Right to Life, Right to Die and Assisted Suicide
Journal of Applied Philosophy 2004; 21(2): 173-182
In 2002 Diane Pretty went to the European Court of Human Rights to gain a ruling about assisted suicide. In the course of this she argued that the right to life implied a right to die. This paper will consider, from an ethical rather than a legal point of view, how the right to life might imply (or not) a right to die, and whether this includes either a right that others shall help us die, or a right against non-interference if others are willing to help us. It does this by comparing the right to life to conceptions of property rights. This is not because I think human life is property, but because some of our ways of talking and thinking about our control over our own lives seem to be similar to our thoughts about our control over our own property. The right to life has traditionally been taken as a negative right, that is a right that others not deprive us of life. Pretty's argument, however, seems to be moving towards a positive right, not just to remain alive, but to be enabled in doing what we want to with our lives, and thus disposing of them if we so choose. The comparison with property rights suggests that the right to die only applies if our lives are ours absolutely, and may itself be modified by the suggestion that suicide harms all of us by devaluing human life in general.
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