Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adalja on The Right to Terminate One's Life

Dr. Amesh Adalja discusses an important right in his latest Forbes piece, "Does The Right To Life And Liberty Include The Right To Terminate One's Life?"

He asks:
What underlies the belief that it is the prerogative of the State to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship to forbid a physician from assisting in the suicide of a patient who has no meaningful chance of recovery?
In particular, he contrasts that with:
The view that a person is not a sovereign individual provides the false philosophical underpinning for this viewpoint, nullifying the right to liberty. Opponents of assisted suicide place sovereignty outside the individual and view individuals either as the property of a supernatural deity or mere vassals of the State. To them, assisting with suicide is interfering with “God’s plan” or the “interests of the State” and therefore criminal. Any appeal to individual rights falls upon the deaf ears of those to whom the concept of individual rights is meaningless.
I agree with Dr. Adalja's position.  (I know many of my conservative friends will disagree.)

As far as implementing such a right, I do think it's entirely appropriate for the state to make sure that any cases of purported assisted suicide are indeed such, rather than murder disguised as assisted suicide.  For instance, some proponents support protocols where the patient must take one final affirmative action (such as pressing a button on a machine) to complete the act. Similarly, the state has an interest in insuring that any agreement for assisted suicide was made by a patient with sound mind and full understanding of the meaning of his choice (i.e., that he is giving genuine informed consent to the procedure).

Furthermore, such a right does not mean that physicians should be compelled to offer this service, just because a patient requests it. Physicians should be free to decline to perform this for reasons of personal conscience (unless they've made contractual agreements otherwise). But this is true of any medical procedure.

But these are discussions of how to implement a proper law. The broader principle of the right to one's life and the full implications of that are covered nicely in Dr. Adalja's piece.