Blogs > Liberty and Power > Self-Determination vs. "Assisted-Suicide"

Apr 9, 2005 6:01 pm


Self-Determination vs. "Assisted-Suicide"



Thomas A. Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute writes,"The right to life includes and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise—to declare that society or God must give you permission to kill yourself—is to contradict the right to life at its root."

If that is so, then why does Bowden, in the same article, endorse the assisted-suicide law in Oregon (and the proposed law in Vermont), which, in his words,"permits physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient who makes written and oral requests, consults two doctors, and endures a mandatory waiting period"?

That sounds like the"right" to ask permission to commit suicide, rather than the right to end one's own life. That" contradict[s] the right to life at its root." A consistent advocate of the right to commit suicide would oppose"assisted-suicide" laws and endorse full self-determination, which of course includes repeal of professional licensing, prescription laws, and the ban on forbidden drugs.

Cross-posted at The Szasz Blog.


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Jonathan Dresner - 4/13/2005

Since we do not presently have a right, under law, to attempt to end our own lives without being considered insane, yes, I would consider legalization of assisted suicide progress, inasmuch as it does recognize a right under law to a freely chosent end to life. It is a proscripted right, I grant you, but the difference between no right and a strictly limited right is much greater (I believe) than the difference between a tightly limited right and a loosely limited right.


Sheldon Richman - 4/12/2005

You beg the question. First you have to show that "assisted-suicide" is progress. Progress toward what? Liberty? I dispute that.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2005

I thought that was you.... Sorry, I still don't see how you get around the tactical question: are you willing to accept partial progress, or are you trying to "shoot the moon"? Either way, you've got the virtue of consistency, but you have to, at some level, accept the fact that you are a revolutionary whose goals are pretty far beyond most of your own allies.


Sheldon Richman - 4/11/2005

"Unless you're pursuing a separate agenda of complete dismantling of the prescription drug regime...."

I am pushing that agenda (along with de-licensing), but it is not separate. It's all about self-determination.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/11/2005

A bit, yeah. There's often a tactical disadvantage to revealing your long-term strategy and goals; that's why we spend so much time arguing about "slippery slopes" and "ulterior motives" and "trojan horse arguments", etc.

You're entitled to argue back that the extension of the right to self-determination is too limited by the procedures to be meaningful progress towards ultimate freedom, but I think it overlooks the incredible hurdles you face in getting any right to self-end enshrined in medical and legal procedure. Unless you're pursuing a separate agenda of complete dismantling of the prescription drug regime, I don't see a way around taking the steps in this order.


Sheldon Richman - 4/10/2005

Was he?


Jason Kuznicki - 4/10/2005

Um... You do realize that Jonathan Dresner was poking fun at you, and at all of us, right?


Jason Kuznicki - 4/10/2005

Manuals that recommend suicide techniques say that hypothermia is one of the most painless ways to go. It is also highly reliable and leaves little mess for others to clean up.

Still, choosing to involve a doctor in one's suicide attempt should be an option anyone can have open to them. Doctors will be very reluctant to do this, though, until the laws protect them--and they have good reason to be fearful: Given how many doctors and nurses have been serial killers in the past, we don't want to give these criminals a free pass in the form of fraudulent "assisted suicide."


Sheldon Richman - 4/10/2005

The most fundamental objection to the law is that it further medicalizes suicide when, in fact, suicide is not a medical issue. It's a moral issue. Sure there are other ways to take one's life than a lethal dose of a drug, but given the choice, I suspect that most people who have made the decision to commit suicide would prefer something painless and relatively easy. For that, you must humbly petition your doctor and await his ruling. That doesn't sound like a right to me.


Sheldon Richman - 4/10/2005

It is a persmission because one of the two doctors involved can say no on the grounds that the patient isn't of sound mind. Also, the patient has to be terminal with no more than six months to live. Others are out of luck.


Sheldon Richman - 4/10/2005

Then he should say so. The article is contradictory on its face.


M.D. Fulwiler - 4/10/2005

Well, being able to get effective and relatively painless drugs to kill oneself from a physician seems to be preferable to not being able to get them at all, but there is no good reason for doctors to be involved in suicide at all.

Interesting, isn't it, that some doctors are currently in prison for writing out prescriptions for non-lethal narcotics doses, but Oregon doctors are allowed to write you out a prescription for a lethal dose of medicine to kill yourself.


Jason Kuznicki - 4/9/2005

It seems to me the intent of the law is to prevent any one doctor from being accused after the fact of killing a patient through fraud or deception.

This strikes me as a good law, one that ensures the freedom to commit suicide while deterring anyone from engaging in fraud or in a misdiagnosis that might lead to a mistaken wish to kill oneself.

After all, the waiting period for physician-assisted suicide clearly doesn't apply to someone who just opens his veins in a bathtub. It's not like it's really stopping anyone--It's just protecting doctors and patients during a particularly risky market transaction.


Max Swing - 4/9/2005

Why to ask permission? It is only a legal side-step to legitimate the action of the doctor in a society where a right to ones life is something that is not commonly understood.

Also, I perceive a gap between the right of a doctor to act on the behalf of the patient and the right of a doctor to act in the "best interest" of a patient. The latter wouldn't require a prove of the patients will (similar to Mrs. Schiavo's case).
This is perhaps the capital reason, why this law has to be voiced carefully.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/9/2005

For all you know, he is committed to a full-bore libertarian revolution.... in the long term.

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