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Libertarian perspectives on suicide have differed as to the legitimacy of a right to commit suicide and of the circumstances, if any under which it would be an appropriate act. On the one hand, the right of self-ownership seemingly implies a right to destroy one's body if one wishes. On the other hand, some libertarians hold that the right to life is an inalienable right that one cannot renounce by committing suicide, any more than one could alienate oneself from the right to one's liberty by selling himself into permanent slavery.[1] The U.S. Libertarian Party's 1996 political platform advocated the "the repeal of all laws interfering with the right to commit suicide as infringements of the ultimate right of an individual to his or her own life."[2] That platform's statements on assisted suicide were criticized by Libertarians for Life.[3]

Antony Flew wrote, in reference to the right to life, "surely, as an option right, it must also and necessarily keep open the alternative of suicide, and even of the assisted suicide that is voluntary euthanasia. Nor is it to the point to insist that few if any of the Signers [of the U.S. Declaration of Independence] thought that they were putting their names to a demand for the decriminalization of suicide and assistance to suicide. Maybe they did not, any more than many of them saw that their demands must apply also to women and to blacks. But what these or any other utterances actually imply is determined by their conventional meanings rather than by the fleeting intentions of particular utterers."[4]

According to Thomas Szasz, attempts by the state or by the medical profession to interfere with suicidal behavior are essentially coercive attempts to pathologize morally permissible exercises of individual freedom.[5][6] Walter Block writes that suicide should be legal[7] and points out that other allowable activities, such as smoking cigarettes, are essentially a method of slow suicide.[8] Libertarians have acknowledged that suicide is difficult for the state to prohibit in practice. Ludwig von Mises stated, "In a totalitarian hegemonic society the only freedom that is left to the individual, because it cannot be denied to him, is the freedom to commit suicide."[9] Jacob Appel has criticized the "arbitrary" distinction between allowing physically ill patients to refuse medical care and allowing mentally ill patients to kill themselves.[10]

Cato the Younger, after whom the libertarian Cato Institute was named, committed suicide rather than submit to the rule of Julius Caesar.

Circumstances justifying suicideEdit

Walter Block opines that "suicide is a deplorable act, one not worthy of moral human beings...That is, apart from extenuating circumstances such as continuous excruciating pain, intractable psychological problems, and the like. We have said that the essence of morality is the promotion of the welfare of mankind. In instances such as these, it is conceivable that suicide may be the best way to accomplish this. In any case, the response to these unfortunate people should be to support them, not to punish them. Certainly, the imposition of the death penalty for attempted (failed) suicides-practiced in a bygone era-would be the very opposite of what is required."[7]

Ayn Rand defended suicide as a viable option in her novels, such as when she has John Galt tell Dagny Taggart he will kill himself before allowing the government thugs to torture and kill Dagny. Objectivists have also defended suicide, including assisted suicide, as morally acceptable.[11] Objectivist William Dale argues that it would be appropriate for a person doomed to existence in a totalitarian state to commit suicide: "One must have the ability to act on one's conclusions to have a meaningfully human life. If one is physically prevented from carrying out one's plans, then one is enslaved. If one is enslaved to the point of being unable to act on his judgment at all, one has been reduced to a sub-human existence. This is clearly not a meaningful life. Once again, one would be utterly justified in ending such a life."[12] William Thomas offers a caveat: "To attempt suicide in the vast majority of difficult situations is a betrayal of one's own life and values. One should never consider suicide before one has truly thrown oneself body and soul into the attempt to find a way to live: to escape the concentration camp, to find a cure for one's illness, to stick out a wave of depression, to ignore social pressures, to move to a new place, or to seek a new career."[13]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Feinberg, J. (1978), Voluntary Euthanasia and the Inalienable Right to Life, Philosophy and Public Affairs, pp. 7
  2. 1996 Libertarian Party Platform, LPedia, http://lpedia.org/1996_Libertarian_Party_Platform
  3. Walker, John (1998, 2000), On Assisted Suicide, Libertarians for Life, http://www.l4l.org/library/asstsuic.html
  4. Flew, Antony, Could There Be Universal Natural Rights?, Journal of Libertarian Studies
  5. Szasz, Thomas (2002), Fatal Freedom: The Ethics and Politics of Suicide, Syracuse University Press
  6. Szasz, T. Self-Ownership or Suicide Prevention?, 54, The Freeman, March, 2004, pp. 23–24, http://www.szasz.com/freeman1.html
  7. 7.0 7.1 Block, Walter, Libertarianism and Libertinism, Journal of Libertarian Studies
  8. Jonah Goldberg and the Libertarian Axiom on Non-Aggression, June 28, 2001, http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/block1.html
  9. von Mises, Ludwig, Human Action
  10. Appel, JM. A Suicide Right for the Mentally Ill? A Swiss Case Opens a New Debate, The Hastings Center Report. 2007;37(3):21-23
  11. Bowden, Thomas (June 2, 2004), Assisted Suicide: A Moral Right, The Ayn Rand Institute, http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9654
  12. Dale, William, Suicide and Assisted Suicide, The Atlas Society, http://www.theobjectivistcenter.com/cth--1197-Suicide_and_Assisted_Suicide.aspx
  13. Thomas, William, Suicide, The Atlas Society, http://www.theobjectivistcenter.com/cth--1287-Suicide.aspx

Related articlesEdit

  • Sartorius, R. (1983 Winter), Coercive suicide prevention: a libertarian perspective, 13, Suicide Life Threat Behav., pp. 293–303
  • Brian L. Mishara and David N. Weisstub (January–February 2005), Ethical and legal issues in suicide research, 28, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, pp. 23–41

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