Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"I don't want to die alone."

“I don’t want to die alone!” were the stinging words of 69-year-old Nancy Crick of Australia. Terminally ill, in constant pain, consistently nauseous and suffering diarrhea, Nancy Crick had decided that any meaningful life was over for her. She simply wanted to die.

However, in Australia “assisted suicide” is illegal, though suicide itself is not. The law is such that merely being present during a suicide is seen as assistance and could carry a penalty of life in prison.

In spite of this, 21 friends and relatives stayed by Crick’s side as she took the drugs that would end her suffering. She video taped a statement saying: “It’s my death. I’m doing it and no one else.” She told the press: “The thing that upsets me most is that the law says I can kill myself any time I want to, but no one can be with me because they just might have helped me. That’s just rubbish, and I don’t see why I should die alone. I don’t want to die alone.”

Opponents of assisted suicide argue that human life is sacred and must be preserved. But, it is the unique sacredness of human life which they deny. For these people life is merely the state of not being dead. It has nothing to do with all those characteristics of being human that separates us from a plant.

A plant is either dead or alive. But, for people, life is not merely an on/off switch. Life is the ability to choose, it is the ability to enjoy existence, it is the ability to function and grow. For Nancy Crick, life had ceased long before she swallowed some pills.

So-called “right to life” groups refuse to acknowledge Nancy Crick’s humanity. For them she is similar to a plant. She is either alive or dead; that is all that matters. But, Nancy Crick was a rational being with the ability to choose and determine matters for herself. She wasn’t a plant without any ability to think. She was a rights-bearing entity, unlike trees or weeds.

To respect life requires that we respect the choices of the person living that life. The right-to-life people don’t do that. They are not advocates of right to life; they are merely opponents of death. And a right to something, to have any meaning, requires the right to deny it as well. My right to life means I can choose not to live, when that choice becomes necessary. To call the denial of choice a “right” is absurd. You do not grant a right by taking it away.

The fact is that most of the people demanding that Nancy Crick continue to suffer do so out of a religious conviction. They accept the idea that human beings have no rights except to obey the dictates of a supreme being. And, like most religionists, they are convinced that the opinions they hold just happen to be precisely those of this deity as well. For them, human beings are the property of some god or another. God’s will, they believe, happily coincides with their own opinions.

But, certainly in the United States a very different premise undergirds the Constitution. America was founded as a country that separated church and state. The denial of the right to choose to end one’s life, with assistance if necessary, is almost entirely based on a wholly-religious perspective.

More importantly, the American government was founded on a compact between the people and the government. What powers the government has are those that the people themselves give it. And, the people can not grant the government a power which they do not possess. If we, as individuals, do not have the right to interfere with the lives, and sometimes voluntary deaths of others, then we can not give that power to the State. If as Jefferson said, government is founded to protect our rights then how does the state affirm our rights by taking them away from us? Laws forbidden the right to die are basically religious in nature and hence unconstitutional.

The refusal to grant individuals the right to end their own life is not a slippery slope leading to genocide. That kind of logic would say that granting individual control over their own sex life necessarily leads to rape. Instead, it is the acknowledgment that human life is fundamentally different, and unlike any other living entity, we humans can choose whether we want to live or not. This right does not deny life, but affirms it in the most fundamental way.


  1. I share your view on this, but I think you could do a better job of explaining how we might uphold the right of individuals to choose their deaths without endangering the rights of others to continue living. There is tremendous practical and financial incentive to hasten the death of someone who is ailing. Given how the "right to work" (in a paid job, as opposed to housewiferey) for women has become an obligation to do so, and the general unwillingness of American society to look after its sick and aging I can easily imagine this becoming a reality for many, especially the poor.

  2. I believe that the government and people are smart enough to put into action various regulations or procedures to prevent what abuses may come from allowing assisted suicide. Such as having it regulated through a Hospice care giver, a hospital, etc. with required official witnesses (Dr. or nurse like a notary) and legal paper work filed and maybe a mental exam or a mandatory counseling session with a licensed psychiatrist to prevent someone using the allowance of assisted suicide as an alibi or excuse in the law for actually killing family, friends, or others (especially vulnerable elderly). One has to think of all the reasons not to do it from the stand point of using a legal policy to harm rather for what it is intended and then put in place requirements to deter it. I can see the potential for abuse, but there is already murder and abuse of the elderly and poor, and poor elderly, but allowing a properly guided action as the above story of Nancy Crick, I think, can be done. I would think conspiracy from a well financed individual would be the one to abuse any legalities put in place, but anyone with that much power and influence is going to find a way to get what they want legally or illegally and I don't see that a reason to postpone allowing dignity in death.