Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Role of Rights in the Assisted Suicide Debate

This letter, What’s a life worth?, appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on August 7, 2013:

"If self-determination gives terminally ill patients the right to kill themselves, then ordinary people should also have this right (“Dangerous suicide ‘help,’ ” op-ed, July 23). Is illness enough to restrict the right to self-determination of one class of people? What makes the terminally ill case different is impending suffering and death. We must therefore introduce some morality or economy to the situation.

"The most popular of these is the idea of the “value of a life.” The concept of assisted suicide for the terminally ill is framed in a way that juxtaposes suffering and humane death. If a terminally ill patient sees that he has no value to his life, then he may request assisted suicide.

"If medical consult is necessary, then there will be some determination of the value of a life by a doctor. If he determines that a terminally ill patient is in a good state of mental health and can request an assisted suicide, and that an otherwise healthy person is not mentally fit to make that decision solely on the basis that the decision is made, then want else is being done?

"We are saying that someone’s life does not matter. We have no right to do so."

I had to read this letter several times to make heads or tails out of it. I'm still not sure I understand the writer correctly, but he seems to be saying that if assisted suicide is legalized, doctors will be making life and death decisions for people who are incapable of deciding for themselves. But that is not what legal assisted suicide is, or should be, about.

I left these comments:

The only person who can make the determination on the "value of a life" is the individual regarding his own, provided he is an adult of sound mind. "We" have no say in the matter. The right to self-determination means the right to choose one's own values and act accordingly as one's own judgment dictates. This right applies equally to patient and doctor, who may refuse or grant the patient's request to assist in his suicide based on the doctor's own values.

So, yes, it is absolutely true that "If self-determination gives terminally ill patients the right to kill themselves, then ordinary people should also have this right." Not only should they have this right, they do have this right as an inalienable possession. Neither society (we) nor government can grant or rescind inalienable rights. Government's only proper job is to recognize and protect the right to end one's life, for whatever reason, as it must protect all inalienable individual rights.

Yes, we must introduce morality to the situation. That is the purpose of individual rights. Rights are moral principles that sanction the individual's freedom to act on his own judgment in a social context. Rights, in other words, are the means to subordinate society and government to moral law—to protect each one of us from those who would impose their values and choices on us by force.

The ultimate acknowledgement that life does matter is in respecting the rights of every individual to his own life and liberty—even when, by his own rational judgment, the individual concludes that his life has become intolerable and would rather end it than go on in a state of living death. Those who would violate another's right to decisions regarding his own life are in effect "saying that someone’s life does not matter."

[NOTE: My first sentence may be misleading. I refer to the value of one's life as it relates to the personal choice to live or to die. Obviously, one can value other people.]

The only way anyone can make life or death decisions for another is if that person has asserted his wishes in an Advance Directive (a living will), or in the case of a parents regarding a minor.

Related Reading:

Diane Coleman's Opposition to Assisted Suicide Ignores Rights – PART 1

Diane Coleman's Opposition to Assisted Suicide Ignores Rights – PART 2

Religious Objections Irrelevant to Assisted Suicide Law

No comments: