Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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

In The Dangerous "Help" of Assisted SuicideDiane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a disabled advocacy group, listed four reasons for opposing laws legalizing assisted suicide:

• Predictions that someone will die in six months are often wrong;
• People who want to die usually have treatable depression and/or need better palliative care;
• Pressures to cut health care costs in the current political climate make this the wrong time to add doctor-prescribed suicide to the "treatment" options;
• Abuse of elders and people with disabilities is a growing but often undetected problem, making coercion virtually impossible to identify or prevent.

I left these comments:

Ms. Coleman's four bullet-pointed reasons for opposing the legalization of assisted suicide ignores the one person that counts—the individual. Every reason Coleman cites against legal assisted suicide is irrelevant outside the context of the fundamental issue: The individual's inalienable right to life, which implies and sanctions the irrevocable right to choose to end one's own life.

The first two reasons Coleman cites are considerations for the individual, not the state. 

Reason three is a good argument against our socialized healthcare system, which forces everyone to finance other peoples' healthcare. We should stop violating peoples' rights by forcing them to finance other peoples' healthcare though taxes or government-controlled "private" health insurance. The cost of assisted suicide, like all healthcare costs, should be borne by the patient or anyone who voluntarily agrees to foot the bill, not "the health care system." The fact that we lack a free market in healthcare is not a reason to violate the right to assisted suicide.

The fourth reason Coleman gives for keeping assisted suicide illegal—that some elderly or disabled may be "coerced" into it—is fundamentally unjust. No one's rights should ever be held hostage to the potential criminal activity of others. The fact that some people may engage in abuse of the elderly or disabled is no reason to ban assisted suicide. Punishing the innocent for the wrongdoing of the few is grotesquely immoral.

Freedom is not, as Coleman states, "simplistic." Freedom is a profound moral principle with complex roots. In a nutshell, freedom means the right of the individual to live and act by his own judgment without coercive interference by other people or the government, so long as his actions don't violate the same rights of others. The basic right—the right to life—means the right to live on one's own terms, not the terms of othersNot only should assisted suicide be legal for the terminally ill, but for any adult whose life, by their own reasoned, uncoerced judgment, has become intolerable and no longer worth living.

Those who seek to impose their views on others by governmental force must necessarily ridicule or trivialize freedom. But in so doing, they are undermining the only moral basis for a civil society.

John from Middletown left a thoughtful reply. He said, in part:

Proponents often accuse assisted suicide opponents of trying to impose our views, but it is the proponents who want the state of New Jersey to take a position on when is it okay to kill yourself. We want to keep the state out of the suicide business. Proponents want the state of New Jersey to say yes, if you feel like a burden, or if you are ashamed of your incontinence, let us help make sure your suicide is successful. . . . New Jersey should instead make sure that everyone, whether disabled or diagnosed as terminal, has all the support they need, not to start offering prescriptions for 100 Seconal capsules. 

I answered:

Yes, we should "keep the state out of the suicide business." The state should not "take a position on when is it okay to kill yourself." The state should neither promote—"say yes" to— suicide, nor "help make sure your suicide is successful." It should neither encourage suicide for people whose "lives are intolerable at certain points," nor forbid "suicide prevention." It should not fund anyone's suicide, nor forbid anyone from privately funding it. It should neither sanction reasons for committing suicide, nor forbid assisted suicide for any reason (in regard only to consenting adults of sound mind, of course). It should not "start offering suicide to people," nor violate people's right to go through with it by the manner of their choice. It should neither "make sure that everyone, whether disabled or diagnosed as terminal, has all the support they need," nor "start offering prescriptions for 100 Seconal capsules." It should not be seizing money from taxpayers at gunpoint to either prevent nor pay for suicide.

As you say, "keep the state out of the suicide business." The government's only proper purpose is to protect, not violate, individual rights—which means, in this context, to leave people free to contract voluntarily with their health care providers for the services they need, without state interference. Both proponents and opponents should agree not to use the legal machinery of the state to impose their views on each other. 

Related Reading:

Religious Objections Irrelevant to Assisted Suicide Law

"I've Suffered Enough"—A Young Woman's Quest for a Peaceful End to an "Intolerable" Life

Does The Right To Life And Liberty Include The Right To Terminate One's Life? by Amesh Adalja


Mike Kevitt said...

Also, any private entity has a right to try to get the potential suicide to freely choose to change his (or her, you never know, it might be a woman) mind. But, if the potential suicide says, "Get outa my head, outa my face", or something similar, the entity better get out and let the guy kill himself, even if he's just upset because he got fired last week.

I can run on, here, but I won't. I get too tired. I'll just say, we must distinguish between suicide, including by specific means provided by someone who then walks away, passively, and that somebody, instead, activating the means himself, not the potential suicide, even when the potential suicide says, "Do it." In law (whether legislated, 'legalized' or not), the potential suicide must do it himself. Otherwise, a crime has been committed, even in the absence of any legislation or 'legalization' of any kind.

Roger said...

I enjoy your blog. Thanks for your insights. Just one minor point, something I see often and that I wish people would understand: you say "without coercive interference by other people or the government". The government is run by people. Coercive interference by the government IS coercive interference by other people. Separating the two in a sentence also separates them in people's minds, and I think they're really the same thing. Arguing against inappropriate use of governmental power would be easier if people understood that.

Mike LaFerrara said...

This is an excellent point, Roger. I agree with you. I usually phrase it something like "without coercive interference by other people, including people in their capacity as government officials." I think that says it better. In this case, unfortunately, I took the short cut.

I agree we need the clarity. Thanks. And thanks for visiting my blog.