Thursday, 1 August 2013

Suicide: hindered and assisted



Suicide: hindered and assisted


"In a world of limited resources, to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death."
There has been considerable discussion in the media during the last 5 years of the law regarding 'assisted suicide'. There has been no similar consideration of the law regarding 'hindered suicide', though I think the two issues are linked.
       Our reluctance to allow the legal killing of another human being is understandable. It does not take much imagination to conjure up situations were pressure is put on disabled people to consent to their removal, for reasons that concern the interests of the carers and not the patient. The present unofficial system seems to work, to some extent; assistance can be given, but is never legally condoned, so any protest, by any party, could lead to the prosecution and disgrace of the assister. It is pragmatic, if also ridiculous; but it seems that many people believe it preferable to any alternative. Oregon State and Switzerland represent a tiny minority of polities that allow 'assisted suicide'.
       I am suggesting that to prevent a person from dying may represent an intrusion into individual sovereignty as much as to prevent a person from living; a violation of their human right.
       I am relying on the notion that to contribute to a person's death by doing nothing is vastly different from contributing to their death by a positive action. When most people believed in minute by minute supervision of everyone's life by an all-attentive, all-powerful (though otherwise very human) God, one could shrug and say "It is God's will". We (mostly) do not now think of an actual God of that type, but it seems to me that the metaphor of "God's will" still has some meaning, even for an atheist. We all die, by a 'law of nature'; some sooner, some later. It is in a way unfortunate that many deaths can now be prevented very easily, for now the line between life and death is drawn, not by external natural forces, but by human ones. We have the terribly difficult task of deciding where to draw that line.
       In a world of limited resources, the decision becomes slightly easier, for to keep one person alive is to condemn another to death. 

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