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How can we judge if Euthanasia is morally right?

I saw a program the other day on British TV about people traveling to Switzerland to end their lives. Personally I believe we live in dignity and dying with dignity is simply not possible and before that time of confusion and fear comes one must live authentically, in the moment, and act morally as far as we are able.  However the plight of those who feel the need to travel to a foreign land, to a grubby garage, and to choke down a poison drink to end their lives struck me as an issue we should think about from a moral perspective.

From a Utilitarian perspective euthanasia is acceptable as it minimises pain and looks at the balance of happiness and pleasure that will be gained from the situation. Considering this balance will be seen as a good way of deciding whether or not to allow someone to take their own life, as it allows not only the individual’s express desire to end their life, but also considers the others involved in the situation. It is also likely that a Utilitarian will say that, in the end, it is better to allow someone’s suffering to end painlessly than allow it to continue where there it little or no quality of life remaining.

On the other hand, Utilitarianism also tries to assess the consequences of each action so that the most advantageous overall can be chosen. This is likely to be a very difficult thing to do when death is involved, as there is no way of telling what they (the deceased) might be capable of in the future or how their death may affect others. Though it is good that the consequences are considered, it is much harder to consider long term effects or future consequences, and also to gauge just who particular consequences are good for.

Moral Choices

It could be said that euthanasia allows a person’s dignity to be preserved along with their autonomy and quality of life, however because the majority outweighs the minority in utilitarianism there are no guarantees that this will be so. Whilst it is important to consider the feelings of others, the patient themselves will ultimately have little real say and may consequently be forced into a decision – either through the preservation of the life they wished to end, or being forced into assisted suicide because that is what is better for the majority.

In contrast, an ethical theory such as Situation Ethics may be a better way of approaching euthanasia. This looks instead at the most loving thing to do in any given situation, regardless of law. Though it too considers the opinions of others, it is much more likely to look to the wishes of the patient and the most loving thing to do for them.

In conclusion then the best course of action when relating to euthanasia is to look to a relative moral theory so that each situation can be judged on its own merits rather than dictated by universal laws and maxims. However, though utilitarianism could be seen as a fair and democratic way of making such a moral decision, it also leaves way for the tyranny of the majority to take place, where the wishes of the individual are outweighed by that of the majority. Therefore, Situation Ethics or another such relativist theory could perhaps be a better choice of option, as this looks not at the quantity but at the quality and love involved in each given situation, ensuring that the wishes of the patient are taken into account and adhered to.

Careers: Attractors, Bifurcation Points and Bull Durham

This week, we’re staying with the idea of career choice but are going about as far as away as you can get from Holland’s career congruence and person-environment fit — so hold on.

In the 1988 film “Bull Durham,” aging minor league baseball catcher and slugger Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) complains to Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) about the inherent unfairness that she, rather than he or Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), gets to decide which of the two will receive her personal favors and coaching mentorship for the season. He asks her, “Why do you get to choose?… Why don’t I get to choose? Why doesn’t he get to choose?”

She replies, “Well, actually, nobody on this planet ever really chooses… I mean, it’s all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing. Why, there are laws we don’t understand that bring us together and tear us apart.”

Organizational writer Gareth Morgan, in his Images of Organizations (Sage, 1997) explores the use of nine metaphors to examine ways of considering organizations. One of those metaphors, “flux and transformation” (see chapter nine) presents us with four “logics of change,” embracing all of the ideas to which Annie alluded — and much more.

Morgan’s second logic of change, “shifting `attractors;” the logic of chaos and complexity is particularly interesting. Though this book was written with regard to the relationship between organizations and their environments, it’s fun to layer some of these ideas onto individuals and their careers. As we discussed last week, the applicability of choice when considering careers is open to question. A great career fit based on congruence may or may not exist. If it does exist, it may be difficult to discover — or its competitive nature may exclude all but the most skilled and talented. It may be a career that’s gone in 20 or even 10 years, or it may require the careerist to play a role that doesn’t seem quite as attractive a few years down the road.

So, then where else might we look in making career choices?

Drawing from the theories that inform Morgan’s second logic of change, here are some ideas for you ponder.

Chaos theory posits competing attractors – i.e. circumstances or “contexts” that pull a non-linear system toward one situation or the other – for example, away from an existing context and into a new one. In order for the pull to resolve in favor of a new context, a system gets pushed far from its equilibrium into an “edge of chaos” situation, where “bifurcation points” (forks in the road) emerge. These bifurcation points represent different potentials. Inevitably, some sort of new order will emerge, though it cannot be predicted or imposed. Morgan advises that the implication for managers is to “shape and create `contexts’ in which appropriate forms of self-organization can occur.” New contexts, he continues, can be created by generating “new understandings of a situation or by engaging in new actions.” Further, in non-linear systems, it only takes very, very small changes at critical times to trigger “major transforming effects.” Anyone, he continues, who wishes to change the context in which he operates should search for “doable, high-leverage initiatives that can trigger a transition from one attractor to another.”

This is all very esoteric, but what it might really come down to for the individual is being on alert to recognize situations in one’s employment context where competing attractors have the potential to create “edge of chaos” situations. If there is a practical lesson here – other than continually scanning the horizon of one’s employment context – it might just be to think small instead of thinking big.

Here’s a personal example, which only in retrospect makes sense – as I certainly had no idea what I was doing at the time… When I was downsized (made redundant) in 1993, the company I worked for worked very hard to provide helpful support to those of us who had been displaced. It staffed and opened a full-time outplacement center, provided a generous severance package and gave us two weeks to vacate. I had planned to use the career center – but first, went around the building leaving handwritten notes on the doors and desks of people I knew, advising that I would be available to help with projects, if needed, until I figured out what I was going to do. (Broad-based work solicitation wasn’t permitted within the old context). Well, I only made it to the career center once — because that one small series of note-leaving acts resulted in a deluge of consulting work that launched a new career. The downsizing had created an “edge of chaos” situation that led to a new context – one in which my skills could now be used for the benefit of the organization. Through naïvete and uncertainty, I had somehow navigated a bifurcation point in a way that has worked out pretty well – at least so far. I’m a little embarrassed to be using this personal example because there was such an element of luck involved — and this good fortune is not something I take for granted.

Just please take the following away: If you and your career are verging on an edge of chaos situation, are there small actions that you can leverage into major transformations?

If anyone has thoughts or examples, please share.

Till next week. All my best,

Morgan, G. Images of Organization. (1997). Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi, Sage.