Death, Doctors, and Dignity
By: Dartanyan Edmonds
In November of 2014, a woman with brain cancer named Brittany Maynard was big in the news. She was a Californian woman, young, beautiful, and recently married. She moved to Oregon from California to pursue an end to her cancerous nightmare. In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide is legal. So, the young Maynard moved herself north in order to obtain medicine to end her suffering — and her life.
It has been over a year since then. And this past year, just like every one before it, has seen several events. And one of those events is the legalization of assisted suicide in October in a state that has personal significance for both the late Brittany Maynard and me: California.
I feel strongly about this issue because I am a firm believer in the dignity of every human being. This belief influences my politics and may I be damned if I separate human dignity from public policy. This is obviously a political website and so I as I make the case against physician-assisted suicide I don’t intend to get away from the subject of politics. Rather, I intend to put forth a reasonable basis for my politics of life.
People who favor physician-assisted suicide’s legalization believe that they are being compassionate. They see a person in a tough and desperate situation who is suffering and say that a person in this kind of situation has a right to do whatever he wants with his life. Well, I have a few problems with this view. The first problem is that if your right to life is inalienable, which is to say that it can’t be taken away by anyone, then that includes you. If you have an inalienable right to life, then it would be a logical contradiction that you have a right to kill yourself. Your life might be your own, but you don’t determine your rights. Our rights are given to us by virtue of our human nature. We have inalienable rights because we are human. This view assumes that we can redefine our human nature and our rights, which is extremely dangerous to say.
My argument so far probably sounds problematic to some of my readers since it sounds like a moral argument. Well, that’s because it is a moral argument. And contrary to what many social liberals and libertarians might think, there is a place for moral argument in politics. Indeed, the same liberals who disagree with me about an issue like gun rights are the same ones who make moral arguments for gun control. And those libertarians who hate to have the government get involved in social issues are the same ones who make moral arguments against the government’s intervention because they believe that we have a right to liberty. So, I see nothing wrong in morally arguing that we should all recognize the inalienable right to life for all, including the dying.
After all, we recognize this right when someone who is mentally ill tries to kill himself. When that happens we sometimes go so far as to send the SWAT team to negotiate with him so that he doesn’t take his own life. Yet, when a person is physically ill, some of us say that it’s okay for him to kill himself. Isn’t that inconsistent? What makes mental illness any less painful than cancer? That’s tough to judge. That judgment call would be completely arbitrary. In effect, by supporting assisted suicide for the terminally ill, we affirm the “right” of some who are suffering to kill themselves, while simultaneously keeping others from doing so. Why? What’s the difference? It seems to me that since we’re allowing some people who suffer to kill themselves we should allow everyone who suffers to do it. Or better yet, we should allow no one to do it.
This is especially true since the role of a doctor is involved. A doctor’s role is to heal his patient, not kill his patient. The legalization of physician- assisted suicide violates the relationship between doctor and patient and it weakens respect for the life of the terminally ill.
Let’s remember those who suffer and stand in solidarity with them while reaffirming the dignity that they have because of their humanity. Let’s end physician-assisted suicide.