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May. 17 2010 - 2:31 pm | 484 views | 1 recommendation | 18 comments

Logic’s Undignified Death: The Fundamental Incoherence Of Assisted Suicide Laws

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 29:  Jack Kevorkian holds b...

Jack Kevorkian in Detroit, MI.

Those who champion assisted suicide laws like the one we have in Oregon, tend to claim that there exists a “Right to Die.” The Death With Dignity National Center, an organization that seeks to enact assisted suicide laws throughout the country, argues on its website that “the greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one’s own desires and beliefs.” (Italics mine — sentiments not.) Jack Kevorkian, perhaps the country’s most prominent spokesman for assisted suicide laws, also couches his rhetoric in terms of “rights.” The right to die, these advocates would seem to say, is right up there with the right to free speech, to freedom of conscience, and to freedom of assembly.

Yet there is a fundamental incoherence and failure of logic inherent to the claim that there is a “right to die” – at least in the manner that these advocates make it. It is an illogic so blatant that it calls into question whether assisted suicide should be state-sanctioned at all.

All assisted suicide laws worldwide have standards in place which limit who is able to commit suicide. In Oregon, in order to qualify for assisted suicide, patients must be determined to have fewer than six months left to live. In Japan, a country grappling with a shocking and disturbing suicide problem, patients must be determined to be in “unbearable pain,” their death must be “inevitable and imminent,” “all alternative measures must have been taken to relieve the pain,” and the “patient must make a clear statement of his or her desire to shorten his or her life.”  Even in Switzerland, a country that has such permissive assisted suicide laws that a ghoulish “suicide tourism” industry has been created, patients must state their intention to die, and take an active role in the administration of the lethal drugs.

All of these sensible-seeming regulations lay bare the illogic of the claim that there is “right” to die. This is because if there really is a right to die, why should the scope of who is permitted to commit suicide be limited to the terminally ill, or those who are in pain? If one begins with the premise that there is a “right” to die, then it follows logically that all suicide should be legalized. But the assisted suicide camp will never make this claim, because surely they realize that our society would (rightly) not countenance a culture in which doctors are permitted to off anyone who is having a bad day. Thus, they are stuck making an incoherent argument for assisted suicide.

More deeply, this indicates the foolishness of legalizing assisted suicide at all. Indeed, legalizing assisted suicide has the effect of bureaucratizing what would otherwise be a personal, private choice. In sum, rather than increase the scope of personal liberty, legalizing assisted suicide actually shrinks it. Laws like Oregon’s Death With Dignity act say: you only have the power over your own body if a group of doctors and government officials says you do. How is this consistent with the notion of the individual ”right” to die? And where is the dignity in submitting yourself before a panel of doctors who will determine whether you qualify for state-sanctioned suicide?

Those who argue for assisted suicide may sometimes make an ethically compelling case. But on rights, they’re dead wrong.


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  1. collapse expand

    “And another thing, AIDS patients don’t have a right to their life-saving drugs. If a healthy person outbids the poor, dying AIDS patient for life-saving drugs the healthy person is just going to flush down the toilet, so be it. That’s his right. Imagine what kind of hellish world we’d create if different people had marginally different rights. It’s my nightmare.”

  2. collapse expand

    An excellent and “right on the mark” article. Thank you

  3. collapse expand

    So is the solution to decriminalize assisted suicide? How does that work exactly? And if you do it, does that create a ’suicide consultant’ industry?

    • collapse expand

      “a ’suicide consultant’ industry” are you kidding. So we should not help poeple that are suffering because it might create a “a ’suicide consultant’ industry”. Thats a joke right. We have a how many billion dollar a year health care system that plays god everyday. Keeping poeple alive that shouldn’t be and are hooked up to tubes for everything. How is that any better. I was under the impression that Dr Jack didn’t charge for his services he saw it more as his duty.

      Now when poeple are taken off the “life support” they are starved to death or sufficated or die from dehidration over several days. Is that how you would want to go.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Does the fact that some people are legally prohibited from buying and selling certain property that they own disprove that there’s a right to buy and sell property? Or, does the fact that it’s illegal to say certain things – say, lies meant to defraud someone, or slanders that harm them financially – disprove that there’s a right to free speech?

    No? Then how does the fact that some people are, for their own good, prevented from committing suicide disprove that there’s a right to commit suicide? There are no rights that are universally unrestricted. There’s a right to engage in private sexual conduct, yet, some sexual conduct is nonetheless illegal.

    I really think you don’t think these things through, Ethan. You really need to be working harder to keep up with your TrueSlant peers.

  5. collapse expand

    I’d certainly hate to be in a position where I could not off myself if I wanted to. Paralyzed, say. Then I’d want someone to help me off myself, even if I had many years to live.

  6. collapse expand

    If you are saying that the right to die is an absolute right, and therefore it’s nonsensical to have the state sanction (or proscribe) it, I agree completely.

  7. collapse expand

    in this regard, human medicine could take a giant page out of the veterinary medicine book, vets seem to have the end of life/no quality of life “euthanasia” thing figured out…i currently have a 14 year old dog who has bladder cancer and about 25% kidney function; she however (other than urinary incontinence that causes her to piddle all over the floor) is her “old self” – the vet and i agreed that it was best for me to take her home and let her (health) tell me when it’s time to let her go…my 79 year old father wishes we could be that humane to humans…the idea that a health care provider would off someone because they are having a bad day is ludicrous and me thinks you make a logical error with your ’slippery slope’ argument…
    i suppose it all adds up to having a LIVING WILL and to let those who might be responsible for making your healthcare decisions aware of your wishes long before you ever need them made…

  8. collapse expand

    Jack Kevorkian is obsessed with killing. He likes to do it. His arguments about rights are nothing more than a premise for his chosen vocation – killer. Just like drug users argue for legalization to empty prisons, and Marxists argue for economy-shrinking tax policies because the earth is melting, suicide rights activists are closet eugenicists.

  9. collapse expand

    Did any of you see that HBO movie on Dr Jack Kevorkian. If you are against allowing someone to die with dignity you should really see it. Anybody that wants to deny a sick person the right to end their life needs to work on there empothy skills. I am young with two young kids. I have seen my parents and many other have to deal with dying parents and it is not easy. Knowbody wants to pull the plug on someone they love and it probobly isn’t fair to ask them. But if that sick person is able to make that decision for themselves then WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? TO TELL THEM WHAT THEY CAN AND CAN’T DO. You should be ashamed of yourselves for being so small minded.
    Back to my two small kids. They like myself look up to there parents. The last thing I would want to do I be a drooling shell of a man with crap in my daiper. I have to much respect for my kid, wife or any other family member to ask them to wipe diarea from my ass and balls. Then put me back into some chair were I stair at a TV or window for 18 hour a day. I don’t call that living, I call that being selfish. I would want my children and family to remember me in a good way and enjoy their life. Not be some pain in the butt with a crap filled daiper.
    Get over your stupid religions they have been wrong about so many things I don’t know why anybody would listen to a grown man that wears a robe with a rope to work and say he talks to god so he has all the answers. No he doesn’t and neither do you. So stop trying to make decisions for other poeple when most of you don’t even make them for yourselves.

    How can you call it suicide when these poeple wouldn’t even be alive if not for modern medicine. Suicide is when some brat from the suburbs blows through his inheritance on cocain and hangs himselve. It is disrespectful to label someone that has been struggling with Lou Garrets disease for years will die soon anyways and can’t stand the pain with the cowards that commit suicide.

    Ethan this piece was horribly written and none of your points made any sense. This is coming from a contractor with horrible spelling and grammer skills, so if I could see it you need to work harder next time.

  10. collapse expand

    Just as with the drug laws you champion, the fundamental question here is this:

    Who owns you? Do you own yourself, or does the Government own you?

    If the former, then the State has absolutely no business or legitimate interest in regulating assisted suicide (or drugs, or any of a whole host of other things it regulates anyway).

    If the latter, then the government is well placed to make such judgment calls on our behalf.

    I’m curious to know, Epstein, if you will publicly state here that you voluntarily defer ownership of yourself – your body, your person, your mind – to the State.

  11. collapse expand

    Quite obviously, even though it has slipped “under the radar” since the 1970’s, overpopulation is the earth’s primary threat. If people don’t like their lives, what business is it of any government? We aren’t asked about coming hither, so at least a respect for human dignity would allow us to depart at any time and with any means we like.

    Similarly, women who love actual CHILDREN abort their fetuses so they aren’t birthed into this cesspool.

    “The death of a child is never really to be regretted, considering how much he has escaped.” (Thomas Hardy)

  12. collapse expand

    Rights language in the phrase ‘right to die’ has several problems with it, not least that it is difficult to assert one has a right to something that will happen anyway. One might argue the right to choose the timing of one’s death, or the manner of one’s dying: but even this raises problems in terms of duties that are implied and unaccounted for. But rights language is frequently used outside of any philosophically sound basis simply because of its powerful effect as rhetoric. Animal ‘rights’ are perhaps an example. And while the article rightly identifies an apparent shortcoming that might horrify John Stuart Mill, it uses not dissimilarly simplistic rhetoric to suggest that the the proponents’ use of rights-based language is naively wrong. All of which maybe suggests a dangerous degree of disingenuousness on both sides.

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    I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. My work has appeared in the Weekly Standard, the American Spectator, the New York Press, The Big Money, sp!Ked online, the Epoch Times, the Daily NK, and others. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote a column on culture and politics for the (alas, now defunct) Seattle-based Internationalist Magazine. In so doing, I filed dispatches from Berlin, Seoul, Paris, New York, and, yes, Reno - among other places. In 2009, I reported on business from Shanghai. I attended Reed College, in Portland, Oregon.

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