Doctor with Patient

Brittany Maynard’s decision to take her own life to end her suffering, rather than wait for her aggressive brain tumor to kill her, has prompted a national debate about assisted suicide laws (also called right-to-die or “death with dignity” laws), such as the law in Oregon under which Maynard acted.

As I’ve argued, individuals with terminal illnesses or devastating trauma have a moral right to decide for themselves whether to continue living or to end their suffering. In opposition to that right, religious conservatives argue, in essence, that individuals in such circumstances have a duty to suffer, whether for “God” or for other people (see “The Pope’s Sin and Brittany Maynard’s Choice to Die” and “Conservatives’ Collectivist Case Against Assisted Suicide”).

Here, I’d like to address several further claims about assisted suicide and suicide in general. The following are summaries of some arguments I’ve heard, along with my replies.

“Ending your own life isn’t natural; therefore, you shouldn’t do it.”

Alan Rastrelli of Colorado, “a Catholic deacon who practices palliative medicine,” made this claim (among others), but his argument is silly. By the same standard, all drugs, all medical devices, and all surgeries are also “unnatural.” Should we stop using those things?

“If assisted suicide were legal, some people would be coerced to kill themselves.”

This concern was mentioned in a story and a follow-up by 9News. But obviously no one legally or morally may force someone to kill himself; doing so is murder and should be treated accordingly. And, obviously, assisted suicide laws apply only to consenting adults, not to those incapable of consent.

“If assisted suicide were legal, some people would be pressured to kill themselves.”

As 9News reports, Anita Cameron, an advocate for the disabled, condemned assisted suicide laws on the grounds that, under such laws, people might kill themselves because of feelings of guilt: “As your condition progresses, [and] you require more care or more services, you are more apt to feel, I don’t want to be a burden to my family.” As 9News summarizes, a related concern is “that people with disabilities and the elderly, with worsening conditions, may be pressured into seeking life-ending medication even if they do not really want to die.”

But to outlaw assisted suicide on such grounds is to violate the individual’s right to make his own choices because some people might be swayed by feelings of guilt or by social pressure. What of the individual who has no worries about medical bills, who is no burden to anyone (or who may not even have a family), who makes his own decisions by his own independent thinking, and who rationally decides it is time to end his suffering? . . .

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