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.


Burgess Laughlin said...

I have not studied Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law in detail. However, at age 62, I am glad I live in this state (which has a culture evenly balanced between "liberals" and conservatives).

I have come to detest conservatives in the theocratic movement. They want the dying to have long, drawn-out agony or (in the more "compassionate" forms) they want the patient so doped up he feels no pain because he is as unconscious as a vegetable.

I salute those who want to live life fully in the pursuit of their highest values -- and then end it when faced with disease that offers only suffering and an inability to pursue one's values.

Galileo Blogs said...

Christians cannot escape the central tenet of their religion, that suffering is virtuous. Neither can we, who are not Christians, because of that death-worshiping religion's grip on our culture.

Christianity holds that Jesus Christ's suffering on the cross redeemed man's sins. Suffering purified man's soul. Therefore, it is immoral to prematurely end the suffering of an unbearable illness through justifiable suicide.

Christianity's stance toward suicide shows it is anti-man, just as its worship of a supernatural dimension shows it is anti-earth. It is a religion that worships death, and eschews a joyous, worldly life.

You are fortunate you live in Oregon. Should I ever face a terminal, morbidly painful illness, I will move there or, hopefully, assisted suicide will be legalized here in New York before then.

I applaud Dr. Kevorkian and thank him for his bravery. His courageous example will help make such laws a reality eventually, in every state.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, theres not death worship. Jesus lives, death is beaten. There need only be life.

Second, I would never be happy that any1 was suffering. I would pray my heart out for The lord Almighty to bring a quick resolution to the suffering, preferably thro healing. But its not my place to end some1s life and its not my place to end my own life. Because God made us, he gave us life, so we are owned by God. We can end the life of an animal because he has placed to rule over the earth, he gave us that authority. But if we do not have the right to take what is not ours. When we step out of doin what Gods will, we step out from his blessing and protection. It courses suffering both directly and also for the world we hav authority over. Also death and diseases is a consequence of humanity's (as a whole) rebel against The Holy one of Heaven. Also, death is only the end of suffering for thos in Christ Jesus. And "all things God works for the good of those who love him" Romans 8 vers 28. So i trust him with the life of my brothers.

Thirdly "just as its worship of a supernatural dimension shows it is anti-earth. It is a religion that worships death, and eschews a joyous, worldly life." ???

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Revelation 21 verses 1-4

"17 "Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.

19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 "Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach [a] a hundred
will be considered accursed.

21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.

23 They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.

24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,"
says the LORD."
Isaiah 65 verses 17-25

The the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, all who join with him, will also be resurrected and have new life, both in this life and the next.

We ask and live for life. U say u live for life and yet ask for death.... surely a mans integrity relies on his actions, his thoughts and his words all matching up?

I would never wish for or want suffering to continue. May i never be to busy to help some1. May i always seek to help thos in need. To easy the pain of thos who suffer and to comfort thos who weep. But Death is not the answer to suffering, death is part of it. Thats y the Lord sent Jesus, to conquer it. May my heart always pray, that we all might have life and life in its fullness.

A Brother of Christ
A servant of God.