Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Who owns YOUR life?

It's a question libertarians pose from time to time, because it is rather fundamental.

It seems silly to most people, for most people consider they are in charge.

Most of the time, in most ways you are.

Indeed, most people in Western liberal democracies accept that adults can choose how they live their lives, in most ways.  That includes freedom of choice of religion (or no religion), and so to live one's life within whatever teachings they wish, as long as it does not involve infringing upon the rights of others.

So why do so many deny voluntary euthanasia?

Is it fear that people will make decisions they will regret?  Well, maybe.  However, surely if a person demands to end his life time and time again, and is absolutely distraught with the indignity and frustration of his life, is the validity of that no longer worth arguing?  Besides.  Who are YOU to say whether someone would regret a decision?  It is, of course, impossible to regret anything when you are dead.

Is it a belief that life is "sacred"? Yes, often.  However, that is a religious belief.  A deeply held one no doubt.  Yet should this apply to the person whose life is actually is?  To whom is it more sacred than the person living the life?  The religious would say "God", but if the person concerned does not believe that, how can this view be forced upon him?

I know religious conservatives have deeply held beliefs, and are not swayed by being confronted by those who want to die, those who have spent months and years day in day out suffering, enduring a life that they despise - in part because, unlike most who seek suicide, they do not have the means to actually end their life painlessly.

However, I'm posting this tragic story because Tony Nicklinson knows only too well who owns his life.  Not him.  

In this interview by the UK's Channel 4 news, he pleads for the right to permit someone else to take his life.  

He has "Locked in Syndrome".  He cannot physically move anything except his eyes.  This man is a father, a husband, once a rugby player, who has had enough after seven years of existing as he does.

Yes, those making such a request should not be those pressured to do so.  Yes those making such a request should not be able to do so on a whim.  Yes those making such a request should have counselling and there be clarity that they are not mentally ill (be careful in how you define that too).  

However, once you get through such safeguards, then get out of the way.

Don't impose your religious beliefs on others.

You do not own their life.

You do not speak for "God" or whatever deity you wish to plead the case for.

Let a peaceful adult who knows what he wants, who declares how much he suffers with his existence, to end his life.

and yes.  This also means opposing the force feeding of an adult with anorexia who wants to die.  The alternative, after all, is the state assaulting an innocent adult.  

You see, those who oppose assisted suicide are not only willing to get in the way of those who haven't the means to take their lives, but also to inflict force upon those who do, as long as the person who does is "ill".  

It comes down to the belief that the state not only should protect people from others, but protect them from themselves - even to use restraint and invasive intimate physical force to do so - even if protection causes them constant and persistent pain and suffering.

Now how can one believe that is right to inflict choices on adults that involve such pain and suffering that if a private citizen initiated it, he or she would face a criminal charge and likely lengthy prison sentence?

Moreover, if you do resist allowing people to take their own lives, when they are consenting intelligent adults, in obvious ongoing chronic distress, why do you think it is your right to do so? 

For if you simply got out of the way, then all these people would be guilty of is offending you and possibly, your conception of a deity.

You do not have a right to not be offended, and certainly you do not have the right to prevent the offence of a deity.

So what would YOU say to Mr Nicklinson as he sits only able to communicate by the movement of his eyeballs, weeping?  If YOU think his life is worth more than he does, what will YOU do to prove it?  Will you spend day after day, week after week, month after month, sitting with him, with his existence, unable to walk, talk, gesticulate, move, manage your ablutions, wash yourself, dress yourself, change the channel on the TV, itch, scratch, hug or kiss your loved ones?   Will you tell him every day as he looks into your eyes that he ought to keep going on like this, whereas those with the physical means can choose to terminate their lives?

Go on - prove your compassion isn't just words.  Share in his life in a way that will make a difference, or leave this peaceful suffering man alone to make his own choices.

He's not asking you to kill him, he's just asking you to let him choose to die when and how he wants.

It's his life, not yours - and as he does not (and cannot) own your life, then stop trying to own his for your conscience or because of your own belief system. 


Richard said...

Excellent post, Scott. Gut wrenching stuff.

For what it's worth, I have a different take on the religious argument.

libertyscott said...

Richard, thanks for that contribution also.

Lucia Maria said...

The problem is, some one has to kill him. In order for him to get what he wants, he demands that another person becomes a murderer for him.

Jeremy Harris said...

I think on abortion, euthanasia, ploygamy and a few others issues is where Libertarianism loses me as a follower.

So - it's the job of the state to protect citizens from the force of other citizens, except when they ask for that force even if it results in their death?

So - it's the job of the state to protect citizens from the force of other citizens, except when that soon to be citizen is in a womb - even after a citizen has made multiple free choices that led to the conception.

It's the job of the state to protect children from the force of adult citizens, except where the damage is caused by citizen's "right" to marry whoever they like?

libertyscott said...

Lucia - Yet is murder not defined by it being an act of aggression, not consented by the recipient? It is not stealing if someone tells me to relieve me of his property. It is not assault if someone tells me to touch him.

It is not murder if I kill someone in my own self defence, nor is it even murder if I kill someone negligently. It isn't murder if the state kills the combatants of another state that is attacking the former's citizens.

That does NOT answer the obvious, clear evidential need to PROVE there is clear, cogent and well considered consent (because killing someone is the absolute finality of an individual). If Mr Nicklinson does not believe it is murder and expresses it clearly in a way that is objectively undeniable, who knows better?

Of course, just because he wants it, does not mean anyone is willing to administer it, or should be expected to. As long as he consents to the person administering it and the means of administering it, having been fully informed of the effects, risks etc, who are you or I to interfere?

libertyscott said...

Jeremy- My point above. If you ask someone to touch you, it is not force. "Asking for that force" is a contradiction. Is going into a boxing ring "asking for that force", or engaging in a rugby game? It is only force if you do not consent. If he asks again and again, agrees expressly to being killed, again and again, agrees at the moment before he is administered what he requests, it is not force.

The abortion example is already qualified by you by stating "soon to be citizen", and "multiple free choices". I presume this means you agree to abortion in the event of rape, in which case you have already circumscribed foetal rights in favour of the rights of the mother not to have a potential life occupy her body. I've written before about abortion, and I know libertarians differ widely on this topic (and understandably so). For me, there should be an objective point during the pregnancy beyond which the foetus gains some rights, because it has acquired an individual identity by the presence of a brain. An anencephalic foetus virtually never does, for example.

Your final example is bewildering, as I've not noticed a libertarian recently advocate child marriage. If you're claiming that a same-sex couple marrying initiates force against a child, presumably adopted with the consent of the biological parents, then you can argue the same for all adoption and all fostering. Or are you claiming that if parents divorce and one parent marries a same sex partner, this inflicts "force" on a child?

Jeremy Harris said...

I've re-read my comment and it wasn't clear, my apologies.

Firstly I think there is a massive difference between force in sports and force that deliberately results in the ending of a life and you'd be hard pressed to name a jurdistiction that didn't make a massive distinction. You'll notice that in cases of self defence, war or relatiation to acts of war, people are reacting to aggression. In the case you cite, this poor man is asking someone to intiate an act of aggression against him, making someone else the taker of innocent life who did not intiate force against them. If your argument is force is force, it matters not the amount of whether it results in death, then we'll continue to disagree methinks.

On abortion, I must admit I was under the impression you were an objectivist and in my experience they have always been in favour of abortion. The only choice to me that matters is that the person choose to have sex knowing that it could result in pregnancy, secondary choices were the omission of using contraceptives and the option of adoption. But the choice to have sex to me abrogates the right to terminate an innocent life, whether that life in in utero or not.

My last point was very unclear, sorry for wasting your time. I was referring to polygamy but could just as easily have been talking about same sex marriage. From the studies I've read it is abundantly clear that children do best, on average, when they are raised in a home with two stable, married heterosexual parents who remain married for life. Obviously in the case of humanity this is never going to be uniform but why codify anything less than the ideal? Especially when there is no "right to marry". People should be free to couple however they want, not be criminalised for sexual acts that are voluntary and between adults but why should the state codify anything less than that which will actually progress society?

libertyscott said...

Jeremy - Yes there is a difference, in degree. However, there are other parallels, such as donating a kidney, which does impose a cost and risks that are a closer parallel. Asking someone to initiate surgery on you in such a manner would be "aggression" by your definition.

Of course aggression does not exist when someone consents to being touched. It's a complete misnomer, it is like saying a woman is raped if she lies still and asks a man to copulate with her. Indeed if it were a woman with his condition that requested that, would you deem it aggression?

Quite simply it is NOT force. EVERYTHING done to keep this man alive is "force" by your corruption of the word.

So that argument fails, all that is left is that you think that his life has "value" above that which he considers, so you will use the criminal law to obstruct his wish around his life.

You are, in effect, claiming you (and those who agree with you, and the state) own his life.

Think about that.

On abortion, you've still not answered my previous point. Implicit in your view is that rape victims can abort. Anti-abortion fundamentalists would disagree with you and say it is an innocent life. How do you reconcile those positions? Is the foetus "aggressive" (when it clearly is beyond having intent) in that case?
Bear in mind I am far from saying women who have been raped should be denied abortion - for my view is entirely about when rights are granted to the foetus - I don't grant them to fertilised eggs or an embryo.

Well polygamy I think is fine - legally - as long as they are all adults and all consent to the additional spouses. Not the state's business if a bunch of adults want to enter into such a contractual arrangement. The state hasn't a role regarding children unless they are subjected to abuse.

I don't disagree with your view on the raising of children, at all. I'd argue that myself. The point is, why codify any of it? Let marriage be a contract between adults, if they want a religious dimension let them pursue that. Let marriage contracts be a standard default (and all past ones get taken forward according to the law as it was at the time of the marriage), but allow them to be varied by any manner that is consistent with criminal, tort and contract law.

I don't want the state stopping same sex marriages, but I also don't want it telling churches that it has to have anything to do with them.

Jeremy Harris said...

I used the term agression because of the intent, which you seem to have indicated you understood in your point on abortion. A surgeon does not intend to kill the patient even when taking their kidney, the man and woman having consenual sex are not trying to kill each other. The law in most jurisdictions recognise the large differences between actions that result in death or not. The finality of death changes the scope of the argument, from one of consenting "touch" into force resulting in death. I also think whether you're a theist ot naturalist, your differing worldview will change your view of the argument and asking theists to essentially butt out, to theists it seems to be asking them to concede their beliefs. It's not about seperating church and state but about core beliefs on the intrinsic value (or lack of it) of life.

I think we will not come to argeement on this. I do reject the notion that I believe I own other's lives.

I've never thought deeply about rape victims and abortion, I was under the impression they are rare cases. Honestly I'll have to go away and read a number of opinions and consider. Which will be a sad but worthwhile thing to do.

I find your position on abortion interesting as it is essentially time based, when does the foetus acheive individuality? A brain? How developed a brain? When it can survive outside the womb? I don't believe that can work as each case will be different as the individual being formed. I also find it nonsensical as the events of today run into tomorrow, conception leads to an individual if uninterrupted (usually). For me the mother made numerous choices and must bear the personal responsibility of those choices.

On marriage I've argued something similar myself, that marriage has existed for at least 4,000 years, thousands of them uncodified. However it sadly is irrelevant in our current political climate, in the same way I argue for unrestrained free market capitalism, both examples are largely irrelevant in the current paradigm and so one must argue on what is currently being proposed.

libertyscott said...

I understand the difference death makes, given its finality. Indeed, it is more final for atheists than theists!

For theists I want one thing around this case. Don't use force. Yes, you have a chance to express yourself in opposition and attempt to convince the man in question of a different point of view.

However, when it comes down to it it shouldn't be up to you whether his life is terminated or not BY HIS CHOICE.

It is conceivable that technology could enable a device to be developed that allows him to trigger it by blinking an eye and deliver a fatal dose of a pathogen. It could be set up and he would have the binary choice of inducing it or requesting it be removed. This was Jack Kevorkian's way of addressing the issue.

Would you want the law stepping in then?

If the holder of life does not see intrinsic value to it, because by its very nature it causes him agony and distress, day in day out (right now in fact), who are you to deem it does?

THAT is why I claim that those who hold your position are seeking to own his life - you want a man who is suffering to be denied his last request, because it makes YOU feel uncomfortable. Your feelings should be irrelevant, it isn't your life.

On abortion, I don't have a firm view on individuality (time wise), but yes I believe it is when the brain commences functioning. Beyond that, I think the threshold for allowing abortion should no longer be the mother's sole choice, but that there needs to be an sufficient reason related to the health of the mother.

Many conceptions are not viable, but the rape example is aligned with others, such as the underage mother (she is, by law, deemed to be incapable of consenting), incest (which may be of age and consensual), and how about the "Unlikely to be viable" and severely malformed foetuses? Should a woman be expected to carry to term an anencephalic foetus?

Yes so we agree on marriage. In which case, removing the legal restriction on a couple being two men or two women is hardly going against that position is it?

Jeremy Harris said...

Ha ha Scott you are relentless.

If such a machine is made the debate becomes irrelevant, it becomes a debate about suicide. Which, of course, is illegal but hardly matters when the offender/victim is gone.

C S Lewis said that throughout the ages wherever there have been thinking men there have been theists and naturalists. The theist rejects relativism and subjective moral value and says that there is an objective moral value and that euthanasia breaks it. Asking a theist to stand back and allow such an action to become legal is asking them to accept a regression in the progress of society. It's not about ownership or freedom but about core belief.

Again I take your point and I hope you can see mine but I can't agree.

You raise good cases for me to reflect on abortion, at first glance common sense can deal with cases where the fetus is unviable and the mother may be in danger.

I'd agree with the state butting out and the nutty Anglicans et al marrying whoever they want and the old definition of marriage being applicable. However that isn't a viable option right now. Marriage is a blatantly heterosexual institution, the children raised within do better and since marriage is a want, not a reason based right and consenting adults have a new institution to adjoin themselves legally in civil unions, I see no good evidence to change anything.

libertyscott said...

Jeremy - Oh it's fun and you're smart and I like being tested. Suicide isn't illegal in NZ, and nor should it be. Imagine convicting people who tried to end their lives, how cruel is that? The issue is convicting those who assist others.

The theist is a catch all for people who hold vast ranges of subjective beliefs including those who believe in suicide bombings. However, I take your point.

All I care about is theists getting in the way of atheists who want to take the most fundamental control of their lives - which is how to end it.

I know it is a core belief for many to oppose that, but it IS an act of interference in the life of another - and of course I do not expect you to agree, but I am vehement about this. Offending the belief of another is nothing compared to perpetuating the cruel denial of a man's final wishes - especially since I never see the anti-voluntary euthanasia lobby out hunting for people trying to kill themselves who CAN do so.

Well "common sense" doesn't exist in terms of law, and yes I find abortion a tricky issue too. I've held a number of views over the years.

I'm curious that you call marriage a "want" not a "right". Not quite sure how you reconcile the state butting out of this area but not wanting it to remove one restriction.

Anyway, I've enjoyed this debate, I understand your position, but it can't sway me. It is still his life not yours or mine.

Jeremy Harris said...

Thanks Scott, debating you is challenging.

You're right it is suicide pacts that are illegal not suicide itself - it's been a while since I've read the Crimes Act.

Have you considered how the State is influencing euthanasia? In Oregon the state will subsidies your euthanasia procedure, in some cases, but not the corresponding medical procedure.

You don't accept that by taking this step people, especially elderly people in a loving family situation whose care is costing a fortune are going to feel pressure, if even self applied, to take this option even when they really don't want to?

I simply mean it's not a universal right your born with. It's a want and a want millions of heterosexual people are never going to fulfill.

I reconcile them by viewing things, through my "perfect world" filter and my "real life busy body" filter.