The Unfreedom of Assisted Suicide: How the right to die undermines autonomy

Yuill, Kevin (2015) The Unfreedom of Assisted Suicide: How the right to die undermines autonomy. Ethics, Medicine, and Public Health, 2015 (1). pp. 494-502. ISSN 2352-5525

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Abstract

— There is a broad discussion throughout many countries in the West that will continue
into the foreseeable future about whether or not assisted suicide/dying will increase human
happiness by decreasing suffering. Understandably, many of the articles address the issue from
a medical standpoint but, at the same time, they assume that freedom will increase with
legalization. This article is critical of that assumption and shows that, in fact, the individual
autonomy purportedly increased by assisted suicide will in fact decrease. Much of the antiassisted
suicide/dying literature stresses the danger of legalization to individuals who might be
wrongly put to death. This article stresses the dangers to general freedoms that will accompany
a law that sets objective criteria for suicide, which is a subjective decision. The possibility of
suicide extends subjective freedom and in some ways defines human freedom inherent in the
individual, competent adult. Life, for those who are not slaves, children or incompetent, is
a choice. But laws that make assisting suicide possible undermine freedom by limiting the
‘right to die’ to a small group, segregated from the rest of the moral community by objective
criteria. Legalization will subject the choice to strict criteria and insisting that the decision to
die is validated by the state. The state — rather than the individual — is the ‘final judge’,
to use John Stuart Mill’s term. Institutionalization of assisted suicide, by reducing suicide to
a medical option, separates freedom to terminate one’s own existence from responsibility for
the act. Responsibility is, as Jean-Paul Sartre noted, ‘simply the logical requirement of the
consequences of our freedom’. Without responsibility, we are no longer the authors of our lives
but are subject to forces beyond our control.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Assisted suicide; Assisted dying; Suicide; Euthanasia; Moral responsibility
Subjects: Sciences > Biomedical Sciences
Social Sciences > Health and Social Care
Culture > History and Politics
Law > Law
Culture > Religion and Philosophy
Divisions: Creative and Cultural Practices Beacon > Media and Cultural Studies Workstream
Faculty of Education and Society > Department of Culture
Culture and Regional Studies Beacon
Depositing User: Kevin Yuill
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2016 08:06
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2017 03:22
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/6037

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