Tag Archives: assisted suicide

The Collectivist Mentality

[This article appeared in Huffington Post, Nov. 9, 2015:  http://huff.to/1RINNZY]

China’s mandatory limit on the number of children a couple may have, which the communist government recently announced is being changed from one to two, attracts little support in the West. Apart from the most ardent environmentalists, people generally recognize the evil of such a policy.

But do they understand what, at root, makes it so abhorrent? Or do they tolerate, even embrace, variants of the same idea in other areas? Consider, for example, the following three positions and ask yourself whether there is a common belief underlying all of them:

  • The communist’s prohibition against having more than one (or two) children.
  • The conservative’s demand that assisted suicide be banned.
  • The liberal’s campaign against income inequality.

These seemingly diverse views are actually products of the same mindset: a collectivist mentality.

Under the collectivist philosophy, the individual has no independent existence or value. He is merely one of many indistinguishable, disposable cells within the “social organism.” It is the group that has primacy. Consequently, all important decisions must be made, not by the individual, but by society — i.e., by the state.

When it comes to child-bearing, on this view, everything you give your child — every morsel of food, every drop of water, every inch of space — represents a resource taken away from society. All acts of consumption become acts of expropriation. You therefore need public approval before having a child. You must be given permission to use up society’s scarce resources. And what about your rights? You have none, according to the doctrine of collectivism. The demands of the group, not the rights of the individual, set the standard for social policy.

Similarly, those who oppose assisted suicide believe that your life is not really your own. You are a fragment of society, they say, not an independent human being. The decision to terminate your life, no matter what agonies you may be suffering, cannot be made by you or by those who choose to assist you. Rather, it must be made by the collective. As one legal brief, written for a Supreme Court case, put it: “[Suicide] is an intensely social act . . . amenable to social control, since it has a dramatic impact on others.” It is an act “requiring the assent of society as a whole.” (And even those who oppose suicide on strictly religious grounds share the collectivist’s basic premise: the presence of some “higher power” to which the individual must subordinate himself.)

This point is articulated more starkly in an 1802 handbook of English law (cited approvingly in the aforementioned brief): “The law regards [suicide] as an heinous offence . . . for as the public have a right to every man’s assistance, he who voluntarily kills himself is with respect to the public as criminal as one who kills another.”

In other words, suicide and murder are equally objectionable since both diminish the human resources available to society. We are all supposed to accept the role of rightless serfs, serving as fodder for some “greater good.”

The same philosophy underlies the crusade for income equality. “Why should the top 1 percent own close to 50 percent of the wealth in America?” the crusaders ask. Or, looking at the issue more globally, “Why should the U.S., with under 5 percent of the world’s population, have more than 20 percent of the world’s GDP?” If your life is not yours, neither is your money. Instead it supposedly belongs to the collective, which then determines how much you should be allowed to have.

But don’t the rich have more because they have produced more? Doesn’t a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett or a Sam Walton create his wealth through his own efforts? No, says the collectivist emphatically — no one does. This view holds not just that your money may be seized at will by society, but that you never earned it in the first place. It’s the view that your income is a collective product.

“It takes a village to raise a billionaire,” according to the organization Responsible Wealth. “You didn’t build that,” according to President Obama — society did. To the collectivist, wealth is never an individual achievement. Rather, it materializes, causelessly and anonymously, from the social organism. And since we’re all just interchangeable cells of that organism, why should any single cell receive a bigger paycheck than any other? Why shouldn’t we all be “equal”?

Exercising our rights over our lives — from keeping our own money, to bearing children, to choosing suicide — depends on a moral code of individualism. Every attack on our freedom stems from the notion that the individual must be sacrificed to the collective. These attacks will not end until the individual is upheld as an end in himself, rather than merely a means to the ends of others.♦♦

Assisted-Suicide Debate

I will be taking part in a June 1 debate at Dartmouth on physician-assisted suicide. The two other participants will be Ronald Green (professor of religion at Dartmouth) and Robert Macauley (professor of pediatrics at Univ. of Vermont College of Medicine). It will be held at the Filene Auditorium in Moore Hall and will begin at 7 pm click here to read.

The event is free, and open to all. For further information, contact Jared Rhoads at: Jared.M.Rhoads.GR@dartmouth.edu

Assisted Suicide–Follow-up

I received the following questions in response to my blog “A Real Right to Life,” which defended assisted suicide. (Since I was asked privately, I am omitting the person’s name.)

I am a high school student researching about assisted suicide and I came across your article “A Real Right to Life.” Can you answer a few questions surrounding this issue?

1. Suicide, in general, goes against many religious beliefs. To end one's life is [an act] of selfishness and an act against God cymbalta anxiety. Do you think that this is the case?

2. Many people feel that legalizing euthanasia will result in misusing it and asking for the medication when it [is] not necessary. Depressed people who want to die (a symptom for many bad illnesses, even if it isn't fatal) will be euthanizedthere is no way every case can be stopped.

3. Giving someone medication to die is murder, no matter the situation. Why do you not classify this as murder?

Thank you so much!

P.S.  By the way, I have a grandmother who was suffering from breast cancer. My mother told me that she wanted to die, but my mom could not agree to it and insisted on more chemotherapy. She did die later, but I can see how split the people are between supporting it and opposing assisted suicide. The patients support it, and the outsiders who can't feel the pain oppose it… isn't that interesting?


MY REPLY:

1. Yes, this is an act of selfishness. But I use that term in its precise meaning. It refers not to some predator who lives by victimizing others, but to an honest individual concerned with sustaining his own life by his own efforts. If your life is your own, then every action you take to further it is an act of selfishness. And those who claim that you have a duty to sacrifice yourself—that your life is not your own and that the demands of others should take precedence over your own interests—will indeed condemn suicide as an act of selfishness. (For a fuller discussion of this issue, see The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand.)

2.  This argument is simply used as a rationalization to prevent people from having full control over their own lives. Nothing makes this argument uniquely applicable to suicide. Every freedom we enjoy, from reading a book to buying a share of stock to climbing a ladder, would be denied if we have to take into account the possibility that someone could be harmed while exercising it. With respect to suicide, the person must be mentally competent and must not be in any way deceived about the nature of his condition. But once those conditions are met, no one is entitled to stop him from taking the actions he deems best for him. He has a right to control his own life. If a person has a terminal illness and has made a considered decision that he no longer wants to live, should he be compelled to suffer against his will simply because someone else could conceivably make a wrong decision?   

3. Murder is the killing of an (innocent) person against his will. The concept of murder, and of any genuine crime, entails the use of force, which means: physical action against another person, or his property, without his consent. Where there is consent there is no crime. It’s the difference between borrowing and stealing. Or between sex and rape. Assisted suicide can be considered murder only if one already assumes that an individual’s life belongs to God or society, whose lack of consent is then decisive.