Assisted Suicide

Lynellen Perry
Position Paper
Philosophy 101
December 13, 1991

Initiative 119

For 2000 years the world of medicine has sworn to respect the inherent value and inviolability of the human person. But during the last twenty years, society has seen this respect crumble to the pressures of the atomization of the individual and the loss of transcendant spiritual values. Due to these pressures, civilized society now tolerates abortion on demand, which was and still is illegal in more "primitive" societies, and was recently faced with the "choice" to tolerate active euthanasia.

Thankfully, Washington State's Initiative 119 did not pass into law this last November. Initiative 119 would have expanded the "right" of an adult person with a terminal condition to have an expressed written directive regarding the continuation of his or her life. It would have amended current law to expand the definition of a terminal condition to include irreversible coma and persistent vegetative states or a condition which will result in death in the next six months.

The Initiative allows specification of which life sustaining procedures may be withdrawn, and permits an adult to request and receive aid-in-dying from a physician. Aid-in-dying is defined as the end of the life of a conscious and mentally competent qualified patient (two physicians declare the patient will die within the next six months), voluntarily requested through a written directive that must be witnessed by two unrelated and impartial persons.

There seem to be three issues at conflict in this Initiative; the responsibility of physicians to try to alleviate suffering, the "right" of the individual to determine her own fate, and the inalienable inherent value of every human life. The strongest argument for Initiative 119 is that individuals should be allowed to decide that the quality of their life is no longer acceptable to them and be allowed to do something about it. A person should be legally allowed to take steps to spare themselves from a slow, and possibly extremely painful, death and the emotional and financial costs of this process. It is more merciful to let the competent adult decide to end their life now than to make them and their family and friends suffer through the next six months.

The strongest argument against this Initiative is found in Immanuel Kant's reasoning about moral duty. Your life was not your choice, but it is a gift given you by God and it is solely His prerogative when to take that life away from your body. In addition, Kant argues you have a duty to maintain your life. If, in the face of a slow death that may take your relish for life, you preserve your life anyway, simply because you have a duty to do so, then you have acted morally. To act any other way would be wicked. By committing suicide in order to escape from a slower death, the patient would be using "a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life." And this is against the principle, "So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in e very case as an end withal, never as means only." So the terminal patient has a duty to respect his own humanity and preserve his life simply based on moral duty.

I agree with Kant's logic as stated above and would have voted against the Initiative. Beside the fact that this Initiative did not have built in safe- guards such as medical evaluation of the patient's pain and suffering, the stability of her request over the passage of time, and that no psychological evaluation of mental competency was required, I agree with the quote, "to acquiesce in a demand, however sincere, is not necessarily the same as to act lovingly." Acting lovingly in this type of a situation would include following the relevant Biblical principles of not allowing murder (by another person or by yourself) due to the inalienable value of personhood given to us by God, and of comforting the patient with encouragement about their Heavenly immortality if they believe that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior.

I think God has given us a clear basis for making moral decisions by giving us the Ten Commandments and the living example of Christ's earthly life. God does not approve of murder, and suicide is included here because it is murder of yourself.