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My Position On The Right To Die

Also Referred To As Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia

Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry

First published 2016.02.11, Updated 2016.09.29


My position: People should have the right to end their own lives — no one should be forced to live against his or her will, though I could be convinced of exceptions.



Introduction


Unlike my position on abortion, which changed over the years, I do not recall ever having a different position on the right to die. I always thought, even as a fanatic Christian, that humans should have the right to end their own lives.

The first I ever heard about someone killing themselves was when reading the Bible. I Chronicles 10:4-5 tells of Israel’s King Saul asking his armor-bear to kill him, to save him from the abuses of the approaching enemy; when the other guy wouldn’t do it, Saul “took his own sword and fell on it”, and then the armor-bearer killed himself as well.

When I asked, as a child, why they did this, I remember being told two things, perhaps not at the same time or by the same person: (1) if they had been captured, much worse would have happened to them, and (2) in some cultures, especially ancient ones, suicide could be considered an honorable death, not at all how suicide is considered in the West today. I didn’t think much more about it then, never expecting to find myself in battle against the Philistines with a sword as my only way out.

As I grew up, it quickly became apparent that suicide was often thought of in our society as the worst way to go, shameful even, “the coward’s way out”, though it was never really explained why. When a friend mentioned it during my high school years, I asked, and he said: “If you kill yourself, you’ll go straight to Hell; it’s the only unforgiveable sin.” I didn’t remember hearing about this in my own church, but I asked around. Sure enough, many people held the opinion that killing oneself would send a person immediately to Hell.

I couldn’t find anything in the Bible expressing that view, though I later heard it repeated in movies and among friends.

The next time I remember hearing about it was during a discussion of “euthanasia” in high school class; I was 16 years old. The teacher explained what it was (thusly: “doctor-assisted suicide”), and asked what we thought of it. I remember students turning to me, since I was known as the most blatant representative of the religious right. Many were surprised when I said the Bible didn’t prohibit it and that it “seems like the Christian thing to do”, to mercifully end someone’s suffering when there is no hope for their survival.

Later, in Bible college, I had similar discussions (sometimes heated arguments) with fellow students. Again, no one could show me where the Bible condemned suicide at all, much less a compassionate act such as medically assisted suicide. I will mention this in more detail below.

My position has always been that people should have the right to end their own lives. This could be re-worded as No one should be forced to live against his or her will.

A brief summary of my reasons is as follows:

  1. Every argument against the right to die is faulty.
  2. Forcing someone to live against their will is, in most cases, immoral.
  3. Legalized suicide is safer and cleaner than illegal suicide.
  4. There are situations in which self-killing is a legitimate choice.

I can think of a few crucial exceptions, which I cover near the end of this page.

(Scroll down to see these arguments expanded, or use the More menu to navigate.)



What Exactly Do These Words Mean?


Part of the problem with this discussion is a tangle of different phrases and definitions.

Suicide is defined as “The action of killing oneself intentionally.” In common usage, it seems to generally refer to people who would otherwise go on living, and not situations in which a person is about to die anyway, though it technically covers any intentional taking of one’s own life.

Euthanasia, on the other hand, is often performed by someone else: “The painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.” In most countries today, it is illegal — considered murder (exceptions include the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia, and Luxembourg, each with specific limitations). We also use the word when referring to pets or farm animals, beings who clearly do not get a say in the matter.

Assisted suicide is “The suicide of a patient suffering from an incurable disease, effected by the taking of lethal drugs provided by a doctor for this purpose.” In other words, it’s a combination of suicide and euthanasia — someone wants to end his or her own life, but uses medically provided drugs for the purpose. This is currently legal, to varying extents, in four nations and several U.S. states.

Movements have arisen using terms like “dying with dignity” and “right to die”, both referring to doctor-assisted suicide.

Euthanasia, left unqualified, is the only one I have a problem with, because it can refer to doing something to someone else, and can be without their permission. Qualified with specific extra words, it could be acceptable. I don’t like to use this word when discussing the right to die, because of this double-meaning and because it so often connotes being killed against one’s will.

I am concerned in this position paper specifically with an individuals’ right to die of their own volition, whether (1) near the end of life to avoid needless suffering or (2) any other time during life — for surely, if one has the right to die at the very end, one has the right to die elsewhen.


Arguments Against The Right To Die Are Wrong


As with abortion, the arguments against the right to die are often religious in nature, though there are other types. Here in the U.S., they’re most often Bible-based. I still haven’t heard of one that’s valid.


Biblical Arguments


Of course, the main reason Biblical arguments fail here is that no nation is ruled by the Bible, nor should any be. In the U.S., we have specific constitutional safeguards against letting one religion or religious viewpoint overshadow all others. If indeed the Bible prohibited suicide, that would be a reason for followers of the Bible to not commit suicide, but should have no bearing on anyone else.

However (as noted in my Introduction), there actually is nothing in the Bible that prohibits — or even speaks against — suicide. Certainly nothing is mentioned about mercy-killing at a patient’s request.

The Bible is almost entirely silent on the subject of suicide, mentioning it only eight times — including the instance (Acts 16:25-28) when Paul prevented a suicide. In that case, suicide was not condemned. It does not appear that Paul prevented the guard’s suicide because suicide is wrong, but because the guard was mistaken about his reason for killing himself — the guard thought the prisoners had escaped, but they hadn’t. If the prisoners had escaped, he could have gone ahead and done it.

The Bible mentions seven people who actually killed themselves:

  1. Abimelek, son of Gideon, king of Shechem (Judges 9:52-55) — sword
  2. Samson, son of Manoah, judge of Israel (Judges 16:26-30) — crushed by temple
  3. Saul, son of Kish, king of Israel (I Sam. 31:4-6) — sword
  4. Unnamed, Saul’s armor-bearer (Ibid) — sword
  5. Ahithophel, counselor of King David (II Sam. 17:23) — hanging
  6. Zimri, king of Israel (I Kings 16:18) — fire
  7. Judas, disciple of Christ (Matt. 27:5) — hanging

The first is included because Abimelek commanded the killing, but he did not do it himself. Like Saul, he asked his armor-bearer to do it. Unlike Saul’s armor-bearer, Abimelek’s armor-bear actually did run him through with a sword. Under current law and Western morality, this is murder, not suicide. However, it could be classified as a “mercy-killing”, since Abimelek had just had a millstone dropped on his head, which cracked his skull, and was likely about to die anyway. His reason: “So that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” Abimelek, though the son of a Bible hero, was despicable. He had already murdered 69 (or 70) of his brothers and generally went around killing people. But the Bible nowhere pronounces judgment on the manner of his death. It calls “wickedness” what he did to his brothers.

(Note: the Bible condradicts itself on the number of Abimelek’s brothers.)


Samson is often excluded from this list, because his intent was to kill Philistines; I included him because he knowingly caused his own death. Again, the scripture does not condemn his murder-suicide. In fact, the language used makes it seem heroic: “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.”

Saul, mentioned in my Introduction, is also not condemned for killing himself. David afterward wrote a song mourning Saul, calling him “Your glory, O Israel”, and “beloved and lovely”.

(Note: the Bible contradicts itself on the manner of Saul’s death.)


The death of Saul’s armor-bearer is also not condemned. The Bible gives a reason for why he didn’t kill Saul (he “was terrified”), but doesn’t give a reason why he killed himself; just that he watched Saul die and copied him.

Ahithopel hanged himself after he “put his house in order”. The given reason is that “his advice had not been followed”. No condemnation is offered for his manner of death. He was buried in his father’s tomb.

Zimri, who had been a palace official but stole the throne by killing a bunch of people, “set the palace on fire around him” and burned to death, after his own army named someone else king and attacked the city where Zimri was. The scripture adds: “So he died because of the sins he had committed”, despite having just said he died because of setting the palace on fire. But still, the “sins” referred to are his sins in life, not the manner of his death.

Lastly is Judas, the only suicide mentioned in the New Testament. The Bible says he was “seized with remorse” after having betrayed Jesus to the chief priests (for the sum of 30 pieces of silver), and so he hanged himself. In Judas’ case, the Bible says “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man [Jesus]! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” This of course, refers to the betrayal, not to the suicide. Nowhere does the Bible say he was wrong to kill himself.

(Note: the Bible contradicts itself on the manner of Judas’ death, and several other particulars of this story.)


So, the writers of the Bible took time and space to list seven separate suicides, and one attempted suicide, but never once thought to say suicide is wrong, or sinful, or that it was an “unforgiveable sin”. In most of these cases, the victims were evil men, and were clearly condemned for their wicked deeds, but not for taking their own lives. In at least one case (Samson), the way the story is written appears to justify the actions that caused his death.

If none of the actual mentions of suicide condemn it, then why do Christians say it’s condemned? Several explanations are offered, none of which ever rang true for me. (Feel free to search bible suicide to read various explanations from Christian sites, and you’ll see what I mean.) I will address a few of these in the following paragraphs.

“Suicide is self-murder”, one site says, and then refers to the biblical commandments against murder. This ignores the actual definition of murder, which is “The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another”, and ignores that the Bible never equates the two.

“God is the only one who gets to decide when and how a person should die” is another one, usually citing Hebrews 9:27, which says people are “destined to die once” (NIV) or “it is appointed unto men once to die” (KJV) and then will face judgment. I’ve read this in a dozen different translations and have never gotten out of it what they’re getting out of it. It sounds like it’s saying humans will face judgment after they die. (And, if you stipulate an all-knowing, always-existing God, then that God has always known when each person will die, and how.) I also cannot find any other scripture that says anything about God being the only one who can determine a person’s time or manner of death.

“Suicide rejects God’s gift of life” only sounds ominous until you think about it. Sure, according to the Bible, life came from God. But so did death. It would make just as much sense to say: “Continuing to live rejects God’s punishment of death.”

I’ve also heard arguments based on the alleged “sanctity of life”, a concept not found in scripture. It is said to be based on Genesis 1:26-27, which says God created mankind “in his own image” and in his “likeness”. This is, at best, a tenuous interpretation. While it is clear from the weight of the rest of scripture that human life is considered higher or set apart from other forms of life (plants, animals, etc.), it is not at all clear that “every life is sacred”. In the Bible, God imposes the death penalty for any number of crimes, including eating the wrong fruit, kidnapping, adultery, homosexuality, striking a parent, lying about your virginity (if you’re a woman), failing to scream for help when being raped, breaking Sabbath laws, living in a city where people don’t worship YHWH, owning an ox that kills someone, being a rebellious son, and more. Even the New Testament, certain acts are listed that “deserve death”, including slander, boastfulness, envy, gossip, arrogance, disobeying parents, and having no understanding. And of course, the worst crime is not believing in God — punishments too numerous to list here. Death is all over the Bible, the great majority of them attributable to God himself, including many thousands of children, both born and unborn. No, the Bible does not teach that every life is sacred.

I should also point out that to someone outside Christianity, it looks a lot like Jesus killed himself — performed actions which he knew would lead to his own death. John 10:17-18 has Jesus saying “I lay down my life... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Yes, he was technically killed by crucifiction — according to the stories — but it is clear that this was his plan all along (and an omniscient God like YHWH/Jesus would have known trillions of years ago that this would happen). We still call it “suicide” when a person entices police officers to kill him, or when someone drives onto railroad tracks and stops intentionally, so it is not a stretch to say that God (in the form of Jesus) killed himself as part of his grand eternal plan — for those who believe the Bible is true, that God exists, and that Jesus is God.


Non-Religious Arguments


Here, I briefly list several arguments against the right to take one’s own life that I found on several websites, and briefly dismantle them. (Sentences in quotation marks were copied and pasted; they are the actual words of opponents of the right to die.)

“Choosing to take one’s own life demeans the value of human life.” No it doesn’t. I concede that the individual committing the act might place little value on his or her own life, but it says nothing of what they think of other people’s lives, nor can I be convinced their act will force other people to value life any less.

“Taking one’s own life reduces the chances for miracles and possible recovery” (in the context of a seriously ill person). If we define “miracle” in the divine sense, the chances are already zero and therefore cannot be reduced. Otherwise, this one is true — miracles can also be defined as “highly improbable or extraordinary events with welcome consequences”. Very occasionally, deathly ill people will make a recovery. If one of them had chosen doctor-assisted suicide, they would not have recovered. However, this is not a valid argument against the right to die, but an argument about why a person might not want to exercise that right. Having the right to die does not cancel your right to live; it only means you have that choice and that other people do too.

“Aid in dying (physician-assisted suicide) violates the Hippocratic oath.” First, we know that the Hippocratic Oath can change; it originally included “I swear by Apollo” and other gods and goddesses, and it has been modified several times. Second, not all physicians swear by it (only about half of U.S. medical schools use it, for example). Third, the Hippocratic oath is not legally binding. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the current version of the oath does not include a prohibition against helping fulfill a patient’s wishes to end his or her life.

“Doctors make mistakes; the patient may not really be suffering, or could be cured, if instead he or she got a second opinion or different treatment.” This is an argument to get a second opinion or try different treatments. It says nothing to whether a person should have the right to die.

“It’s a slippery slope; will eventually lead to legalized murder.” Of course, murder (by defintion) can’t be legalized. Murder is the unlawful act of killing someone else with premeditation. But we can and do repeatedly decide what types of killing are unlawful, and regularly make exceptions for accidents, self-defense, etc. It would not be difficult to codify into law (as some states and nations have already done) that it is lawful for a doctor to assist in a patient’s suicide, provided certain guidelines are met. The fear is that doctors or loved ones will someday gain the power to end people’s lives who don’t want to die. That, of course, is a very scary concept, but in my mind is unrelated to people who do want to die. It is in fact the opposite.

“It’s a slippery slope; will lead to insurance companies pressuring doctors to help certain patients die.” No, because we’re not talking about killing other people. That would violate their right to stay alive. We’re talking about a person’s right to die. I don’t know how insurance companies “pressure” doctors, but in the end, the right to die is a right exercised by the patient, not by the doctor.

“Unethical doctors will help patients die for the wrong reasons.” Again, the decision is not up to the doctor, but up to the patient. If they mean the patient has “wrong” reasons for wanting to die, and therefore will search out a doctor who will help them, then yes, I assume this might be the case, just like some drug addicts currently search out doctors who are more willing to write prescriptions. However, this argument is only valid if the future assisted suicide law is written in such a restrictive way that only allows patients the right to die in very narrow circumstances and restricts their right to die in other circumstances. In that case, yes, it is likely that some people won’t meet the criteria but will still seek out doctor-assisted death. As with all laws that partially restrict our rights, I assume there would be an enforcement agency of some kind to check on such things. Ideally, there would be no such restrictions on a person’s right to die, so there could not be any “wrong” reasons.

“The elderly do not have the mental capacity to make such a choice, therefore it should not be allowed in anyone over a certain age.” A related complaint replaces “elderly” with “children” and “over” with “under”. Yes, it is understood in our societies that children are often not afforded the same rights as adults, especially when it comes to life-altering decisions. We don’t allow them to drink, join the Army, buy guns or spray paint, smoke cigarettes, own property, and so on. We have special and separate courts for non-adults and they are sentenced on different standards. Similarly lessened rights are also already the case for those with diminished mental capabilities — in some cases including elderly persons. In some states, these people aren’t allowed to vote, and in others they can’t even get married. To my knowledge, most right-to-die advocates acknowledge there are special circumstances in these cases, which can be handled three ways: (1) allowing them full rights anyway, (2) not giving them the right in any circumstance, or (3) setting up some legal method to handle them on a case-by-case basis.

(Note my Exceptions section below.)


“The right to die has a socio-economic dimension to it. If it is legalized, then disadvantaged people will choose early death more frequently.” I suppose this is possible, depending on how the law is written. In real-life examples like Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act” (passed in 1997), the law is fairly strict and limited to “terminally ill adult Oregonians”. The number of people taking advantage of the law has risen steadily, from 16 deaths in 1998 to 105 deaths in 2014. The state’s report (.pdf, 231 kb) doesn’t list economic status, but does show some statistics that indicate it. For example, 72.1% had “some college” or more education, and about 60% carried private medical insurance (about 40% had either Medicare or Medicaid). If the law is written similarly to Oregon’s, the path is open to anyone who meets the criteria, regardless of economic status. If the law is written more broadly, giving citizens the right to die even if they don’t suffer from a terminal disease, then it might become more likely that poorer people would take advantage of it. Even without such a legalized right, dying is cheaper than living. In general, economic status is indeed a predictor for suicide — both very poor and very rich people are at higher risk, and unemployed persons are more likely to commit suicide. In other words, they’re doing it anyway, often in very messy, traumatic ways. Providing a codified right and a legal medication simply removes the secrecy, trauma, mess, and shame from the equation.

Someone once commented to me: “Dying to prevent your own suffering is selfish”. I disagree, because it takes nothing from anyone else, especially in the case of a terminally ill patient. Is it selfish to eat, to stave off hunger pains? No, unless doing so prevents someone else from eating. I say it is far more selfish to force someone else to suffer until their death, if they would rather end it early.

If there are other arguments, I would be happy to learn about them and consider them. As it stands, I cannot think of any legitimate argument against a fundamental right to die.


Stigma Associated With Suicide


In many Western nations, there is a great deal of shame associated with suicide of any kind, not only because people wrongly believe their holy books are strongly against it, but also because of strong — and real — associations with mental illness. The stigma is overpowering. We’re taught to think of it as the “coward’s way out”, that an individual must be incredibly weak-minded to even consider it. Suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide) is considered, by itself, as a symptom of mental illness — usually depression, but other disorders as well.

Persons attempting suicide or who admit they are considering it are often hospitalized against their will. In some jurisdictions, they are jailed (I have anecdotal evidence for this, but could not find a solid online citation for it). One reason for this is clear: most people who survive a suicide attempt end up not committing suicide. If they can get past that momentary and very temporary impulse/urge, they go on to live quite a while, usually dying from something else — old age, diseases, or any number of other ways people die. But another reason for it is the stigma, encoded in our thought processes, legal system, and mental health industry — that it’s wrong to consider it.

Suicide was not always thought of this way, and in some cultures still is not. Most of us have heard of Japanese ritual suicide (seppuku), usually via movies. It apparently arose in the Samurai warrior culture, as a way to avoid capture after defeat in battle, possibly to avoid torture or to deny an enemy the pleasure of getting the kill, but later evolved into a more ritualized and stylized form of death. It could be performed to atone for dishonor or shame, but note that the act was the solution for the dishonor or shame, not shameful in itself.

There is evidence that many in ancient Greece considered suicide a heroic act, depending on circumstances, while others — including Aristotle — thought it “cowardly”, if done to “avoid poverty or desire or pain”. Some biblical scholars, based on the lack of condemnation of suicide in the Old Testament, have concluded that “in ancient Israel the act of suicide was regarded as something natural and perhaps heroic”. In ancient Rome, those wanting to die could petition the court and get hemlock for free if their reasons were sound, but soldiers and slaves were barred from suicide on economic grounds (source).

Thomas More, a Catholic philosopher in England, wrote in Utopia that people with “torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope either of recovery or ease” could “choose rather to die”, that they could “take opium, and by that means die without pain.” He was writing of a fictional land, suggesting a better way of life.

One of the reasons there is stigma attached to suicide today, even outside religious viewpoints, is the association of suicide to mental illness, as it often clearly is, and there is still a great stigma attached to mental illness, even as we continue to learn more about its causes and possible solutions.

I have hope, that as we continue to study mental illness and find better treatments for it, that we as a society will move away from stigmatizing suicide even as we learn to better prevent the impulsive attempts that are almost always regretted.


Differentiating Between Impulsive And Reasoned Suicide


As I noted above, suicide today is often the result of a temporary urge, an impulse. Regardless of the causes, of which we are still learning, we know that in most cases, if a person can be kept from committing suicide, then they will go on to live without trying again. For some, the impulse lasts only a few minutes, for others days or weeks. Often related to depression or substance abuse, this type of “suicidal ideation” is something I want to differentiate from the right to die, and I will try to explain why.

While yes, I believe people should have the right to die, I think it can be shown that impulsive suicide due to depression is not the same thing as people determining rationally that they want to end their lives. A perfectly healthy, non-depressed person like me can decide now — years in advance — “If I ever get [horrible, untreatable disease], I don’t want to keep on living.” The former is an irrational mistake that they would clearly regret — and almost always do, if rescued. The latter is a reasoned plan for end-of-life procedures.

This is why the “dignity in death” and “right to die” movements normally do not advocate for the normalization of all suicides, but focus on helping dying people go out peacefully, on their own terms.

A person is “not himself”, as the saying goes, when intoxicated or suffering from a hard bout of depression or other mental illness. Just as we (in the U.S.) have a Constitutional right to own and carry firearms, and that right does not extend to intoxicated persons, the same could be said for the right to die (if ever it becomes a protected right). If a person insists on a right to die, it should not be terribly difficult to write into law under which conditions they get to exercise that right. Someone who is drunk, high on some other substance, or clearly not in their right mind for other reasons, does not necessarily get the same rights as everyone else.

When I say “a person has a right to die”, I am not talking about sudden suicidal impulses, but rather a person who has thought about all the options, had time to decide, and come to a conclusion while in her right mind. And, of course, terminally ill persons, who might have less time to think about it, but more reason to want to end life on their own terms.


Forcing Someone To Live Against His Or Her Will Is Immoral


Everything I have written on this page comes down to this: It is my strongly held opinion that it is immoral to force someone to live against his or her will.

Since morality is subjective, I tend to determine morality (as do most people, if they really think about it) based on empathy — what would I like to have done to me or not done to me? Would I like to have my possessions stolen? If not, then I shouldn’t steal from others. Would I like to be tortured? If not, then I should not torture others. And so on. Side-by-side with this is the question: Will a particular action or inaction cause preventable harm or unnecessary pain?

In the case of a terminally ill patient, especially one who suffers intense pain, it causes preventable harm and unnecessary pain to force them to stay alive. And I would not like to be forced to live in such a circumstance, so I cannot bring myself to force another person to live through it.

Someone exercising the right to die does not harm anyone else or infringe upon anyone else’s rights. It takes nothing from you. But if you force them to live, it takes something from them — their dignity and freedom.


Legal Suicide, Safer Than Illegal?


With abortion, there are well-known statistics showing it is much safer to have a legal abortion than an illegal one. For suicide, I could not find any statistics comparing the two. I’ve read that suicide isn’t technically illegal in the U.S. But if you’re caught attempting suicide, you can be held against your will, including taken to jail and subjected to mandatory mental health evaluations.

The only statistics available are those for doctor-assisted suicide, in the few states where it’s legal, like the Oregon report I cited above. In that report, 100% of the people who ingested the prescribed medication never regained consciousness and died without complications. We know for a fact this is not the case with suicide attempts otherwise, because we hear the horror stories: people permanently disfigured or brain-damaged from shooting themselves and failing to kill themselves, stomach-pumping due to pill ingestion, rushing a friend to the hospital for slit wrists, and more. Many of us have personally been involved in these situations, or have at least seen the scars on our friends. And many of us have known someone who succeeded; it was rarely clean.

Precisely because it’s an act carried out in secret, it often comes as a shock to loved ones, especially the person who finds the body, whether by hanging, gunshot, overdose, or other means. If we remove the stigma then we can remove the secrecy, and most likely remove all the messy, homemade methods. Already existing are safe, painless, dependable drugs that can accomplish this in a dignified way. All that remains is changing the law.

Until I see valid statistics or studies showing otherwise (and I will continue to look for them), I will assume that a specified right to die would result in cleaner, less traumatic deaths in these cases. It also stands to reason that while a person is seeking and obtaining the legal prescription for such a death, there would be more time to have second thoughts.


There Are Conceivable, Legitimate Reasons


When I say we can conceive of legitimate reasons to kill oneself, I do not mean that most suicides today can be justified. I mean exactly what I said, that I (and you) can think of situations in which most of us would be okay with it.

As already mentioned, the suicide of Samson is already seen as justified by many, because he was taking out thousands of enemies at the same time. It was the last heroic act of a warrior. Any of us would call someone “heroic” who sacrificed herself to save a child from imminent harm — the usual example being stepping in front of a car to shove a child out of harm’s way. We also think it honorable for someone to step in front of a bullet to save the life of another. All of these are intentional (though sometimes instinctive) acts that a person does with the knowledge their own life could end.

Those are cases in which people choose to act for the direct benefit of others, at the risk of their own lives. I think most of us would also consider it a moral act if they faced certain death, in order to save another. For example, what if I could save my child’s life by donating my heart — which would mean I would have to die. Would you consider it moral for me to make that sacrifice? I would.

Yes, these are edge cases, outliers when it comes to talking about ending one’s own life. I mention them only to make the point that — for most of us — it’s not a black-and-white issue. There is some gray area.


Exceptions


If you’ve read this far, no doubt you’ve thought of several needed exceptions to any future “right to die” law or amendment, regardless of whether you favor the idea. Don’t worry; I’ve thought of those exceptions too.

For example, children. It can be argued that children, especially young children, do not have the capacity to understand the finality of death, or the probabilities of recovery in some cases. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that modern societies typically do not guarantee children the same rights that adults enjoy (voting, for example), and the right to die could certainly be among those. (On the other hand, I think it can also be argued that forcing a child to suffer through a lengthy terminal illness is immoral and cruel.)

In the same way, people suffering from severe mental illness or reduced mental capacity might be excluded from this right, or perhaps some method could be set up to determine on a case-by-case basis whether an individual is able to make this decision. This can also apply to someone who is drunk or suffering a severe bout of depression, as I mentioned above.

Someone in a coma, likewise, cannot make a decision to end her own life. However, it should not be difficult to set up a legal framework whereby an adult citizen of sound mind can file a document with the state or federal government — in advance — stating her desires in such cases. Many states already honor “do not resuscitate” documents, living wills, and/or advance directives, but laws differ from state to state and are often needlessly complex. I advocate strongly for a national consensus on honoring these documents.

In no case would I recommend others being able to make the decision for a person, which is what some people think of when the word “euthanasia” is used. That infringes on a person’s right to live, which I hold to be at least as important as the right to die.


Final Notes


If you’ve read my position paper on abortion, then you have noticed I approached the right to die in roughly the same way. So the conclusion is basically the same. (1) All the arguments against a right to die are faulty. (2) Forcing someone to live against his or her will is immoral. (3) Legalized suicide, including doctor-assisted suicide, would be safer and less traumatic than stigmatized, secretive suicide. (4) All of us can think of situations in which ending one’s life would be fine.

So, despite a few exceptions that can be worked out eventually, I believe people should have the right to end their own lives.


EDITS

Edit, 2016.09.29: Added this edits section. Added link to “Edits” into the More menu. Added links to other position papers into the More menu.







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