickness. Essentially, one can think on this subject and wonder why physicians would take part in such a truly degrading practice as an execution.

While Nietzsche writes this views for humanity in general, it becomes extremely appalling when a doctor would fall in violation of Nietzsche’s views. This practice then amounts to nothing short of a mental malady and nothing less. In conclusion, we can say with conviction that Nietzsche holds view in line with medical ethics and his position on this matter strongly criticizes the practice of physicians conducting executions. Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and known widely as the one of the central figures of Modern Philosophy. He widely studied many varied topics in Philosophy. Kant is famous for his thoughts on morals and ethics.

Kant’s thought centers around ‘Moral Good Will. ’ Therefore, according to Kant, the preeminent good which we call ‘Moral’ can consist in nothing else than the conception of law itself, insofar as this determines the will. (Gensler(ed) 153) Hence, duty also goes hand in hand with morals since one cannot exist without the other.

Padgett 4 One can consider and apply Kant’s first formulation of a categorical imperative as well as the second formulation of Humanity as an End in Itself to explain the problem. Kant’s first formulation of categorical imperative talks about man being a rational being (154) and since he is a rational being, he has no right to formulate a maxim such as “Just because that man killed someone else, he deserves to die as well. ”

This kind of maxim can never be a universal maxim since the basic problem of taking a man’s life still exists. In his second formulation, he speaks of humanity as an end; not as a ‘means to an end. ’ If humanity is the end, then one can surmise that no man has the right to take a life, even in a dire situation.

Therefore, Kant suggests that one must act in ways that do not disrespect our fellow human beings as well as our selves. In other words, he suggests that one should act morally with due consideration of others as well as one’s self. Considering the stated arguments, we can say that a physician should effectively consider the fact that he or she is about to take a human life before participating in the execution and rather evaluate the moral implications of such an act. Therefore, the idea of a physician taking a life in such a manner and without due dignity is immoral and repugnant according to Kant’s Moral theory.

In a clinical situation, people die for a number of different reasons, including the inevitability of death, but with the doctor having performed his moral duty. In this case, however, this form of death is immoral because the doctor knowingly inflicts it on a person, which makes it extremely unethical and immoral in Kant’s Moral theory. Utilitarianism The utilitarian view fundamentally holds that the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers that is the measure of right and wrong.

The aspect of executions would likely be Padgett 5 accepted as ethical in more conservative Utilitarian schools of thought that might hold the view that ‘a death for a death’ is a fair idea and a physician present at convictions lends a certain amount of assurance for the convict and lends a certain dignity to the situation.

This led Stuart Mill, a utilitarian philosopher, to deliver a speech in 1868 in favor of executions in law for certain crimes. However, not all philosophers within this school of thought favored executions and the presence of physicians at these execution sites. One can consider the case of Jeremy Bentham who attempted to present a utilitarian view for abolishing executions. Jeremy Bentham – He was a British philosopher and was considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern utilitarian principles. His contributions, based on utilitarian philosophy, included enhanced individual freedom, separation of the church and state and abolitions of the death penalty and slavery.

Therefore, Bentham extensively wrote on the principles of extending punishments that were commensurate with the crimes committed. However, he differed on the issue of legal sanction for executions (although this was in opposition to the Utilitarian view). Professor Bedau in his work on Bentham and the utilitarian view, quotes the words of Bentham as follows “”The punishment of death-shall it be abolished?

I answer-Yes. Shall there be any exception to this rule? I answer, so far as regards sub sequential offenses, No. ” (Bedau 1036). In this aspect, Bedau clearly regards Bentham as a forerunner among utilitarian philosophers for having examined the morality of executions. We examine this view from the point of this essay’s central idea. Bentham also went to the extent of offering a utilitarian defense favoring the abolition of convictions citing the following reasons – Unprofitability (a dead convict cannot give reparations Padgett 6 to victims), Deficient in frugality, Inequability and Irremissibility.

Without going into details, we can say that Bentham has a strong view against death convictions, although the utilitarian theory holds complete converse views on this subject. If we examine this from the view of our current problem, one can understand that one can also apply Bentham’s utilitarian defense of convictions to physicians participating in them. Physicians do work for the greater good of many, which might also include a possible sick death row inmate, and so their services are not limited to certain people or sections of society.

But from the views espoused by Bentham assisting in such convictions would not benefit anyone due to his principle of Inequability that states – “when punishment is inflicted, everyone who undergoes it experiences the same amount of pain. ” (Bedau 1050). This singular point makes physician participation in such executions unethical in the view of Bentham. Ethics of Care The concept of Ethics of Care is a normative theory that explores the reasons that make actions right or wrong. The theory assumes that all individuals are interdependent for achieving their goals in life.

The theory can be best summed up if we refer to the work of Carol Gilligan where she states “The shift in moral perspective is manifest by a change in the moral question from “what is just? ” to “how to respond? ” (Gilligan 465) Ethics of care criticizes the applications of universal standards as “morally problematic, since it breeds moral blindness or indifference. (Gilligan 471).

Instinctively we can infer that the concept of ethics of care opposes the inhumane concept of execution (by any method) and would prefer to adopt a more caring and humane attitude by using other methods, and not executions, to correct such convicts. Considering these arguments, we can say that the theory of ‘Ethics of Care’ expressly prohibits executions Padgett 7 altogether, as well as physician participations in such executions.

At this point, it would be useful if we examine this ethic from the point of view of a philosopher within this school of thought. One can, therefore, consider the viewpoint of Nel Noddings to examine the issue under consideration. Nel Noddings – who was an American philosopher and a feminist best known for her work on the concept of ‘Ethics of Care. ’

The key aspect of Noddings’ ethics of care is to understand her notion of caring with special emphasis on ethical caring. In her arguments against executions, Noddings says that she does not want to argue against executions from a perspective that the act is wrong and neither from a view that human life is pure since neither of the two is provable. Instead, she prefers to view the issue from an ethical standpoint.

She feels that anyone (including herself) should be able to respond to the entreaties of the condemned man. As a consequence, Noddings, in her book ‘Caring,’ wonders about the after-effects on the people involved in the execution especially the doctors. She clearly mentions that the ethical ideals of those people present there, including the doctors, would be severely diminished. (Noddings 101) And in cases where people claim otherwise she feels that such a person is unethical and a hypocrite.

She clearly opposes executions since due to these acts of killing there would be a diminishing ideal amongst the witnesses including the doctors. (102) The point Noddings is trying to make is that any individual who witnesses an execution experiences a feeling of despair and greatly diminished sense of ethical ideals. In the present case under study, the physician would be responsible for the execution directly. If we apply Noddings thought to this event, one can only imagine the magnitude of diminished ideals that such a physician would experience.

The purpose of a doctor is, in a sense, the direct opposite that is to follow the ethics of care since it is a doctor’s duty to care for patients and treat them in a humane Padgett 8 manner. Anything that goes against this very purpose would also bring about diminished ideals in its wake. Therefore, Nodding’s arguments augment the general ideas of the theory of Ethics of Care by suggesting that physician’s ideals of ethics get greatly diminished by witnessing and participating in such executions. Therefore, the ‘Ethics of Care’ theory and, consequently, Noddings, both, oppose physician participation in executions.

Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics is one of the major approaches in normative ethics. The basis of Virtue Ethics lies in the Aristotelian school of thought since the earliest ideas in this theory originated from Aristotle and has central concepts such as virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia. (Hursthouse). Eudaimonia is a Greek term that translators roughly translate to mean happiness or flourishing or well-being, with the terms used interchangeably. (Hursthouse) In order to explain the issue under discussion, we begin our argument by examining the motives behind executions and then arguing the inefficacy of those motives to the issue at hand.

One should note that there are extensive arguments in Virtue Ethics that defend execution, but the argument this essay seeks to present would be solely on the role and participation of physicians in executions. Virtue ethics uses the motivation, the act itself, and the resulting consequences to decide morality. One can consider the fact that virtue ethics would ultimately find executions and its performers to be immoral because the primary motivations for executions are penalty, prevention Padgett 9 and reprisal. While the first two motives are somewhat positive, and the third motive is not.

Of the first two motives namely penalty and prevention, are motives that can be accomplished by society through framing of legislation that do punish criminals, but not by involving the component of death. Therefore, when the first two motives can be addressed in an ethical manner the need for the third unethical aspect comes under debate. The act of execution may vary, ranging from lethal injection to hanging, but the act of killing another human (by any means including execution) is a universal law and is, therefore, never virtuous. The wisdom of performing an execution at such a high cost to the state makes very little sense.

Such a deed that is non-virtuous and unethical does not only affect the condemned person, but also the particular physician performing the execution. The consequence of such an act can also be viewed as non-virtuous because it harms a person, which in turn also affects the concept of ‘Eudaimonia’ (Aristotlean concept of well being). Since all the three combined principles amount to an erroneous and immoral act, we can say that the act of physician participation in executing prisoners falls in contravention of the theory of Virtue Ethics.

Further, one can also observe that the basic principles of the virtue theory as postulated by Aristotle namely virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia also, in part, get impacted negatively. Therefore, one can conclusively say that the act of execution assisted by a Physician is immoral, unethical and non-virtuous on the part of the physician involved. Response to the Case As stated earlier, about thirty-five states in the United States require a physician to be present in assisting the execution of the death row convicts. The argument of the state regarding the violation of the Hippocratic Oath taken by the doctors is true when they participate in such Padgett 10 executions.

(Mackinnon & Fiala 338-339) One can use this point in conjunction with other theories discussed to draw up an argument as to why doctors should not be participating in executions. For a number of different reasons ranging from ethical to philosophical, physicians who do take part in such executions should seriously consider the effects of their acts. Most of the discussions that we have focused on in our arguments above seem to focus on three central points for doctors not to take part in executions – the morality of the act, diminishing ethical ideals of persons who take part in such acts and the dignity of human life.

These three points can form the basis of one’s argument to answer this case. Firstly, one can consider the morality of the act involved. While morality is a subjective concept, physicians should understand that killing a person for any reason is immoral in itself. When a physician participates in the execution, his role is not merely confined to passively witnessing it but actively participating in it. The act of killing a person, whatever may be the rationale, is certainly not a moral act.

The American Medical Association (AMA) code of ethics expressly prohibits the involvement of physicians in executions, permitting only post-mortem certification after a law enforcement official has declared it. (Black & Sade 27) Therefore, performing this act against the code constitutes immoral behavior, and this is a violation of the morality theory. Secondly, one should consider the diminishing ethical ideals of physicians involved in the act of execution.

A doctor who would blatantly violate a particular clause from the code of ethics set by the AMA would not further hesitate to violate other ethical codes as well. That is why the diminishing ideals as put forth by Noddings, as part of the Ethics of Care theory, seems to make Padgett 11 so much sense in this case.

It almost seems to an observer that by inviting a physician to participate in the execution process one arm of the law would be encouraging potential legal violations in another arm (the criminal legal system encouraging ethical violations in the medical arena). Lastly, one can consider the dignity of human life. Supporters of the death penalty would argue that the execution process has been greatly dignified since the medieval period but, on the contrary, an inflicted death goes against the very dignity of human life itself.

Killing a person strapped to a bed or chair and injecting such a person with a drug that causes a cardiac stoppage is not a very dignified way of dying. Further, in some cases when a physician commits a mistake of injecting a lesser amount of drug the death can be very excruciating.

The question that arises in such cases is whether such a death is dignified? And one can surely answer that question in a strong negative. While, most often, courts are aware of the ethical violations of executions they rely on the ethical standards articulated in the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics when determining the propriety of physician-assisted suicide and restrictive covenants in practice contracts 23 and 24.

However, the courts usually disregard medical ethics when permitting or requiring physician participation in executions. (Black & Sade 28) Considering these points of ethical considerations, our answer to the question for this case would be that doctors must certainly abstain from performing or certifying executions ordered by the state. Conclusion The arguments above can lead one to infer the immoral and unethical nature of participation in the act of human killing in general, and such state mandated executions, in Padgett 12 particular. Doctors have a moral duty to preserve and uphold the dignity of life.

Therefore, any act that runs contrary to this duty can be viewed as a violation, not only of ethical and moral codes in philosophy, but also of the corresponding AMA codes of physician behavior and other related ethical standards. Such behavior can also lead to diminish moral ideals amongst physicians thus leading to other reckless and potentially unethical behavior. Therefore, in conclusion, our position on the subject that a physician should not take part in such legal and state permitted executions would be true based on ethical, moral and societal considerations. Works Cited Black, Lee & Sade, Robert.

“Lethal Injection and Physicians: State Law vs Medical Ethics. ” Journal of the American Medical Association, 298. 23 (2007): 27 – 29. Print Padgett 13 Bedau, A. H. “Bentham’s Utilitarian Critique of the Death Penalty. ” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 74. 3 (1983): 1033 – 1065. Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons. law. northwestern. edu/jclc/vol74/iss3/ Gilligan, Carol. Moral Orientation and Moral Development. The Feminist Philosophy Reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2008. Print Hursthouse, Rosalind, “Virtue Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2013 Retrieved from http://plato.

stanford. edu/archives/fall2013/entries/ethics-virtue Kant, Immanuel. Ethics: Contemporary Readings. Harry Genslet (ed. ). London: Routledge Publications. 2005. Print. Mackinnon, Barbara & Fiala Andrew. Ethics, Theory and Contemporary Issues. Farmington Hills. 2014. Print Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. R. J Hollingdale. London: Penguin UK. 2003. Print Noddings, Nel. Caring, a Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1984. Print Verhey, Allen (Ed). Religion and Medical Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1996. Print.


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