I received the following questions in response to my article “A Real Right to Life,” in 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. 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 euthanized—there 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?
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.♦♦