Thoughts on assisted suicide
In the wake of Jack Kevorkian’s death, the debate that he so bravely sparked will surely be reignited. It is one of those subjects that creates great division and often passionate disagreement. On one side, you have pro-life conservatives who believe assisted suicide is tantamount to murder. On the other, libertarians and many liberals support the idea that a person should be able to end his or her life, including allowing another person to help in that task.
As a libertarian, I am firmly of the position that a person’s body is entirely his or her own property. This is why I strongly support the right of individuals to use whatever drugs they choose and engage in any other practices that harm or affect only themselves and other consenting adults. Thus, it is certainly the logical extension of this belief that a person should have the right to end his or her life if one chooses. It is clearly not a decision we should as a society encourage or condone in general. But if I choose to forfeit my right to life, I should have that ability.
Furthermore, this logic eliminates, in my mind, any legal and moral culpability for murder by a doctor who helps someone end their life. My argument goes like this. Laws should be designed to prevent someone from infringing on another’s rights. Murder is by definition the unlawful taking of another person’s right to life. If that person in fact chooses to “waive” that right and is physically incapable of carrying out their own suicide, then if a doctor or other person chooses to assist, then are not in fact violating any rights. Thus, if laws are about protecting rights, the law proscribing murder is not violated, at least in principle.
I realize there are many who feel strongly on the other side of this matter, that it is always wrong to end someone’s life for reasons other than self-defense or, depending on your view, in carrying out capital punishment. But I would ask those who feel this way one simple question - does a man own his own life? And if so, does not a man have the right to forfeit his life in the same way as he could give away any other property? I’d argue that the decision to end one’s life is perhaps the ultimate right, and without it a man does not truly control his own destiny.
This battle will wage on and on, and at this point it seems unlikely that anything will change on the legal front in the near future. But it’s an important debate to have when we’re talking about property rights and what someone truly owns. If a right is someone’s natural property than that person should be able to give it up. And if the right to life is given up freely, the law should to a large degree accept that.