The Right to Die
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
A human being has the moral right to die. A person owns his own self, his life and body. It is therefore not morally wrong to commit suicide. The law should not make it a crime to take one's own life or to assist a person who desires to do so.
Some religions regard suicide as a sin. Their creeds say that God gives life, and it is up to God to take it. But that should be a matter between a person and God. Religious freedom implies that the law should not be dictated by any particular religious creed.
In the USA, criminal law is constitutionally a matter for the States. Most states prohibit attempted suicide and assisted suicide. Where it is permitted by a state, the federal government has attempted to interfere with state sovereignty. This intervention violates liberty and the right to control one's own life.
The same principle applies to persons in a coma, "persistent vegetative state," or similar status. If the person previously stated in a document or orally with witnesses that he wished to end his life if he entered a permanently unconscious condition, then that should be complied with.
A moral problem arises if a person is in a coma, with no possibility of coming out of it, and the person did not previously leave instructions about his life. The one in a coma no longer has the full rights of a person, because there is no longer a fully functioning mind. In that case, someone else has to make the decision, and this should be the person with the closest relationship, the spouse or equivalent intimate. Next in line would be the parents, and then competent brothers and sisters, ranked by age.
In Florida, a woman's husband was not allowed to let his unconscious wife die. The state government ordered her back on life support. It is not clear from the news reports whether the woman is completely and permanently unconscious. If she has limited consciousness, then her life should not be terminated. If she is permanently and completely unconscious, then the decision should be left to the husband, not the state.
Removing life support is quite different from killing a person. Without modern technology, an unconscious person would not obtain nutrients, and would die. Technology interferes with this natural process and forces the body to continue to live. Removing the tubes restores the natural process. Morally, the lack of artificial life support, when the person did not previously express a desire to be kept alive, is not a killing but letting nature take its course.
There is a moral problem in the right to die when it is not clear whether the person affected is unconscious or may regain consciousness. In that case, if clear instructions were not previously made, the bias should be in favor of life. Only if doctors determine with practically no doubt that there is permanent unconsciousness does the affected person lose the right to live, absent previous instructions.
Making attempted and assisted suicide illegal creates moral confusion. People don't make living wills, because they think the state will determine life and death, not the individual. We don't legally own our bodies, so people don't take responsibility for their life and death decision. If government respected our self-ownership, then when people became adults, it would be a normal practice to write a living will with clear instructions on what to do if they became permanently unconscious. Until then, there will be conflicts over life and death as in Florida.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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