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