A while ago, Tom Bowden wrote the following letter to the editor for ARI:
In upholding Oregon’s assisted suicide law, the Supreme Court reached the right result for the wrong reasons. The law should have been upheld on the grounds of an individual’s right to his own life.
The right to life includes and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise is to deny the right to life at its root. If we have a duty to go on living, despite our better judgment, then our life does not belong to us, and we exist by permission, not by right.
Individuals have a moral right to seek assistance in committing suicide. And if a doctor is willing to assist, based on an objective assessment of his patient’s mental and physical state, the law should not stand in his way.
There is no rational basis upon which the government can properly prevent an individual from choosing to end his life. The choice is his because the life is his.
Religious conservatives, supported by the Bush administration, want to ban assisted suicide because it defies God’s will. Such conservatives crave to inject religion into the bloodstream of American law, thereby assisting in our own national suicide. People of reason must refuse their consent to the religious conservative agenda.
Thomas A. Bowden
Ayn Rand Institute
2121 Alton Parkway #250
949-222-6550 ext 226
Here’s the copyright information: “Copyright (c) 2006 Ayn Rand(R) Institute. All rights reserved. If you plan to use this letter, please let us know. Thank you.”
Just off-the-cuff, I wrote the following as a comment upon the letter:
Of course, I would be very much in favor of an assisted suicide law, but I do fear abuses by medical staff and family members, even if well-meaning. Death devices like those constructed by Jack Kevorkian — where the doctor sets up the death machine, then the patient actually initiates his own death — would largely eliminate that worry. Of course, reasonable exceptions could be made for permanently unconscious patients, as well as for the rare patients unable to move, preferably via the sort of given-in-advance instructions found in living wills, medical power of attorney, and the like.
As for the sick and aged who would allow themselves to be pressured into suicide by others, so long as they’re competent adults, that’s entirely their own damn fault. And they will pay the ultimate price for that last act of spineless second-handedness, pathetically enough.
Of course, the detailed workings of an assisted suicide law should be hammered out by lawyers and philosophers of law, whereas I’m just speaking here as a barely informed citizen!
Not long thereafter, I read Ayn Rand’s own off-the-cuff comments on euthanasia in the excellent Ayn Rand Answers:
Euthanasia is more complex [than birth control, abortion, and suicide], because the life of another person is involved. If a man makes arrangements stating that he does not want to feel unbearable pain, and it can be proved that this was his desire, in principle I’d say it is his right and the doctor’s right to perform euthanasia. But it would be difficult to put this into law, because of the safeguards needed to prevent unscrupulous doctors in cahoots with unscrupulous relatives from killing somebody who is not dying and in pain. The danger here is legally giving to the doctor the arbitrary power of killing. I suspect, however, that there are many cases of euthanasia about which we do not know and probably shouldn’t know; in such cases, it is up to the doctor involved. Only he can know if a terminally ill patient is suffering truly unbearable torture. I feel like saying that I would not assume to pass judgment on him. I don’t know. The situation is too horrible. I sympathize with the doctor who helps the patient die, but I would not advocate euthanasia as a law.
I’m very hazy on Ayn Rand’s view on this issue. With that last sentence, is Ayn Rand contradicting, modifying, or qualifying what she says at the beginning of the quoted passage? Is she saying that a man has a right to arrange for his own death with his doctor in the case of unbearable pain, but that the law ought not allow for that? If so, wouldn’t that expose honest doctors who choose to relieve the unbearable suffering of terminally ill patients to criminal prosecution for murder? Or does she mean something else by “euthanasia” in that last sentence than what she described in the second sentence?