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Cultural Relativism vs Euthanasia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1489 words Published: 18th May 2020

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With the patients incredible amounts of pain and suffering will end, the patient would die knowing that it was their choice as we all have free will, vital organs can be saved and used to save other ill patients, without a professional physician assistance patients may commit suicide in messy, horrifying, or traumatic ways. Lastly, the patient can die with dignity rather than merely a shell of their former self. I think this should be allowed and culturally accepted in our society because, supporters back up the legalization of physician-assisted suicide highlighting that it helps free will and avoids excessive suffering in the setting of advances in medical. When it comes to examining suicide through the perspective of cultural and moral relativism, it exposes important information often missed when it comes talking about suicide. People thoughts about suicide are not considered irrational thinkers or labeled crazy. For starters I will tell you why euthanasia, also known as, assisted suicide, could be a moral and ethical act. In moral perspective, assisted suicide can be looked at as a merciful act. Letting someone opt to be killed because of their inability to move, use the bathroom, or even speak, could be looked at by many as an act of kindness. This person may feel like they no longer have a good quality of life and could be in agony and pain. You might say, “Who are we to deny someone the right to die in peace.” Derek Humphry helps us to realize why this is a strong standpoint for committing the act of euthanizing someone in his article Medical Perspective on Death and Dying:

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Let me explain how I became involved with the subject of euthanasia. In 1974 my first wife, Jean, was dying of bone cancer. Thrombosis had set in, her bones were cracking and she was losing control of her bowels. One day, after a very close brush with death, she sat up in her hospital bed and said to me, “Will you help me die?” That is when I first encountered the issue of euthanasia; from across my late wife’s hospital bed.

After she made her request, I asked myself, “What if I were sitting in that hospital bed? What if I had had two years of pain and agony? What if I faced an imminent death? What if I was losing control of my bowels and my bones were cracking and so-forth?” I realized then that I would be asking her to help me to die. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my simple reason for what I did. It was an act of love.

Cultural relativism is described as a thought that an individual’s beliefs, values, and practices of a culture should be understood rather than judged. It also includes recognizing that all cultures are indeed worth of respect (Rauch 2012: Lecture 9). In today’s world, folks unconsciously acquire the classes and standards of their own culture that they need been encircled by. Furthermore, they consciously believe that their people’s arts are the most beautiful, values are the most virtuous, beliefs the most truthful, and so on (Rauch 2012: Lecture 9). From my understanding, this means that around the world there is an overabundance of variety and unique views that develop and exist. Since there is no universal standard of morality that exists today, no individual has the right to judge another society’s norms and customs. This can be interpreted by researchers as a positive and negative consequence since a situation is now created where no person regardless of his or her authority in society is able to state what is right and what is wrong. Potential chaos is able to emerge because there are certain universal rules we must follow such as no robbery, murder, genocide, etc. but at the same time, cultural relativism allows us to keep an open minded on everything and accept certain cultures for the way they are and how they interact.

Euthanasia is the use of voluntary and effective means to end a person’s life. With this moral issue, death is considered the final purpose to attain some form of benefit, such as the release of pain and suffering. Euthanasia can raise a variety of moral dilemmas and have aspects that have a lasting effect on patients. One moral aspect of euthanasia is the moral difference between killing someone and letting someone die. Another moral aspect is the justification of assisted suicide in particular circumstances like cancer or a terminal illness. At the heart of this moral issue, many people have their own meaning of human existence (BBC- Ethics of Euthanasia, 2014).

During a Rhode Island study in 1993, they surveyed 392 physicians on the topic of life-sustaining medical interventions and their view on active euthanasia. Of the 252 physicians that responded, 98% percent agreed not to intubate (insert a tube for breathing purposes) the patient in the face of worsening respiratory failure. Eighty-six percent decided to give the patient a dose of narcotics that could cause respiratory failure and death to treat his pain effectively. Fifty-nine percent said once the patient was on life-support without the possibility of coming off it, to pull the plug. Nine percent said to give the patient a prescription for a sizeable quantity of sleeping pills that might be deadly if taken all quickly. (Arch Intern Med, 1993). though their views differed, all of them placed a high price on patient autonomy and their right to decide on. That choice is focused upon however they examine their current state of life. There are many who as long as they have breath in their body and are surrounded by those who mean the most, find content in pain and are willing to endure what the illness subjects them to. However, if there were ever a time where the pain was so severe or they become only a shell of who they were before, the topic of active euthanasia should be an option. This idea was supported by twenty-eight percent of the surveyed physicians, who would agree to lethal injection if it were legal.

Therefore, if holding the definition of relativism by Rachels results to all the mentioned unacceptable consequences, then a good reason to reject the meaning of relativism is held, and Rachel rejects it too. He rejects it because it is a suicide pill for ethics. It takes away the right of making value judgments or grounded ethical (Rachel, 1986). It, therefore, takes away the possibility of holding any ethics which are founded on approaches such as fair for the participants and common good for all.       

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As defined by James Rachels, relativism definition should be based on cultural and ethical definitions- a methodological recommendation (cultural) and suicide pills for ethics- taking away the chance to make ethical judgments based on people’s view (ethical). The two meanings merger cultural and ethical relativism as one stating that people should first seek the understanding of some idea before concluding that the first idea is better than the second. Some good things can be learned from the doctrine of ethical relativism such as humility, care, and tolerance while examining an individual’s assumptions. The cultural relativism as put by Rachels brings the good things while ethical is the bad doctrine. 

In the end, cultural relativism allows us to potentially make sure that we accept societies for the way they are, but also, it gives us a viewpoint of why such societies behave the way they do. Although one custom might be strange and abnormal to one society, another society depends on such customs to thrive and ultimately stay successful/fit. The world is such a massive and unique place and by having an open mind to behaviors we can analyze how different cultures interact and how they compare to that of our own.


  1. Santa Clara University, Derek Humphry, and Richard Gula. “Legalizing Euthanasia.” Sustainability – Office of the Provost – Santa Clara University, 13 Nov. 2015, www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/bioethics/resources/legalizing-euthanasia/
  2. Rauch, KL. 2012. Lecture 9, Anthropology 15: Human Life Cycle. University of California, Davis.
  3. BBC – Ethics – Euthanasia: Ethics of euthanasia – introduction. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/overview/introduction.shtml
  4. Archie, Lee, and John Archie. “Introduction to Ethical Studies.” Topics:  Informal Fallacies, philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/ethicsbook/book1.html.  
  5. https://rintintin.colorado.edu/~vancecd/phil1100/Rachels1.pdf


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