Award Date


Degree Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Advisor 1

William Ramsey

Advisor 2

Sara Vanderhaagen

Advisor 3

Andrew Hanson

Number of Pages



The object of this essay is to explain why the distinctions made in euthanasia between killing vs. letting die and willingness to kill vs. unwillingness to kill are not relevant to real life euthanasia cases. The specific purpose of the research is to isolate the relevant factor for debate when discussing the morality of euthanasia. It begins with a brief examination of some vocabulary that is commonly used when discussing euthanasia. Following this is a quick overview of what the word euthanasia meant in the ancient Greco-Roman world compared to what it means in the modern vernacular. I use an article by James Rachels about the lack of distinction between killing and letting die (which is one possible relevant factor) and a reply by William Nesbitt which attempts to shift the focus onto willingness to kill (another possible relevant factor). I conclude that Rachels is correct that killing and letting die are morally equivalent when all other factors are the same, but that other factors are never the same and that Nesbitt is closer to the real morally relevant factor in his discussion of willingness to kill. However, Nesbitt is not entirely correct or clear about his ideas. Willingness to kill can, in a case of euthanasia, be equivalent to a willingness to help and is not always a negative thing. The more generalized intention of the person performing the euthanasia is the most relevant factor to the morality of the act.


Euthanasia; Intention; Medical ethics; Right to die


Bioethics and Medical Ethics | Philosophy