Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk "his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor" on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else.”     Robert A. Heinlein,    Stranger in a Strange Land

June 7, 2007

The Right to Life Also Implies a Right to Die

by Stephen Littau

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has finally completed an eight year prison term. For what exactly? For helping a terminally ill and suffering man exercise his right to a have a dignified and peaceful death. I find it very irritating that the media has given Dr. Kevorkian the nickname “Dr. Death” as if he were some kind of serial killer.

Dr. Kevorkian has done our society a great service by bringing this issue into the national debate. On what basis can society deny a person his or her right to die? If we truly believe that every individual has the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, then the individual cannot be denied this right on any of these measures.

The individual has the right to life but this does not mean that government can force an individual to live. The individual has the right not to exercise his or her rights. The individual has the right to keep and bear arms but the government cannot force an individual to own a gun. The individual has the right to his or her liberty (provided he or she does not infringe on the liberty of others) but he or she can willfully surrender his or her liberty to be subjugated to a cult or religion. The individual has a right to his or her property (which would include his or her body by the way) which means he or she can do with it whatever he or she wishes (again, provided he or she does not infringe on the life, liberty, or property of others).

Thomas A. Bowden has an excellent piece on this issue at Capitalism Magazine.

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.

[…]

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.

The fear by those who oppose the inherent right to die is that the government would eventually start killing those who are suffering regardless of the wishes of the individual. But upon closer inspection, recognizing an individual’s right to choose his or her manner of death is protecting the individual’s right to life. The individual does not live for the purpose of pleasing society or the religious sensibilities of others.

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19 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post Steven. It’s something that’s always been a part of MY religion (hinduism) but unfortunately all too many people see it as somehow ‘noble’ to remain on this earth as long as possible, no matter how much misery and hardship you inflict on yourself and your family.

    Comment by Nick — June 7, 2007 @ 4:58 pm
  2. The pagans tell us you can only get into Valhalla by dying heroically in war, or by your own hand…well no matter, the issue is de-license the medical profession and have them police themselves. Dr. K pray on the weak by the way. Nothing heroic about that.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 7, 2007 @ 7:13 pm
  3. Stephen,

    The argument is not so much that people don’t have the right to die, but rather does the state have the right to terminate the license of a doctor that helps the person die. However, that still raises the issue of whether the state should be in the licensing business anyway, but unfortunately the “right to die” issue is identified and debated instead.

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — June 8, 2007 @ 12:46 am
  4. The state did more than suspend Dr. Kevorkian’s license, they threw him in jail. The licensing issue you raise is a valid point though.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — June 8, 2007 @ 1:08 am
  5. C Bowen,

    Get your facts straight would you please? Dr. Kevorkian was a person that was sought out. He didn’t go through towns Monty Python like and request that people “Bring out your Seriously Ill” (instead of “bring out your dead”). If you have seen the tape of this man that he helped die with dignity, you would see that he repeatedly asked him if he wanted to wait a month, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, a week to make sure this is what he wanted. He told the man that he would hold off at least a week. Two days later the family called Kevorkian telling him it was time. This man feared of choking to death on his own tongue. It’s not like Kevorkian was tapping his fingers together Mr. Burns style saying “Excellent”, salivating with anticipation that he will yet again, get to off someone in pain!

    How in the world can you call this praying on the weak? The courts did a disservice to people suffering by putting Kevorkian away.

    Comment by Aimee — June 8, 2007 @ 1:41 am
  6. “The fear by those who oppose the inherent right to die is that the government would eventually start killing those who are suffering regardless of the wishes of the individual. But upon closer inspection, recognizing an individual’s right to choose his or her manner of death is protecting the individual’s right to life. The individual does not live for the purpose of pleasing society or the religious sensibilities of others.”

    Easy to say when you come from privileged stock.

    Comment by Cindy Sue Causey — June 8, 2007 @ 1:50 am
  7. Umm what in that statement has anything to do with whether one is privileged or not?

    I see from your own blog that the answer lies in ‘universal health care’. How the heck does government-run healthcare change the fact that a man with ALS can only watch with FULL FACULTY AND SENSATION as his motor nervous system and muscles slowly degenerate, leaving him to die of suffocation when his atrophied intercostals and diaphragm can no longer inflate and deflate his lungs?

    How does it change the last few weeks of agony someone with multiple myeloma undergoes?

    What does privilege have to do with anything

    Comment by Nick — June 8, 2007 @ 1:56 am
  8. You folks are missing the issue. Yes, people have the right to die. However, no one has the right to help. If we allowed ourselves to go down this road, there would be no way to tell the difference between “assisted suicide”, and “murder”.

    Comment by Gunnar — June 8, 2007 @ 7:51 am
  9. Aimee;

    Suicide is not noble act in my culture, so the effort to paint a Saint Dr. K looks like an inverted form of my aesthetics. (Props on the Monty Python line, good stuff.) There seems to be an underlying attempt to put a Dr. K in the same pantheon as a Pat Henry which I find deplorable if not Evil.

    There are many folks calling themselves libertarians who wish to force their “ethics” (a form of religion) such as they are on the rest of us. Rather than seek more neutral ground, like the ability to purchase ‘suicide pills’ (or a righteous dosage of morphine) on the Internet seems like a reasonable ‘first step’ there seems to be this effort to create a new mythology that all must accept.

    But in the case of “Dr.” K preying on the weak, it’s true that selling ‘death’ has a market, sometimes in the form of a hit-man, sometimes an unwanted pregnancy, and sometimes ‘suicide.’ In this case, the person and their family lacked the will to take care of business on their own so they contacted Dr. K, which wreaks of a political statement. After all the lies on both sides of the Terri Schiavo thang, there is no reason to take these stories at face value, and no realistic way to discern truth as we cannot see into the souls of the family or the sick-man.

    The market is a reflection of the decisions of the culture. I am certainly sympathetic to the pagans desire for suicide, but I am dubious that the State-Medical institutions, such as they are in our moment, should be sanctifying as much with a stamp of approval.

    In light of socialist medicine, there is an evil bean counter mentality lurking behind the rhetoric of ‘rights’, but again no matter. Lets drop the ‘DR’ charade, deregulate drug markets and allow folks to self-medicate (self-terminate) as they choose including access to opiates.

    I will point out that the Dutch have already started euthanasia programs for the elderly and the handicapped young, all under the right to die aegis.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 8, 2007 @ 8:11 am
  10. Bowen:

    “Suicide is not noble act in my culture, so the effort to paint a Saint Dr. K looks like an inverted form of my aesthetics. (Props on the Monty Python line, good stuff.) There seems to be an underlying attempt to put a Dr. K in the same pantheon as a Pat Henry which I find deplorable if not Evil.”

    I don’t think anyone here is suggesting we add Dr. Kevorkian’s face to Mt. Rushmore, make his birthday a national holiday, or even name a hospital after him. All I am saying is that his conviction was unjustifiable. The man he assisted made a choice. The Dr. did not force him to do anything he did not want to do.

    As for how assisted suicide should be carried out? I think Oregon’s model is a good one. There were all sorts of dire predictions about the Oregon law similar to those you have made here. But those predictions so far have not come to pass. Very, very, few people have taken advantage of their right to die in Oregon.

    Is suicide a noble thing? Perhaps not. But once again, unless its concerning your own life, it isn’t your call.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — June 8, 2007 @ 12:50 pm
  11. There has not been as huge of a demand in Oregon as predicted for PAS. The Department of Human Services is required to collect data on all patients who received assistance in order to remain compliant with the law. According to a 2006 report, the eighth year that data has been collected, only 246 Oregonians died from taking a lethal dose of medication. During the same period, a reported 74,967 Oregonians died due to the same types of diseases without taking advantage of the assisted suicide law.

    To even receive the lethal dose of medication is not just a quick stop at the doctor’s office. It actually takes just over two weeks to either be denied or approved for said medication. With this law, a terminally ill person can ask that a prescription be written to assist in ending his or her life. There must be two people present as witnesses, and one of them cannot be related to the patient, be a beneficiary in the patients will, and cannot be the physician or an employee from the facility looking after the patient. The request must then be looked at by another physician to confirm the diagnosis and competency of the patient. If the request is approved, after 15 days have passed, then the patient may request orally that they receive a lethal dose of medicine.

    Just like many other things, just because it is available does not mean that everyone has to make use of it. The option should be out there for those that wish to die without pain and suffering.

    http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pas/docs/year8.pdf

    Comment by Aimee — June 8, 2007 @ 12:59 pm
  12. Stephen;

    The Dutch/Western Europe have had socialized medicine for 50 years so it takes time for the culture to degrade to its present state. My point is not ‘slippery slope’ though I suppose that is part of it, only that look who your allies are in supporting this “right.” Folks like you have to recognize that there is a culture war and if you wish to offer “libertarian” solutions to culture war problems, I did suggest a couple.

    My issue, to be clear, is the degrading of the medical profession as Doctors, by definition of words, should first do no harm, and the private, voluntary association of the Medical Profession should shun it’s heretics.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 8, 2007 @ 1:41 pm
  13. C Bowen,

    That’s a great point.

    To be more general and more precise: culture war is a euphemism for the war of ideas, or clash of idea world views. Religions are simply a type of idea world view. Aethiesm and Libertarianism are also idea world views, no more, no less. In the context of politics, we need to talk about the moral systems implied by these “idea worldviews”.

    Comment by Gunnar — June 8, 2007 @ 2:07 pm
  14. Bowen,

    I share your concerns about socialized medicine because socialized medicine is perhaps the greatest threat to our liberty. If Hillary Clinton has her way, we will have such a system and many of our libertarian arguments will have to be thrown out the window.

    Why do I say this? Because if the taxpayer subsidizes everyone’s healthcare, then as a taxpayer, I now have a valid concern about the diet, drug habits, exercise habits, sexual practices and other lifestyle habits of every other American. In this system, I can no longer make the argument that individuals live for themselves and do indeed live for the interests of the collective society. If elderly people are in hospice, I could imagine the government encouraging or demanding euthanasia. This is a very scary scenario indeed.

    This is why we must draw a line in the sand now and say not just no, but HELL NO to socialized medicine. For this reason we must be pragmatic, hold our collective noses and support whichever Republican wins the nomination (except for perhaps Mitt Romney because he seems to want socialized medicine too). With the government divided (assuming a Republican wins the White House and the Democrats hold one or both houses) maybe socialized medicine can be delayed or hopefully stopped.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — June 8, 2007 @ 2:11 pm
  15. Gunnar;

    Not bad stuff, if I do say so myself. But I have to disagree, or offer a seemingly subtle change as you are quite close: Ideologies are just masked religions.

    Thus, if one’s ideology can see beauty (aesthetics here) in Dr. K (or nobility or rightousness etc) then I have to disagree because that would be comparing him either to a Rembrandt paing of my God (if not yours) or a hero of my culture and race like Henry V depicted in Shakespeare.

    Your last point is spot on, folks need to offer their ethical view rather than hide behind ideology in order to offer a complete program.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 8, 2007 @ 6:25 pm
  16. Stephen;

    “There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.”

    –Garet Garrett

    The Terri Schiavo case should demonstrate how far we have fallen, we are well into socialist medicine. I suggest using the Internet for self-diagnosis, and not doing too many risky things, and when your time comes, thank your Creator for every moment he gave you. If you are an atheist and believe “this is all there is”, then you will be forced to live either by your ideals, or surrender to them. We will welcome you to the outlaw class, should you choose to live your life in line with your stated philosophical position.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 8, 2007 @ 6:32 pm
  17. Bowen,

    The case with Terri Schiavo should have never even been in the eye of the public. I believe that it was cruel to keep her alive like that and selfish on the part of her parents, but that is just me.

    I know you were talking to Stephen, but I am an Atheist and do believe that this is all there is. When the time comes, I should have to right to die peacefully if I am in pain. The last thing people want to happen is to try suicide on their own and not be successful and end up in worse shape than before.

    Comment by Aimee — June 8, 2007 @ 7:04 pm
  18. I wholly agree, and would support your access to a firearm or morphine and instructions on the Internet . I wouldn’t dress it up in ‘right to die’ language, but I would fully support access to the tools.

    In the case of Terri Schiavo, the tradition in the West is to let the family decide one way or the other, for better or worse, injustice or justice. The tradition encouraged small government.

    Comment by C Bowen — June 8, 2007 @ 7:11 pm
  19. C.Bowen:

    “We will welcome you to the outlaw class, should you choose to live your life in line with your stated philosophical position.”

    I think maybe I didn’t explain myself all that well. If we should ever fall victim to socialized healthcare, I would still advocate the rights of life, liberty, and property as an outlaw. I would still be opposed to the war on drugs, the criminalization of prostitution and gambling, the welfare state and obviously socailized healthcare.

    I don’t agree that we have socialized medicine yet but we are well on our way. What we have is something of a hybrid system of healthcare (which in some ways is worse than socialized healthcare). What we need to do is go in the opposite direction: market competition. Cosmetic, lasic, dentistry, and certain other health professions are more market based. There is no reason why the rest of the healcare system cannot follow a similar model.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — June 8, 2007 @ 10:18 pm

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