Over the past ten to twenty years a big issue has been made over a persons right to commit suicide or not. The American courts have had to deal with everything from assisted suicides to planned suicides, and whether the constitution gives the American people the right to take their own lives or whether it says they have the power to allow someone else to take their lives. They have had to determine in some cases whether or not homicide charges needed to be brought up and others times whether or not it was done for an underlying reason such as insurance fraud. There are several aspects to suicide and the law, but we are only going to discuss a few of them. First of all we will examine why anyone would want to take their own life and decipher the differences between a rational suicide and an irrational suicide.
Secondly we will look at ways assistance has played in the area of suicide.Next, we’ll look at what the constitution says and see if any of the states have allowed suicide. Finally, we’ll study some of the cases that have been brought before the American courts. Suicide has become a big part of American society, year after year more people are taking their own lives for many different reasons. A lot of philosophers have broken down all the reasons of suicides into two different categories, rational suicide and irrational suicide. A rational suicide has been given five basic criteria that usually must be met for the person’s act to be considered rational.
The five criteria which a person must show for their suicide to be considered rational are, “the ability to reason, realistic world view, adequacy of information, avoidance of harm, and accordance with fundamental interests.”(Battin 132) Another opinion of rationality of suicide is, “it is the best thing for him from the point of view of his own welfare-or whether it is the best thing for someone being advised, from the point of view of that person’s welfare”(Brandt 118). People have to characterize suicides because a lot of times they don’t understand what that person is going through so by grouping them and placing criteria on them it allows them to accept it in an easier manner. A lot of suicides are grouped in the rational category because they are committed so the person can be saved from the pain they may be experiencing from a terminal disease. This seems to be just about the only true rational and morally correct reason why a person should commit suicide. Yet a lot of times these patients are “heavily sedated, so that it is impossible for the mental processes of decision leading to action to occur.”(Brandt 123) In other words these patients have a rational reason to commit suicide, yet their mind is not capable of making that decision.
So if terminally ill patients are the only ones who have a good rational reason to commit suicide, then where does that leave everyone else? Well just about everyone else commits suicide because of a little thing that enters everyone’s life at some time and that thing is called depression. Depression can come from several different things, such as a loss of something like a job, a loved one, a limb such as an arm or leg, or anything else that might be held dear to that person.Other things could be rejection at home or in the work place, abuse, and sometimes even the thought of getting old and not wanting to know what tomorrow holds in store. There are alot of arguments that these are rational reasons but just because you are having a bad day doesn’t actually mean you have a rational reason to go out and throw yourself off a building or tie a rope around your neck. Another big issue about suicide today is the one that deals with assisted suicide.
When we think about this the first person who pops in our mind is Dr. Jack Kervorkian.Yet Kervorkian was not the first, “The Hemlock Society was founded by Derek Humphry, a british journalist, in Los Angeles in 1980. The organization advocated active euthanasia, or aiding the death of a hopelessly ill individual.”(Long 76) This society was responsible for several deaths because of their “listing of lethal doses of eighteen commonly prescribed drugs and a manual on suicide, which quickly became a best-seller.”(Long 76) Dr. Kervorkian is probably the most famous man in America when it comes to assisted suicide.
His cases and his defiance of the law have kept him the spotlight in the American media and has really brought the issue of do Americans have the right to take their own lives, and if so is it the legal responsibility of a physician to assist his or her patient if they are asked. Dr. Kervorkian says yes.Assisted suicide is where a patient that is terminally ill comes to a physician or even a friend or family member at times and asks them to help end their life. There are several different ways to assist someone in suicide, you can inject them with a lethal amount of drugs, you can turn off their machines that is helping keep them alive, there have even been cases where the friend has put a bullet in the person’s body. The big question in America is whether or not you have the constitutional, or moral, right to commit suicide. There have been very strong arguments for both cases.
Joel Feinberg argues that the constitution does not give us that right simply because of Thomas Jefferson’s famous words “that all men are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life..” He says “How could a person have a right to terminate his own life (by his own hand or the hand of another) if his right to life is inalienable?.
.”(Mayo 224). He makes a good argument, by saying that it does, would infringe on our right to live that the founding fathers said was ours and that there was no one who could take that right away from us not even ourselves.
Feinberg probably says it best when he says, “The ‘right to life’ is essentially a duty, but expressible in the language of rights because the derivative claims against others that they save or not kill one are necessarily beneficial-goods that one could not rationally forswear. The right therefore must always be ‘exercised’ and can never be ‘waived.’ Anyone who could wish to waive it must simply be ignorant of what is good for him.”(Mayo 225) What he is saying here is that you can not just decide you want to kill yourself. This is a right given to you by the constitution and it is established to protect you from anyone who wants to cause harm to you, even yourself. And anyone who wants to bring harm upon themselves has something wrong with them and, thereore, needs to be protected from themselves.
Yet others have had a strong argument for the other side also, and their …