RC Practice with Explanation

Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
  • Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
  • As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
  • Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
  • Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
  • Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice


Physicians have disagreed for years about whether they should be involved in capital punishment of convicted criminals. Some physicians vigorously support participation, often arguing that organs should first be removed for transplantation. One frequent objection to capital punishment is that sometimes techniques don’t work the first time, resulting in lingering, painful deaths. If physicians would guarantee that a patient would not die in such a way, they would gain the trust of some patients.

For any kind of killing, some physicians favor the creation of “designated killer” technicians. This would free physicians from the taint of killing, keeping their image pure and their hands clean. But is this workable? Insofar as the designated killers are mere technicians, what prevents them from abusing their role? Wouldn’t it be better for physicians, torn between saving life and honoring patients’ wishes, to be reluctant killers? Wouldn’t physicians know best what to do if something went wrong?

Many physicians paradoxically endorse mercy killing but refuse to do it themselves. Nor do they think other physicians should kill. Physicians who support mercy killing but who don’t want physicians to kill commonly emphasize the importance of maintaining the role of the physician as a healer and preserver of life. One poll of American physicians showed 60 percent favoring euthanasia but less than half would perform it themselves. To such physicians, taking life radically conflicts with the symbolic image of physicians. Such conflict, they say, destroys trust in physicians.

Discussing this problem of designated killers in 1988, New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell called the idea “an unsavory prospect.” She suggested that mercy killing may one day be the end point of a continuum of good patient care. She asks how any physician can excuse himself from this most basic notion? Dr. Angell concluded, “Perhaps, also, those who favor legalizing euthanasia but would not perform it should rethink their position.”

Dr. Angell implies that it is hypocritical to favor mercy killing but would be unwilling to perform it. Is this true? There are at least two schools of thought. Some thinkers believe that if one favors, say, meat-eating, one should be willing to kill and prepare animals for eating oneself. Others conclude differently, seeing no reason why each person who favors a position must be willing to implement it.

Must you be willing to kill a serial murderer to favor capital punishment? Critics say one must. Being face-to-face with one’s victims creates basic moral qualms and such moral restraints are important to respect. In Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience, naive subjects under an experimenter’s control were dramatically less willing to inflict injury as the victims became closer to subjects under study. In contrast, as the consequences of actions became more remote, such as by pressing a switch which released a bomb on an unseen, unknown populace, it became easier to inflict injury.

Question: Consider the main points that the author makes throughout the passage. The primary purpose of this passage is to:
[A] speculate on the symbolism of the physician as healer.
[B] portray those doctors who argue against administering euthanasia as hypocritical.
[C] cast and explain the different arguments surrounding euthanasia.
[D] introduce the concept of “designated killers” to a receptive audience.
Option (C)

A rare global question: review topic, scope, and purpose and then simply find their closest match in the answer choices. While three choices are off topic and/or scope, (C) fits with the overall purpose of describing the conflicting arguments about euthanasia.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t deal with this subject in any depth, and certainly not as the overall purpose of the passage.

(B): Faulty Use of Detail. While the author implies that some people might believe this about physicians, the author doesn’t make it the focus of the passage.

(D): Faulty Use of Detail. The author mentions this in 3, but it’s not the purpose of the passage as a whole.

Strategy Point:

Be sure to keep an eye out for the author’s position. When the author takes pains to be objective, as is the case in this passage, questions will almost always test to see whether you’ve picked up on this.

Question: According to the passage, which of the following is most likely to be true of those physicians who favor the creation of so-called “designated killers?”
[A] They believe it is good patient care to provide a continuum of services.
[B] They seek to keep the physician remote from acts of harm.
[C] They understand that it raises a conflict with their opinions on capital punishment.
[D] They fear abuse of the privilege that comes from this unique role.
Option (B)

The “According to the passage...” phrasing is a sure cue to refer back to the passage, using your map to direct your focus. Where are designated killers mentioned? Go back to 2 to find out what sort of physicians favor this approach: physicians who want to be free from “the taint of killing.” Choice (B) rephrases the same.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Faulty Use of Detail. Marcia Angell argues in 4 that mercy killing will become part of a continuum, but she does this while opposing designated killers.

(C): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t argue in this part of the passage that a conflict exists, much less that the physicians recognize it.

(D): Out of Scope. There’s no evidence in the paragraph or elsewhere that doctors fear the designated killer would abuse the privilege.

Question: Suppose the following four scenarios took place in the United States in the next year. Which of these scenarios would strengthen the argument against doctors performing acts of euthanasia?
[A] A poll of American physicians shows that more than half are against euthanasia.
[B] A string of acts of euthanasia, administered by “designated killers,” encounter medical difficulties.
[C] Some physicians become more willing to perform euthanasia as they become more informed with the patient’s case history.
[D] In nations that have legalized physician-assisted suicide, patients with serious health conditions prefer to visit doctors who refuse to perform euthanasia.
Option (D)

What sort of situation would strengthen the argument that doctors aren’t the best people to perform euthanasia? Anything that would conflict with doctors’ primary purpose. Scan down the choices for a situation that would fit. (D) would be just such a situation: if patients are avoiding visiting doctors because they fear the euthanasia angle, then the doctor’s primary purpose of treating the sick is being overshadowed by the mercy-killing aspect.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The number of physicians favoring euthanasia doesn’t necessarily have an impact on whether doctors should perform euthanasia.

(B): Opposite. This would tend to strengthen the argument that physicians are the only people qualified enough to perform euthanasia.

(C): Opposite. This too would strengthen the argument in favor of physician-administered euthanasia: if physicians favor euthanasia more when they have a close relationship with patients, there would be less moral justification for avoiding the task.

Question: For which of the following claims does the passage NOT offer supporting evidence?
[A] Forty percent of American physicians disagree with or have no opinion concerning the practice of euthanasia.
[B] American physicians have debated their role in capital punishment at successive national conferences.
[C] The moral difficulties that physicians encounter in capital punishments are not to be dismissed.
[D] The New England Journal of Medicine has adopted an editorial stance against the suggested use of “designated killers.”
Option (B)

Keep an eye out for a statement that either conflicts with the passage or simply has no support. (B) falls into the latter category: the author never mentions formal debate at national conventions.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. This is supported by doing just a little math on the statistics in 3: If 60 percent favor, then the remaining physicians either oppose or have no opinion.

(C): Opposite. The author supports this throughout the passage: the moral qualms that physicians have are addressed in most parts of the author’s arguments.

(D): Opposite. This statement is supported by all of 4: the author notes that the editor has called designated killers an “unsavory prospect.”

Strategy Point:

If something in the passage sounds unfamiliar, it probably is! Trust your map and don’t get bogged down in looking for details that may not exist.

Question: According not necessarily to the author, but to those in favor of euthanasia specifically, what is a potentially negative aspect of the use of “designated killers?”
[A] They would disrupt the continuum of patient care provided by a physician.
[B] They might release physicians from an association with death.
[C] Their use might prevent lingering, painful deaths.
[D] The prescription of euthanasia may become more prevalent as physicians are removed from the act itself.
Option (A)

Where are the downsides of designated killers mentioned? Refer back to s 2 and 4, where the author raises questions about designated killers and the editor of the NEJM raises objections. (A) is the objection raised by the editor: she argues that someday euthanasia will be part of good patient care and that physicians should be in on the action.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. This is one of the arguments that physicians who favor designated killers make.

(C): Distortion: physicians, not designated killers, would prevent lingering, painful deaths.

(D): Out of Scope. This argument isn’t made in favor of physician-sponsored euthanasia.

Question: Suppose that the American Medical Association adopted the use of practiced “designated killers” as it is mentioned in the pasage. Which of the following might be expected responses, based on information presented in the passage?
[A] The New England Journal of Medicine issues an editorial condoning the practice.
[B] A poll of American physicians shows a great increase in the number of physicians willing to attend to mercy killings.
[C] Some physicians note an increase in trust between themselves and patients.
[D] The presence of physicians at capital punishment proceedings becomes more widespread.
Option (C)

What would be the effect if practiced designated killers were used? It would presumably reduce the incidence of painful death, since competent euthanasia would be more common. The author argues in 1 that if physicians could guarantee that death would not be painful, they’d gain patients’ trust. (C) is a reasonable effect in light of this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. It doesn’t follow that a medical journal will condone a practice it had previously condemned just because it’s put into practice.

(B): Opposite. If anything, more designated killers would probably mean fewer physicians willing to do the dirty work themselves.

(D): Opposite. As above, if designated killers were common, physicians would feel less burdened to do the killing themselves.

Question: The reader can conclude that a basic assumption of those in favor of using “designated killers” is that:
[A] the practice would evolve into a readily available medical option.
[B] very few physicians could be convinced to assume the role and duties.
[C] physicians would have to be present with the patient in order to conduct euthanasia.
[D] many physicians are reluctant to administer euthanasia because they are not in favor of capital punishment.
Option (B)

Go back to s 2 and 4 to review the idea of the designated killer. Both those who support and oppose the idea suggest that it provides a degree of removal between the physicians and the act of death. An assumption of this, therefore, must be that physicians won’t be the designated killers. If this is denied, the argument falls apart, a sure sign of a sound assumption.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. This would have no effect on the argument: denying it wouldn’t necessarily weaken the contention that the use of designated killers is a bad idea.

(C): Opposite. This is essentially the opposite of the correct assumption. The idea of designated killers assumes the absence of the physician.

(D): Out of Scope. This also has no effect on the argument: If it’s denied, the argument against designated killers remains just as strong.

Question: The paradox of physician-endorsed euthanasia is summarized in the passage by which of the following?
[A] Many physicians endorse the idea of euthanasia but are unwilling to perform the act or would prefer other physicians to perform it.
[B] Many physicians agree with euthanasia and are willing to endorse a cadre of “designated killers” that would perform the act.
[C] Many physicians endorse euthanasia because it ends long-term pain and suffering.
[D] Many physicians endorse euthanasia and are unwilling to perform it until it is endorsed by a professional association.
Option (A)

This is essentially a global question in disguise. Predict the paradox before hitting the questions: Lots of physicians are in favor of euthanasia, but not as many want to actually do it. (A) fits instantly.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Out of Scope. This doesn’t touch on the paradox of physicians who support euthanasia but don’t want to get involved. These same physicians may be willing both to endorse designated killers and to perform the act themselves.

(C): Faulty Use of Detail. . This has no element of the paradox either; it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

(D): Distortion. While this almost captures the paradox, it introduces the unnecessary element of professional endorsement, which isn’t suggested in the passage.

Strategy Point:

Be on the lookout for common question types in uncommon wording; critical thinking on the test often involves untangling the question.

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