Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Right to Assisted Suicide

By Thomas A. Bowden. ARI Media. Reprinted by permission.

Here's a quiz: During the eight years Dr. Jack Kevorkian languished in a Michigan prison, how many state legislatures reformed their laws against physician-assisted suicide? Answer: none. Oregon remains the only state to have provided clear procedures by which doctors can end their dying patients' pain and suffering while protecting themselves from criminal prosecution.

For ten years now, Oregon doctors have been permitted to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient who makes written and oral requests, consults two physicians, and endures a mandatory waiting period. The patient's free choice is paramount throughout this process. Neither relatives nor doctors can apply on the patient's behalf, and the patient himself administers the lethal dose.

Elsewhere in America, however, the political influence of religious conservatism has thwarted passage of similar legislation, leaving terminal patients to select from a macabre menu of frightening, painful, and often violent end-of-life techniques universally regarded as too inhumane for use on sick dogs or mass murderers.

Consider Percy Bridgman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who, at 79, was entering the final stages of terminal cancer. Wracked with pain and bereft of hope, he got a gun and somehow found courage to pull the trigger, knowing he was condemning others to the agony of discovering his bloody remains. His final note said simply: "It is not decent for society to make a man do this to himself. Probably this is the last day I will be able to do it myself."

What lawmakers must grasp is that there is no rational, secular basis upon which the government can properly prevent any individual from choosing to end his own life. When religious conservatives use secular laws to enforce their idea of God's will, they threaten the central principle on which America was founded.

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed, for the first time in the history of nations, that each person exists as an end in himself. This basic truth--which finds political expression in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--means, in practical terms, that you need no one's permission to live, and that no one may forcibly obstruct your efforts to achieve your own personal happiness.

But what if happiness becomes impossible to attain? What if a dread disease, or some other calamity, drains all joy from life, leaving only misery and suffering? The right to life includes and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise--to declare that society must give you permission to kill yourself--is to contradict the right to life at its root. If you have a duty to go on living, despite your better judgment, then your life does not belong to you, and you exist by permission, not by right.

For these reasons, each individual has the right to decide the hour of his death and to implement that solemn decision as best he can. The choice is his because the life is his. And if a doctor is willing (not forced) to assist in the suicide, based on an objective assessment of his patient's mental and physical state, the law should not stand in his way.

Religious conservatives' opposition to the Oregon approach stems from the belief that human life is a gift from the Lord, who puts us here on earth to carry out His will. Thus, the very idea of suicide is anathema, because one who "plays God" by causing his own death, or assisting in the death of another, insults his Maker and invites eternal damnation, not to mention divine retribution against the decadent society that permits such sinful behavior.

If a religious conservative contracts a terminal disease, he has a legal right to regard his own God's will as paramount, and to instruct his doctor to stand by and let him suffer, just as long as his body and mind can endure the agony, until the last bitter paroxysm carries him to the grave. But conservatives have no right to force such mindless, medieval misery upon doctors and patients who refuse to regard their precious lives as playthings of a cruel God.

Secular and rational state legislators should regard the occasion of Dr. Kevorkian's release from jail as a stinging reminder that 49 of the 50 states have failed to take meaningful steps toward recognizing and protecting an individual's unconditional right to commit suicide.


Thomas A. Bowden practices law in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute ( in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.


Galileo Blogs comments:

This is such a superb editorial, that I am re-posting it here. It captures why the Christian claim to love man is so reprehensible and so false. Anyone who has confronted a loved one dying in pain, or even a suffering pet, for Man's sake, knows first-hand the absolute right of someone to end his own life. That right is an absolute corollary of man's right to his own life.

I can euthanize my suffering pet humanely and with dignity, yet a human being cannot do the same with his own life, and his loved ones must watch him needlessly suffer. Although this is not a proper reason alone to be an atheist, at an emotional level I cannot think of a better argument for atheism than the Christian opposition to suicide.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

In Defense of Price Gouging

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing gasoline “price gouging.” Violators would face penalties of fines as high as $150 million or prison terms of up to two years. Price gouging is defined as “taking unfair advantage” or charging “unconscionably excessive” prices for fuels. What is unfair advantage? How does one measure when a price is unconscionably excessive? There is no answer.

This is bad law. First, because it is non-objective. Because no objective definition of price gouging is provided in the law, a gas station owner or oil company can never know when it is breaking the law. There is no way to comply with a law when the crime cannot even be defined. More ominously, a non-objective law becomes a tool to terrorize in the hands of unscrupulous government officials. The businessman is told that he must obey the bureaucrat or face punishment, a punishment he cannot defend against because there are no objective standards. This is a tool of tyranny. Incidentally, this is also the nature of antitrust. Like this anti-gouging measure, antitrust law is completely non-objective.

The other reason why this law should not be passed is because it is anti-capitalist. It attacks the heart of the market economy, which is the price mechanism. Prices work to harmonize the interests of buyers and sellers when they are allowed to freely rise and fall. This type of law, to the extent it is enforced, will function as a price maximum. Price maximums, enforced by the state, have one predictable consequence, shortages. This is true in all eras and for all commodities. The pricing principle is an iron law of economics, as solidly and universally valid as the law of gravity. Violate it by imposing price controls and artificial shortages will develop. The principle that price controls cause shortages is an iron corollary of the iron law of prices.

Price controls cause shortages because of two reasons. First, suppliers provide less gasoline (or any other controlled commodity) because they cannot make money selling at the lower price. They cut production until they no longer lose money. Second, at the lower price, customers want more of the product. Combine these two effects – reduced supply and enhanced demand – and you have a shortage. Supply and demand are no longer in equilibrium.

America has already walked down the path of price controls, for energy and many other products and services. In energy, the long lines at gasoline stations in the 1970s were solely due to the price controls imposed on the oil industry. Only when price controls were lifted in the late 1970s/early 1980s did the lines vanish. Notice that there were no gasoline lines during either Iraqi invasion, despite serious reductions in Middle Eastern oil production during both wars. Gasoline prices rose, but there were no lines. Supply and demand were brought into equilibrium, both by increasing supply and tamping down demand until they met. In the 1980s, the first decade after oil prices were liberated, U.S. oil production rose, defying the doomsday predictions of the 1970s pessimists who thought the world would run out of oil by the end of the century. In nearly every year since the removal of price controls, proven global oil reserves have increased. When prices and profits were determined by the market, it paid to explore and drill for new oil.

The sad consequence of all attempts to squeeze the profit out of the oil companies, whether through price controls, windfall profits taxes or other means is less production of oil. Oil companies that cannot charge market prices or earn market profits will invest less in the entire oil infrastructure, from gas stations, to oil refineries, to drilling platforms.

We pay high prices for oil for several reasons, all of them a consequence of our government failing to enforce rights, or actively violating them. One is the banning of oil drilling on certain lands, such as the Alaskan tundra, or the oceans off of Florida and California. Another is a shortage of refineries caused by the effective banning of construction of new refineries through NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) local politics, and environmental rules that make the construction of new industrial facilities prohibitively expensive. Another reason for high oil prices are all the prior episodes when price controls and windfall profit taxes were imposed. The memory of these events and knowledge that they might be re-imposed further discourages oil executives from building new infrastructure.

Looked at from a broad, historical perspective, high oil prices are the consequence of decades of appeasement in the Middle East. The U.S. government allowed the Iranians to confiscate American oil fields in Iran in the 1950s, and then the rest of the Arab governments followed suit in succeeding decades. Today, the U.S. government stands mute when Venezuela and Russia expropriate Western oil properties. On the other hand, the U.S. government did take action to bungle the War on Terrorism by incompetently conquering Iraq while leaving true enemies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia untouched. These actions and others, such as stoking the Palestine-Israel conflict, push oil prices higher by engendering worries that Middle Eastern turmoil will disrupt supply.

With the anti-gouging bill, the House of Representatives is grandstanding at our expense. In an effort to curry votes from ignorant voters, the House lays the groundwork for new gasoline shortages. Moreover, it diverts attention from the party responsible for high oil prices, themselves.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The One Minute Case for Unrestrained Profit


Restraining profit by taxing it or limiting it has the effect of limiting production. Restraining profit means an economy will produce fewer goods, of less variety, and at higher price. Innovation suffers. As a result, to the extent profits are restrained, all consumers suffer. Profit drives production in several ways:


The profit motive is the supreme motivator of productive business activity. The creativity of scientists, the entrepreneurship of businessmen, and the resourcefulness of financiers are all motivated, in whole or part, by the pursuit of profits.


Profits and savings are the ultimate source of the investment capital (money) that finances construction of factories, research laboratories, distribution centers, ships, warehouses, and all of the equipment that is used to invent, produce and distribute the goods that we consume. To restrict profits is to deny a source of capital necessary for production.


The highest profits are earned by the businessmen who can supply the goods most wanted by customers. iPods, portable generators after a hurricane, personal computers, fashionable clothes, and all of the goods consumers want most, are made by those who make the greatest profits. The profitability of an enterprise is the ultimate measuring stick of how well it has satisfied its customers. A money losing business is either making products consumers do not want or charging too much for them.


Profits do not come from the net loss of anyone. On the contrary, profit results from the creation of goods that people voluntarily buy in the marketplace. A businessman who makes a huge profit makes things that are good enough that many people want them and willingly buy them from him.


Profits are the property of the shareholders and other investor/owners of the business. Restricting or taxing profits is not just impractical, but is theft.


A profit honestly earned in a capitalist society is beneficial and good for all. Profits must be distinguished from the money a businessman might get because of special governmental favors, such as tariffs, regulations or subsidies. These interventions are contrary to capitalism and allow some businessmen to gain at other people’s expense. Their gain is not profits, but a form of theft.

Further reading


I published this on an interesting new web-site called The One Minute Case. It has a clever premise. State a case on various topics succinctly, and provide suggestions for further reading. I liken it to a Wikipedia for busy capitalists. I wish it success, with many new entries and readers.