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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Is there a "right" to suicide?

There's an arrogant little troll polluting the combox at Wesley Smith's blog Human Exceptionalism who  became all indignant and resorted to calling me, in effect, a stupid whiner because I said he hasn't proven there is a right to suicide.

He said the right to suicide is the flip side of the right to life. The right to preserve your life includes the right to destroy your life.

It's one of those little "insights" people get that they think makes them wiser and smarter than the rest of us, and if we disagree with them then we're just unenlightened morons who can't think. Then they build whole arguments on it and consider themselves brilliant lights for the rest of society and get all miffed and take it personally if we disagree with them.

But if the "insight" is wrong, it all falls apart. But that won't stop them from hanging onto it.

So, it's like this. The right to vote includes the right not to vote. The right to free speech includes the right to not speak. So it would seem that the right to life includes the right to decline living.

Let's say for the sake of argument someone has a right to kill himself, consequent to the right to life.

This has several difficulties, but let's say it is so anyway.

This right does not mean a right to acquire the means to do it. Free speech does not mean a right to the front page of the NY Times. It does not mean a right to litter a public park with your pamphlets. It might mean a right to get a device to help you speak, such as Steven Hawking has - but it is not a right to any means you please. Privacy does not mean a right for people to not overhear the things you say, or for their confidentiality when they do. Therefore, a right to kill yourself is not a right to access to lethal drugs, or a right to access a Kevorkian hood. Most people have ready access to potentially lethal things - knives, guns, car exhaust in closed garages, high windows. However, no one has a right to those things as a means to suicide. If a knife retailer knew you were going to kill yourself with the blade you buy, he has no duty to sell it to you. If your husband knew you were opening the attic window to through yourself out, he would have a duty to stop you. If your wife knew you were running the car in the closed garage to kill yourself, she does not have to let you. Insofar as many potentially lethal things have other nonlethal uses, one has a right to them for those purposes; but insofar as one's intent is to use them for lethal purposes, one does not have a right to them. Steven Hawking does not have a right to use his speech device to spew out hate speech or to incite a riot.

This right also does not mean a right to institutionalized assistance in killing yourself. You don't have a right to force a physician to prescribe lethal drugs or to put them in your mouth or inject them in your veins. You don't have the right to have society accept or endorse what you do. Your right to free speech does not imply a right to be heard, let alone a right for your ideas to be endorsed or affirmed by others. A right of free press does not imply a right to space on the newsstand at the corner.

But is there even a right to kill yourself, as a flip side to the right to life? Does every right imply a right to it's flip side?

The right to privacy does not include it's flip side, a right to immodesty or obscenity. Clothing is a matter of protecting what is private. No one has the right to reject privacy in the absolute sense.

If rights imply both the right to exercise that right as well as refraining from it, these rights are limited. None is absolute.

Unlike speech, voting, and privacy, to be alive is not a power someone exercises (or not) based on prudential judgments. The right of bodily integrity - having a body is not a power one exercises, either. It is a condition of one's existence. When you choose to keep quiet, you retain the right to speak in the future. When you forego privacy and take public actions, you retain the right to do things in private later on. The right to life is a duty on others, not a personal exercise of one's own powers. The right to life means no one has the right to kill you (unless you jeopardize that right by committing a serious crime or attacking someone else).  It means others have a duty to help you live when your life is in danger.

Having a right to kill yourself is not merely a right to postpone exercising a right to live, it cancels out the right to live altogether, and every other right absolutely and forever. It destroys the subject of rights. It claims to preserve autonomy, but it does so by destroying autonomy altogether. The dead are not autonomous. They're dead.

Since killing yourself destroys yourself absolutely, the desire to do so can only be considered a symptom of mental illness. Such mental illness compromises judgement, which compromise the competence to exercise rights concerning serious actions. The finality and absolute destructiveness of suicide is the most serious action imaginable.If you say, "I have made this decisions calmly with clarity of mind," the fact that you came to that decision implies that your reasoning is faulty. Therefore, there is no right to suicide.

When homosexuality was removed from the DSM-III (or whatever number it was at the time), it was because it was judged not to be a mental illness, and that because homosexuality did not compromise a person's ability to get along in society. The desire for suicide is a desire to reject getting along in society altogether, to give it up, to destroy the possibility of being in society at all. It is the quintessential and ultimate symptom of mental illness. Therefore, there is no right to suicide.

Now, since the right to life implies a duty of others to not kill you and indeed to help you live when your life is in danger, how is it that the right to die is the flip side of the right to life? It cannot be, because it makes it a duty of others not to intervene to save your life when they can and indeed to help you die or kill you outright. It is not the flip side of the right to life, but the absolute cancellation and violation of the right to life vis-a-vis the duty of others.

A more accurate flip side of the right to life is the right to self-sacrifice, which needs to be clearly understood. One's death in this case is foreseen and accepted but not specifically intended. One gives oneself into the hands of an enemy to free a hostage - one's intent is to free the hostage, and one hopes one will not be killed by the enemy, even if one expects it. One might uphold the truth despite lethal tortures, but one's intent is not to die a gruesome death, but to uphold the truth despite a gruesome death and hope perhaps that the torturers have mercy instead, because the torment is something they choose to do and they could, if they wanted, choose otherwise. One pushes someone out of the path of a bus, only to be in the path oneself - one does not intend to get hit by a bus and pushes someone out of the way so one can complete one's plan - one intends to save a life and foresees the possibility of one's own death and hopes that perhaps by some stroke of luck or a miracle, one will survive without much permanent problems. One takes a path where death is a risk in order to achieve some worthy good end - self sacrifice is not "i wish I could die because life is too painful." A right to self-sacrifice, and not a right to die per se and especially not a right to suicide, is the flip side of the right to life.

Finally, the whole phenomenon of a "right to die" or a "right to commit suicide" is just plain marketing and propaganda. It is about about the right to kill. Whom will the laws in favor of assisted suicide and euthanasia protect? The dead? No, the laws protect the living who kill them. It is about the right to MAKE MONEY by KILLING PEOPLE.

Follow the money. It's about the legal right to kill and make money without being prosecuted. It is not anything else.

Laws can only protect the living, not the dead.

The "martyrs" in this issue are not the poor folks who suffer a prolonged dying, but those who kill them and go to court charged with murder. Then the propaganda machine starts churning -- about how unfair it is they're being prosecuted for murder when they're so compassionate. Well, the laws benefit THEM, not the dying. The laws let them kill without being tried for murder.

And make money doing it.

So even if there IS a right to suicide, the public debate isn't about that at all.

Here's a test: Permit assisted suicide and euthanasia - protect the suicide emporiums legally - with the following provisions: a) No one is permitted to charge a fee for providing those services; b) health insurance companies must pay what they'd save over paying for continued medications and procedures, to a charity determined by the deceased prior to death; c) the government treats the deceased as a living in terms of being claimed as a tax dependent and a recipient of Social Security up to the 80th percentile of average healthy life expectancy or for a minimum of X years; d) all inheritance and relevant insurance money is held in escrow up to the deceased's normal life expectancy - in other words, let the law take away all of the financial incentives people have. Let the law make it an act of charity. 

And let's how long support for the law lasts.

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