Re: Suicide (was PCA statement on end of life decisions)

From: jack syme <>
Date: Mon Apr 04 2005 - 22:57:08 EDT

Some of my thoughts on this topic.

During the discussion regarding the Schiavo matter, I was hoping no one would make the statement that we dont generally let people kill themselves. Because I was supporting, in this case, the patients right to refuse life sustaining medical treatment.

One argument supporting ones right to refuse treatment, and not to allow suicide is based on competency. The argument being that it is not irrational or unreasonable to want to refuse life sustaining treatment when in a devastating condition. This argument begins to break down, when suicide is not allowed, because wanting to take one's life is considered, by definition, irrational and therefore the person is not competent to make such a decision. This seems reasonable in the conditions that we usually think of suicide (young, healthy people). But there are many situations where this distinction blurrs. There are clearly situations where taking ones life is reasonable, and there are situations where patients are allowed to refuse life sustaining treatment, even if young and healthy otherwise, for example an otherwise healthy Jehova's witness that will refuse a blood transfusion.

I think a more important distinction between suicide and allowing death by refusing life sustaining treatment, is the distinction between an act of omission, and an act of comission. I have some trouble finding a consistent rational argument making a moral difference between the two. But they certainly FEEL different. And it is nearly universally accepted that patients can refuse treatment, but it is almost no where accepted that an act should be comitted to hasten somones death. Maybe it is the fear that if things like physician assisted suicide become general practice, then it would be just one more small step to voluntary active euthenasia, and then involuntary active euthenasia. (voluntary passive euthenasia being an act of omission such as removing a feeding tube, voluntary active euthensia being giving a lethal dose of medication to someone that has agreed to it under the circumstances, and involuntary active euthenasia being giving a lethal dose to someone that has not agreed to it.)

Certainly most of the suicide cases one can see as being irrational and something that shouldnt be allowed, and most of the passive voluntary euthenasia cases are ones that are often something that should be allowed. But I think there is a spectrum of cases and there are instances on both sides in a gray area that it is difficult to have a clear rule saying one or the other action is wrong all of the time.

As far as I can tell the moral distinction between the two comes down to essentially a slippery slope argument
Received on Mon Apr 4 22:58:33 2005

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