Multiculturalism, Religion, and Bioethics location:Venice date:10-11 September 2009
The point of departure is the empirical research by Marwijk, Haverkate, Van Royen and
The. Starting from qualitative interviews, the act of euthanasia seems to be for the
physician problematic and even traumatic, also in countries where euthanasia is a legal
option. This emotional contrast-experience is an important locus for the ethical reflection.
I will discuss one topic of the conclusion of the research: what is the place, meaning and
limit of the moral integrity of the practitioner?
In the act of euthanasia, a relation of many years based on trust is often presupposed by
the physician in order to legitimate morally his involvement in the act of euthanasia. At the
same time, physicians experience an inconsistent relation between their acting and their
personal emotional and moral experience. The legal possibility to refuse the involvement in
the euthanasia, doesn’t take away the ethical unrest and physicians can experience to leave
their patients to fend for themselves. Can the responsibility and the loyalty towards the
patient implicate that one passes over his own moral integrity? A one-sided interpretation
of the ethics of Levinas could suggest a positive answer to this question.
A choice for the concrete goodness happens in the face-to-face relation with the other. The
other’s interest and not the own existing values are decisive. This could lead to the
suggestion of an absolute presence for the other. The own moral integrity is subordinated
towards the ethical responsibility for the other.
To this kind of reasoning, we put two questions:
(1) Every form of responsibility presupposes a moral integrity. The autonomy and the
conscience of the physician is presupposed for taking up the responsibility towards
the patient. It cannot be annihilated by the faithfulness and responsibility.
(2) The physician is not only responsible for the patient who is asking euthanasia, but
also for his other patients. The act of euthanasia has consequences for his moral
attitudes towards the third parties.
The problem will be elaborated in a discussion with the concept of responsibility as
developed by Emmanuel Levinas and Cathérine Chalier. The argument is based on a
critical-philosophical reading of some biblical texts.
The conclusion is relevant for the evaluation of the moral integrity of the physician as well
as for the application of Levinas’ concept of responsibility in the field of biomedical ethics.