Should We Legalize Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide?

The people of the state of Washington recently voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Was that a good idea? Should other states follow? Should voluntary euthanasia (VE) and/or physician assisted suicide (PAS) be legalized? When the arguments are examined, and the experience in the Netherlands and Oregon is considered, the answer is a decisive "no."

I. Choice

Those favoring legalization often argue as follows: The choice of when and how to die is one of the most personal and private decisions we can make. Who are we to deny a patient's request to die sooner rather than later?

However, the mere fact that I have chosen something simply cannot justify what I have chosen. Our laws have long illustrated this truth. For example, they prohibit a range of choices to harm others, from murder to assault. Further, our laws prohibit not only choices which harm or risk harming others: they sometimes also prohibit choices to harm or risk harming, such as by snorting cocaine or driving without a seatbelt, as well as conduct which may involve no risk of physical harm to oneself or another, such as incest and bestiality.

Further, if respect for choice were the key, why should VE/PAS not be available to anyone who autonomously requested it? Why deny VE/PAS to a patient who was terminally ill but who was not suffering at all? Why deny VE/PAS to a patient who was suffering but who was not terminally ill, such as someone with severe arthritis? Why deny VAE/PAS to people who were not sick but who wanted to die for other reasons, such as the loss of a beloved spouse, or animal, or because of long-term unemployment? In short, the argument from autonomy contains a "slippery slope," and the slope is precipitous.

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