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Introduction to Ethics Week Eight: Free Speech and Euthanasia
Free Speech Can we have an absolute right to free speech? Can the right to free speech ever be ‘trumped’?
Free Speech Ronald Dworkin discusses free speech in his paper ‘MacKinnon’s Words’. MacKinnon advocates banning pornography. MacKinnon uses two methods…
Free Speech Method One: Shock MacKinnon begins her book ‘Only Words’ thus: “You grow up with your father holding you down and covering your mouth so that another man can make a horrible, searing pain between your legs. When you are older, your husband ties you to the bed and drips hot wax on your nipples and brings in other men to watch and makes you smile through it. Your doctor will not give you drugs he has addicted you to unless you suck his penis”
Free Speech MacKinnon’s beginning is unbelievably graphic and somewhat difficult to read. Is there a philosophical point here?
Free Speech Method Two: Argument In the U.S., the publication of distasteful literature (in this case, literature degrading to women) is protected by the First Amendment, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Free Speech MacKinnon argues that even if this is true, such literature violates the Fourteenth Amendment that implies equality: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Free Speech Method Two: Argument Put quickly, the Fourteenth Amendment, as is commonly understood, guarantees the dignity of the individual. Pornography violates this. How? Is this true?
Free Speech Method Two: Argument The state has to balance competing claims. Equality and dignity trump free speech, at least in this case, because…
Free Speech Method Two: Argument The state has to balance competing claims. Equality and dignity trump free speech, at least in this case, because… Pornography makes no (obvious) contribution.
Free Speech Dworkin wants to argue that even in cases that violate decency, free speech is something we should hold on to. Is there a conflict between liberty and equality? “So if we must make the choice between liberty and equality that MacKinnon envisages – if the two constitutional values really are on a collision course – we should have to choose liberty because the alternative would be the despotism of the thought-police” (Dworkin)
Free Speech MacKinnon: Yes (liberty and equality are in tension) Dworkin: Not obviously (liberty and equality are not necessarily in tension in this way).
Free Speech Free speech provides a ‘marketplace’ of ideas so that one strain of thought does not become the dominant orthodoxy. (This is Mill’s position, Dworkin endorses it.) By permitting the stupid and distasteful, these things can be perceived as stupid and distasteful and, ultimately, discarded. By ‘testing’ our values against the distasteful, we either have to jettison our values (if it does not stand up to scrutiny) or we strengthen our conviction that our values are correct.
Free Speech Freedom, then, is real equality. All opinions have to be treated with equal respect, and discarded/maintained based on the merit of the idea. By allowing freedom of expression, we are allowing a vigorous and vibrant public debate.
Free Speech Equality is best served by liberty.
Euthanasia What is Euthanasia? Normally expressed in terms of ‘right to die’. Various forms…
Euthanasia Form One Compulsory Involuntary Euthanasia Everyone should be killed at a certain age (e.g.), regardless of their view on this. As far as I know (but there will be someone), I do not know anyone who holds this view. I suspect no-one sensible does.
Euthanasia Form Two Non-Compulsory, Non-Voluntary Euthanasia There are no ‘set times’, but if someone deems you to have ‘run out of time’, then you don’t get a choice in the matter. Again, I don’t know who holds this view – but it will be important for reasons that shall become obvious…
Euthanasia Form Three Non-Compulsory Voluntary Euthanasia If a person decides that ‘now is the time’, then the state (or whoever) should respect their wishes. This tends to be the form people argue for.
Euthanasia Problematic cases… Coma patients who have no reasonable chance of recovery. Children. Those who lack the capacity to make the decision.
Euthanasia Those against euthanasia attribute form two to those who administer euthanasia in the problematic cases. Is this fair?
Euthanasia Those against euthanasia attribute form two to those who administer euthanasia in the problematic cases. Is this fair? ‘Acting in the best interest of…’?
Euthanasia If we are to grant the ‘for’ camp their argument, who should be able to make the choice? Classic cases tend to centre around those who are in significant pain/those whose dignity is severely compromised. Thoughts?
Euthanasia J. David Velleman in ‘Against the Right to Die’ tells us: “So although I do not favour euthanizing people against their wills, of course, neither do I favour a policy of euthanizing people for the sake of deferring to their wills, since I think that people’s wills are usually impaired in the circumstances required to make euthanasia permissible. The sense in which I oppose a right to die, then, is that I oppose treating euthanasia as a protected option for the patient.”
Euthanasia Cannot come down to the choice of the agent – if the agent is sufficiently competent to make such a decision, then their dignity is sufficiently intact to warrant not granting them a right to die.
Euthanasia Cannot come down to the choice of the agent – if the agent is sufficiently competent to make such a decision, then their dignity is sufficiently intact to warrant not granting them a right to die. What about concern for future? “I’m fine now, but in two years I’m going to be in a much worse position…” Is this a way out for the advocate of euthanasia?
Euthanasia Velleman’s second argument. Treating euthanasia as a, legally protected, option will have extremely harmful consequences. Consequentialist argument. So we don’t get caught up in ‘what if a patient thinks they’ll be better off dead, but this is a mistake’ – Velleman asks us to assume that the patient is infallible (that is, if the patient thinks they’ll be worse off, then they’ll be worse off). Only patients who would benefit from euthanasia would choose it.
Euthanasia Even so, establishing the right to die would be harmful. The sort of autonomy granted would be a) un-Kantian and b) undesirable. Why un-Kantian?
Euthanasia Giving patients the option to die might cause some patients to be guided to decide in a way they think (perhaps falsely) others will want them to. This rests on the idea that finding your life tiresome is a good reason to die, others finding your life tiresome is not… Is this a good argument?
Euthanasia Velleman discusses Shelling, Dworkin, and ‘The problem of options’. More options, we tend to think, are better than fewer. We think that exercising an option will make us better off than we were before we had it. Shelling and Dworkin disagree with this claiming that merely having an option can be harmful and uses some examples from ‘game theory’ (and others) to illustrate his point.
Euthanasia Put quickly, options can be undesirable because they put one under unnecessary pressure. Refusing a dinner invitation Vs. default Offering ‘extra help’ to a student. Both are cases where the person is harmed even when she chooses what’s in their best interest.
Euthanasia Velleman argues that offering everyone the option as the status quo is problematic, what it might lead the sufferer to think is that they are ‘surviving by default’. An agent is now seen as being ‘responsible’, in some way, for their persistence. One might reasonably ask such a person for a justification for your continued existence. How would one answer such a question?
Euthanasia “If your daily arrival in the office is interpreted as meaning that you have once again declined to kill yourself, you may feel obliged to arrive with an answer to the question “Why not?””