Thursday, 30 July 2009

The right to die? Or the right to kill?

The BBC report the latest in the case of Debbie Purdie under the headline "Result due in right-to-die case".

Mr. Tom Paine has written a most helpful article on his blog, which I reproduce below, basically asking the question "Is this really about the right to die? Or is it actually about the right to kill?"

I follow the discussions on euthanasia with interest, but I am puzzled by the terminology favoured by the media. This lady's "right to die" is not in question, although the religious may say it's morally wrong. Suicide was legalised long since - and rightly so.

I have nothing but compassion for anyone who chooses to end a life they consider unbearable. It's that person's life and choice. But this is not about the "right to die". It's about the right to kill, or to be an accessory to a killing. It's about introducing a new defence to the crime of murder. The debate might be conducted more rationally, if more honest words were used.

The euthanasia laws in the Netherlands have resulted (that law of intended consequences again) in sick people refusing to go to hospital. They fear the convenience of euthanasia to medical staff who prefer to work on potentially positive cases rather than palliative care for those nearing the exit. In socialised healthcare systems, they fear being pressured to stop "bed-blocking;" consuming rationed resources that could be used by others. They may also fear the convenience of euthanasia to impatient heirs.

It's bad enough to be terminally-ill, without being pressured to get it over with for the good of others. Can it ever truly be selfish to want another moment of life? On the other hand, is it not enormously selfish of a dying person to blight the life of a surviving loved one by asking them to live with the memory of having killed?

The fundamental tenet of all libertarianism is that it is wrong to initiate violence. Much though I sympathise with the families of people in this terrible position, I do not believe it's right to legitimise pre-meditated, active involvement in another's death.


patently said...

Hmm. Not sure I agree. I think that there is a distinction being missed, here.

Suicide is characterised by the desire to end one's own life; murder by the desire to end that of another. So if someone, perhaps reluctantly, provides the necessary assistance to someone who wishes to end their life but is physically unable to do so - for the very same reason that means they wish to do so - surely it is wrong to call the assistant a murderer?

The Dutch experience is instructive though; if the inevitable result of allowing the suicide of some is to force the suicide of others, then that is murder just as much as blackmail of the emotional sort is still blackmail.

Young Mr. Brown said...

When one learned lawyer expresses the opinion that another learned lawyer is missing a distinction, it would take a very brave, even foolhardy, young bear to express an opinion - especially as Mr. Paine has responded to several objections on his own site, and the number of comments has now reached 17.

However . . . I will say that Mr. Paine doesn't actually say that assisting suicide is murder - he says that to permit assisted suicide is to introduce a new defence to the crime of murder. To use his own words "I confidently predict that a very substantial proportion of "assisted suicides" would still be murders (but impossible to prove)."

He also remarks "If you killed a passer-by after he requested it, would you expect to acquitted of his murder? The duty not to initiate violence is not removed by a mere request. "

And that leads to the point that it seems to me that even if you didn't bear the passer by any ill will, but were simply complying with his request, you did, in some way, intend to end his life.