THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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The right to die? Or the right to kill?

BBC NEWS | Health | Result due in right-to-die case.

Dreamstime_5186260 I follow the discussions on euthanasia with interest, but I am puzzled by the terminology favoured by the media. This lady's "right to die" is not in question, although the religious may say it's morally wrong. Suicide was legalised long since - and rightly so.

I have nothing but compassion for anyone who chooses to end a life they consider unbearable. It's that person's life and choice. But this is not about the "right to die". It's about the right to kill, or to be an accessory to a killing. It's about introducing a new defence to the crime of murder. The debate might be conducted more rationally, if more honest words were used.

The euthanasia laws in the Netherlands have resulted (that law of intended consequences again) in sick people refusing to go to hospital. They fear the convenience of euthanasia to medical staff who prefer to work on potentially positive cases rather than palliative care for those nearing the exit. In socialised healthcare systems, they fear being pressured to stop "bed-blocking;" consuming rationed resources that could be used by others. They may also fear the convenience of euthanasia to impatient heirs.

It's bad enough to be terminally-ill, without being pressured to get it over with for the good of others. Can it ever truly be selfish to want another moment of life? On the other hand, is it not enormously selfish of a dying person to blight the life of a surviving loved one by asking them to live with the memory of having killed?

The fundamental tenet of all libertarianism is that it is wrong to initiate violence. Much though I sympathise with the families of people in this terrible position, I do not believe it's right to legitimise pre-meditated, active involvement in another's death.


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Tom, There I figure we differ in how we look at things. But like everything else, you can ask for help, doesn't mean you will get it.

But I guess the response would tell you something.

Fay Levoir

Agonising pain overrides everything. It can turn a thoughtful caring human being into a wounded animal begging for the pain to end at any cost.
People should not be judged so harshly for such a personal choice.


I see your point Tom but i'm still not convinced. What does it have to do with the argument "the selfish state of mind of the suicide" you are talking about? We are discussing free choice, not egoism and selfishness. Do you mean that we need to suspend the right to choose to a man that is selfish or that acts out of selfishness? Is this a convincing argument against euthanasia?

And what does it matter if they are sanctified or not by their pain? They might not care about being sanctified or they may not dare to. In any case it does not provide any convincing argument against euthanasia.


Yes, people should be allowed to decide about their own bodies. But they have no right to expect others to assist.


Faced with a loved one in pain who misguidedly thinks you should kill her, you would have only a little more choice than the train driver Nicolas. But my point (as you must see) was about the selfish state of mind of the suicide, not that of the unwitting/unwilling instrument of their death.

My own grandfather was in this position. He decided to die but asked no-one to help. He told his doctors that if they gave him any treatment but pain-killers he would charge them with assault. Then he died slowly, using every minute to comfort the ones he loved in their grief. He was a real man. These people who selfishly demand that others commit acts that will blight their lives are not sanctified by their pain.

Pain doesn't suspend morality or justice. Hard cases make bad law.


It is completely different from the case of the driver because the driver has not the option to choose to kill or not to kill.

In the case of euthanasia you have the choice. A doctor or whoever, decides if he wants to kill the other or not. If he later on, he feels guilt it's his problem not ours. As a responsible human being he made the choice freely and hence it is up to himself to asume the consequences.

I agree that my previous sentence might sound chilly. However, i am not saying i would agree to do such a contract, nor that i necessarily approve such thing morally. But i'm against its prohibition.


This is a complicated issue fraught with potential danger.

Still I think you are missing the point, or misinterpreting it.

Yes suicide is no longer a criminal offence.

But this is about those who are not easily able to manage it themselves. This is about decriminalising those who help, or just want to provide company, solidarity, to someone who genuinely wants, with good cause to end their own lives.

It is not initiating violence. Unless you call suicide initiating violence against your self and tyhe if you are logical you will want to make it illegal.

For a start the one 'initiating' the action is the person who wishes to die, anyone else is essentially carrying out thir instructions.

I absolutely understand any legislation is fraught with the possibility of pitfalls, especially on this. The danger of greedy relatives hurrying granny off the mortal coil for inheritence, to save it from the state, or just to get rid of a nuisance.

I guess if I were on my last legs I might well be strongly tempted to end it all just to stop the state stealing everything from my kids. There is a form of empowerment in a weird way.

There is also the real danger of the state being over eager to harvest your organs to meet some political target for the 'collective good'.

But all that is a matter of carefully couched legislation, of checks and balances.

The thing is, a person's body... and their life should belong to them. They should be allowed to decide.

Now if you are able to do for yourself and act before you are no longer able then you can do that.
But you would naturally want to hang on until things become untenable. It is wrong that if you leave it too late when you are not able to do for yourself that right is taken away from you by lazy thinking. It is wrong that you should not be allowed to take advantage of the least unpleasant way to go.

As it stands if you care for your dog you can help it on it's way out of it's misery - if you are strong enough. You can't do that same kindness for those you love without falling foul of the law.


I respect an individual's right to die. I don't believe he has a right to expect anyone else to assist. If killing is wrong, it's wrong to ask someone to do it for you, regardless of whether you are asking them to kill you or a third person. To describe it as "a contract like any other" is quite chilling, Nicolas. Read that over and see if you are comfortable with your thought.

Some of these cases remind me of the cowards who opt for "death by cop" or who wreck the life of some poor driver by diving in front of his train. It's pure bloody selfishness without regard for the suffering of the person who must live with the guilt.


In principle it would be OK since you both agreed on such an act. Obviously if you kill a passer-by it would be quite suspicious since it would be hard for the killer to prove that the other guy wanted to be killed... but if you do the agreement following the proper procedures (like in the case of euthanasia) then there is nothing wrong with such procedure. It's in its escence, a contract like any other.

I don't think either that doctors are a special category of human and I never said that performing euthanasia should be limited to doctors.

And your position is not libertarian since it does not respect an individual decision and does not respect the right to do whatever one decides with its own body, including, to die.


If you killed a passer-by after he requested it, Nicolas, would you expect to acquitted of his murder? The duty not to initiate violence is not removed by a mere request. Nor do I accept that doctors are a special category of human. I think my position is perfectly libertarian.

There is no legal (just a religious) question about the rights of the lady to kill herself. She simply wants guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether her partner will be prosecuted if he assists her. England's "Supreme Court" (as it will, sadly, soon be known) has ordered the DPP to give that guidance. Let's see what he says. No-one has ever been prosecuted for flying with a spouse to Dignitas and holding her hand while the doctor "puts her down" (to use the veterinary euphemism).  I think that's because no jury would convict someone like her partner for the crime of assisting suicide, unless he sourced the lethal drug and/or injected it himself.
In theory the partner could be prosecuted because of the broad way the Suicide Act is worded, but flying with her and holding her hand while the Dignitas doctor killed her is no more helping her to die than would be helping her dress that morning before setting off  to the airport. The airline which flies her, or the taxi driver who takes her from the airport to the "clinic" would be as guilty as him if the law were really so broad as she fears. In my view, if his actions were not directly causative, no jury would convict.  Indeed, to my mind, there is no need for a special crime like this at all. The best solution would be to abolish it and use the law of murder. In that case, there would be no action on his part which could constitute (with appropriate intent) the crime. 
Interestingly (although not for the family concerned) there may be a useful case in England soon to "clarify" the issue. A teacher in Northampton recently brought a gun into the hospital so his father could shoot himself. I would certainly expect a prosecution there. I would also expect an acquittal. The son didn't pull the trigger. He knew what his father wanted the gun for, apparently, and brought it in anyway. But the father still had free choice and pulled the trigger himself. The son should be acquitted on a charge of assisted suicide, but will probably be convicted for some firearms offence. Mainly he will be punished for his hubris in acting like a free man, as if the last 30 years had never happened.

I understand your argument but i completely disagree that it is compatible with libertarianism. A doctor that kills someone, after the person asks for it, is not "initiating violence". It is a simple agreement between two individuals where neither you or me should have a say.


I assume you have read more extensively about this case than the link you provided, which was all I had to go on. If the wife has other motives (?) that is something of which I was not aware.

I chose to consider only the assisted suicide question in my comment. I think you muddied the waters with euthanasia, both in your post and your reply. I apologize if I am incorrect.

Trust me, I also believe in the sanctity of life, both in the womb and in the world. But I would defend the right of pro-choice and the right for someone to choose to end their life, if that is the individual's choice, even if I may not choose either path myself.

In Canada we faced this question in 1993/4. Every Canadian who was an adult at that time, was exposed to this and no doubt had an opinion. Sue Rodriguez was a charming lady with whom we could all empathize, no matter what our opinion was on the matter, whether we stood with the five or the four judges. I don't think too many judged her when she got her way in the end, illegal as it was.

I'm not advocating that the law be changed on assisted suicide exactly and I could never support euthanasia. As usual I try to see everything from both sides.

What is the answer for the Sue Rodriguezes of this world? They want to die, are capable of making the decision and their wishes known to others but not physically able to carry out the deed. We would have no problem with them taking their own life if they were physically capable. Suicide is legal you say, although the article says otherwise if I read it correctly, but to assist someone in committing suicide is not.

I'm not quite sure of the motive in this plaintiff's case, why she has waged this costly battle through so many levels. To gain immunity for her husband when it appears that it is not necessary, since prosecutions have never taken place? Is just being present a criminal offense? Is her case a front for another agenda?

Sorry TP, I cannot argue on your level. I just see a lot of questions that have no easy answers, or even answers at all.

I think we are all afraid of the process of dying, even if not of death itself.

In all my years working in a hospital, in our socialized healthcare system, it seemed the medical personnel did everything they could to keep patients alive, often when it might have been kinder to let nature take its course. I never saw examples of the situations you describe in the Netherlands nor did I ever meet such heartless sounding people in my healthcare world. I find it hard to believe that euthanasia being legal turns medical professionals into this type of person. Are there many documented cases or just "stories" spread about like urban legends?

Fay Levoir

That is so well put. I am in awe of your intelligence.
Reassuring to know you are in such fine form.


JMB, his wife's wishes are not as cosy as that makes them sound. She wishes him to be an accessory to murder. Does she have the right to make such a wish? If she wished him to kill a third party, there would be no moral confusion. Personally, depending on whom she wanted "hit", I might find that wish easier to follow. Certainly, the guilt I would have to live with afterwards would be the same.

I am usually more optimistic about human nature than those who trust blithely in states, authorities and the universal benevolence of men and women in white coats. Not this time. I confidently predict that a very substantial proportion of "assisted suicides" would still be murders (but impossible to prove). The deceased would not, by definition, be available to give evidence.

This is a particular risk in the Common Law world, where we have "freedom of testation." Civil Law countries divide a dead person's assets according to fixed rules. To a libertarian, that's shocking, but it does prevent old people using their wills as weapons over their families (something I saw all too frequently as a young lawyer). It also prevents "carers" abusing their influence.

I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying. Please don't lobby to have me exposed to such horrors amid all the others of the end. Please don't lobby to have me considered less than a man because I believe in the sanctity of human life and would not wish to put any loved one down like a suffering animal.


This is an unbelievably difficult question to consider, that is the question of assisted suicide, which is considered different from euthanasia.

This woman and Sue Rodriguez (you'll have to google it yourself if interested), a Canadian ALS sufferer who took her fight to have the law against assisted suicide struck down all the way to the Supreme court of Canada in 1993 and lost 5-4, are/were incapable of carrying out the deed themselves. If they were no would question their right to commit suicide.

It does not have to be a family member who is given the burden and in fact in 1994 Sue was assisted by an unknown physician in the presence of the MP who had helped her with her fight. No charges were ever laid in the case.

Interestingly enough four out of the nine learned judges were convinced by the arguments presented to vote for the law being struck down.

How can it be right to lay criminal charges against a man who follows his wife's wishes and is by her side when she chooses to exercise her right to die? In another country no less, where it is legal.

Fay Levoir

I cannot imagine the horror of seeing a loved one beg for help to die or the horror of being a part of it.


And, of course, this ruling is the last to be given in the House of Lords in its judicial function.

It ends a long tradition in our legal system- oh, well, bring on the Supreme court!


It becomes easier if that person previously communicated his/her wish but still I don't like it.

Young Mr. Brown

Thank you. I have now posted it.


You are most welcome to do so.

Young Mr. Brown

Tom, that is a very helpful post.

In fact, it's so helpful, that I'd like to take the unusual step of reposting it verbatim on my own blog.

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