The partnership aspect of a marriage becomes a case of shareholders with legally recognized polyamorous relationships. I’d have difficulty finding ground to ethically criticize 3 or 4 or 5 people having an equal stake in a shared life, however this does not seem to be how these arrangements turn out. It seems far more often than not that that this arrangement would be 1 man and multiple wives rather than vice versa. I see no reason for the law to support an arrangement of a king and his harem. Were this not the case, it still seems unlikely that each would share an equal stake in their shared life. This undermines a sense of equality that is ingrained in our way of thinking. Should medical decisions need to be made, would this be up for a vote? ‘2 for pulling the plug, 1 against… the yay’s have it’. Too many cooks in the kitchen in situations that are fairly straight forward with a 2 party marriage. The law shouldn’t be changed on a whim. There should be strong compelling reasons for doing so, as is the case with homosexual marriage, which fits in cleanly with existing laws and frankly, common sense. Perhaps there is an argument for polyamorous relationships in an official sense. I haven’t heard it yet.
It is permissible to end a life when requested by a person of sound mind though I would reserve the right to refuse to do it myself. I feel this should only be permissible in a medical facilities of sort under the supervision of trained individuals and that the state of the persons mind would need to be evaluated thoroughly. There is potential for abuse here that would need to be addressed in a serious way, however I don’t see a substantial ethical difference between this and a DNR (more on that below). We owe people in perpetual pain or the terminally ill who wish for life to be over a better option than throwing themselves in front of a train or a self-inflicted gun shot. We also need to balance someones choice to do with their lives as they see fit without making it acceptable for people to end their lives on a whim.
Obligatory is a little different, and really more a matter of personal judgement. Should the person be in such perpetual pain that enough morphine to knock out a horse has no effect, then I feel there might be an obligation to act. Beyond that, I’d have a tough time saying someone was obligated to oblige.
There’s the situation where 5 people on a runaway train headed off a cliff and to save them you must press a button that leads them to a track where they’ll stop at the cost of running over someone tied to the tracks. It’s said that most people would push the button. Yet were we to change the scenario from pushing a button to pushing a person onto the tracks to stop the train (leading to effectively the same results), the number of people who would do it drops, fairly dramatically. This same phenomena is core to the debates about drone warfare. We convince ourselves that inaction is different taking action, which is a half-truth at best, and find it easier to push a button from a thousand miles is easier than pulling a trigger from 1000 feet which is easier than slitting a throat. Most of us have a built in aversion to getting our hands dirty, yet on what ethical grounds are we differentiating here? In fact were we to factor in things like collateral damage, or certainty that your target was actually your target, the argument that slitting throats was the more ethical option even if it might be the most difficult to stomach for the average person. Which leads me back to the euthanasia issue. It might be easier to turn off a feeding tube, or other life support mechanism, but is this distanced action or inaction, which is done with the full knowledge that the person will die as a result any different ethically from doing it yourself? Personally I see no difference. When you factor in a body then starving to death or lingering in pain, it seems to me that euthanasia is ethically preferable.
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