Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Euthenesia Debate

"Dr. Death" Is a Defender of Life

The essense of political liberty is the right to control one's own body (and to end its existence), free of state coercion.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian's murder trial now beginning in Pontiac, Michigan involves far more than an individual's right to die: it involves his right to live.

Kevorkian, who has been acquitted in three previous assisted-suicide trials, is charged with first-degree murder for administering a lethal injection to a Michigan man who was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. Kevorkian has openly stated his intent to make this a clear-cut test case for euthanasia.

But far more than euthanasia is going to be on trial. For if a man suffering from an agonizing terminal illness does not have the legal right to choose death--if the state can stop him and prolong his agony--then the question must be asked: to whom does one's life belong?

Surely, in a free country, the only moral answer is that a man's life belongs to himself. It is not the property of society or of the government. Each individual has the right to his own "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Entailed in this right to live one's life is the freedom to choose to end it when, in one's judgment, it is no longer worth living. Just as the right to free speech includes the right to remain silent--just as the right to practice religion includes the right to be an atheist--so the right to live includes the right to decide to die. Freedom means the freedom to choose.

Clearly, choosing death is a serious matter, not to be done on the spur of the moment. But if, after serious reflection, a rational adult concludes that he prefers death, he must have the right to implement that decision. Consequently, he must have the right to request assistance from others; and, for the same reason, those others must have the right to provide whatever assistance is asked for.

The opponents of medically assisted suicide are plainly arguing from an anti-freedom premise. They are opposed to a man's right to live and to die by his own decision. "Consent is not a viable defense in taking the life of another," states the Michigan prosecutor who will try the case. But if my consent is not sufficient justification to terminate my life, what does this say regarding my freedom and my right to my own life? It says that I am a rightless pawn whom a paternalistic state can compel to suffer as it deems fit. It says that the most fundamental decision about the disposition of my life is to be made by others, against my will.

The issue of the right to control one's own body, free of government coercion, is not distinctive to euthanasia. It is the essence of political liberty--so that far more than the fate of Kevorkian or the status of assisted-suicide hinges on this upcoming trial.

Although Kevorkian may have broken the law, we must remember that so did Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers--so did all those who, in pursuit of justice, sought to challenge the morality of the existing legal system. Kevorkian's courage in creating this test case is reminiscent of the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. When the Christian Fundamentalists, who controlled Tennessee's state legislature, passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher, continued to teach Darwinian theory. He deliberately broke the law, initiating the "trial of the century" that resulted eventually in the repeal of the law.

The issues in Kevorkian's case are similar--as are his opponents. It is no accident that the strongest hostility toward euthanasia comes from devout religionists. For on their view, a man's life does not belong to himself, but to God. The anti-evolution law did not permit a man to choose how to think; the anti-euthanasia law does not permit a man to choose how to live. The first was directed against man's mind, the second against his body, but the principle is identical: the individual's life is ultimately to be controlled by some higher authority.

In the Scopes trial seventy-three years ago, the target of the prosecution was not simply a Tennessee schoolteacher, but the principle of the individual's right to think. Today, the spiritual heirs of those prosecutors will be placing on trial, not just Jack Kevorkian, but the individual's right to die--and hence right to live--as a free man.
Dr. Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at Pace University, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I look forward to your views on this touchy topic.

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catch 22 1:02 PM  

It was a really good read I agree with every thing said in there


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