A Right to Suicide Does Not Entail a Right to Assisted Death
Journal of Medical Ethics. 1997 Feb; 23(1): 51-54.
Many people believe that it is permissible for people who are suffering from terminal illnesses to commit suicide or even that such people have a right to commit suicide. Some have also argued that it follows that it is permissible for them, or that they have a right, to use the assistance of another person. First, I assume that it is permissible for a person to commit suicide and ask whether it follows that it is also permissible for the person to employ an agent to assist in the death. Second, I assume that people have a right to commit suicide and ask whether it follows that the right holders have a right to employ an agent to assist with the death. I argue that the permissibility of suicide does not by itself entail the permissibility of employing someone to assist in the suicide. I also argue that the right to commit suicide does not by itself entail the right to assisted death. Instead, what follows is that there is a right not to have unreasonable restrictions placed on the means by which one can exercise one's right to commit suicide. Whether a restriction is reasonable depends on the conclusion reached when one has weighed a number of policy considerations.
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