Harm Principle in the 21st Century

In discussion this week, my section briefly talked about the harm principle from Mill’s Oh Liberty. Mill believes in the principle of only punishing the actions of those who harm others.   This brought my class to discuss the issue of euthanasia, the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain or suffering. The topic is controversial for many reasons, but one reason we discussed is does ending one’s life harm others? The response seems simple; obviously that person had someone who cared about them, and they will be tremendously affected by his or her death. Others talked about how if the person were an extremely beneficial member to society their death would be a loss to our nations progress.   However, I feel that if someone is terminally ill they should be able to die peacefully before their symptoms worsen.

Recently, this issue has been highlighted in the news because of Brittany Maynard. Less than a year ago, the 29 year old was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. After she got the news, the adventurous woman who loved to travel, decided to uproot and move to Oregon, one of the five states that allow death with dignity.  She mentioned many times that she was privileged enough to move to do this, where many people cannot and have to suffer instead. Brittany planned to end her life on November 1, 2014 unless she was feeling well in which case she would have prolonged her death. However, once her symptoms worsened she chose to end her life on the original date.

Brittany touched many people through two videos that went viral. The first shared her story and expressed why she wanted to die with dignity. The second video she put out further expressed why she was choosing to end her life and why she is the only one that can make that decision. Although Brittany was extremely close to her husband, mom, and stepfather, they all understood and supported her decision because it is her who would have to suffer. In the second video, Brittany also talks about how her health is deteriorating and how difficult that is.

One issue a lot of people have with this law, besides religious ones, is that people are not sure where to draw the line. In some cases it is hard to tell if someone has the chance of getting better or not, or how much the person will suffer if they die from their disease. Most people who believe in death with dignity think that if someone is terminally ill, a panel of professionals will be able to determine if that person should qualify for euthanasia. Likewise, I believe that even if that person is a contributing member to society their deteriorating health, and how they feel is more important than our loss.

Brittany checking off her bucket list by visiting The Grand Canyon with her family.

I think Mill would agree that someone should not be punished for wanting to end their life when they are already terminally ill. A person who chooses to die this way is not harming others since that person unfortunately would be dying anyway, just in a more prolonged manner. It is important to note that people who die with dignity are not choosing to die, they are simply choosing to avoid suffering from a death that is inevitable. In the future, we may see more states adopt the death with dignity law for reasons like this.

One thought on “Harm Principle in the 21st Century

  1. Your post really showed both sides of the debate. Discussing the current situation that Brittany faced was extremely important. I definitely agree with you, when dealing with a terminal illness that will ultimately cause your death , it is only fair that a person has the right to end their life on their own terms. In following mills’s argument her death really didn’t harm anyone because her family supported her decision. The situation would be different had they not. I would like others who may not agree to view this issue in a different way. By prohibiting someone from killing themselves are we inturn causing harm to others? The pain a person will continue to feel if they are forced to live. The pain family members experience from watching and waiting as their love one dies horribly right before their eyes . These are important to note.


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