To celebrate suicide prevention week, advocates of doctor-assisted suicide rammed a bill through the California legislature that they had been unable to pass previously.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not said whether or not he will sign the bill, criticized the surprise tactics used by those in the legislature.
You can use this web page to give him your views on the matter.
Since the topic is in the news again, I thought I'd present part of an online debate/discussion I had back in May with Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert.
You can read the full exchange on my personal website, but here are a couple of excerpts.
First, here's a rather pointed challenge and my reply:
Q: Explain how the common good is achieved by making my grandmother suffer, against her will, for an extra month before death.
A: I’m not in favor of making your grandmother suffer, against her will or otherwise.
I’m in favor of getting your grandmother the pain relief she needs in her last month of life. That will make things better for her.
Which would you prefer: A grandmother who is suffering so much that she wants to kill herself? Or a grandmother who is getting enough pain relief that she doesn’t want to kill herself?
Which situation better promotes the dignity of your grandmother?
I know what I’d want for my grandmother.
Here's part of my reply to the question of how physician-assisted suicide harms the common good:
In the first place, it involves a violation of the innate human dignity of the individuals who commit suicide.
This may not be obvious to everyone today. Our culture has been affected by a view that downplays or rejects the dignity of human beings. Sometimes we are considered merely collections of chemicals (“ugly bags of mostly water”) that have no intrinsic dignity.
The historic view, of course, is that we do possess innate dignity. Our present purposes do not require us to determine whether this dignity is the product of a soul or an emergent property of a complex physical system. The important thing is that the dignity is real, and so it has consequences for how people must be treated.
Ultimately, one must make a choice between the two views. We’re either ugly bags of mostly water or we’re human beings with intrinsic dignity.
If the former view is chosen, then it abolishes all moral values. Objectively speaking, we would have no dignity, no rights, and it would be no more immoral to kill a human being than it would be to pop a water balloon. On this view, our lives are meaningless, and so is the debate over physician-assisted suicide. There is no right or wrong on this issue, because there is no right or wrong to begin with, and life and death mean nothing.
If the latter view is chosen, then human beings require respect that water balloons do not. By virtue of their intrinsic dignity, their lives mean something, and they must be respected. It becomes wrong to kill an innocent human being.
That applies to all innocent human beings, regardless of how close or far they are from their natural deaths. Just because you are older or in poorer health doesn’t mean that you have any less a right to life. You still have your innate human dignity, and so your life must still be respected.
The fact that we have intrinsic dignity has implications for our behavior toward ourselves. Just as we must respect the dignity that others have, we must respect our own dignity. This is the just love of self. It is the basis of the universal ethic of reciprocity: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Yet we can fail to show ourselves this love. It is possible to disrespect ourselves, to debase ourselves, to degrade ourselves. All of these are ways of failing to show ourselves the love and respect that we deserve on account of our innate dignity. When we do these things, people may say, “Show yourself some respect. That’s unworthy of you. Don’t settle for this. You deserve better than that.”
This principle, combined with the former one, leads to the conclusion that we need to respect our own lives, and thus in every human society, both historically and today, there is a stigma against suicide—a recognition that when suicide occurs, something is wrong, something bad has happened.
This applies when a person in good health is tempted to commit suicide, and it applies when a person in poor health is tempted to do so.
A person killing himself is not a desirable outcome. The innate human dignity that we possess demands that we seek another solution, such as treating the cause of the situation.
If a person has a disease that is causing the person physical or psychological pain that makes them want to commit suicide, then the thing to do is not to get a doctor to help them commit suicide. The thing to do is to treat the causes of their situation.
Either the pain that is causing their desire to die should be treated or—better yet—the underlying condition causing this anguish should be treated.
Given the limitations of medical science at any particular time, the latter may or may not be possible, but we have arrived at a point where we have effective pain management (see below). There may be various barriers preventing it from being used in particular cases, but there again the solution is to remove the barriers, not kill the patient.
Helping patients find the relief they need better corresponds to the requirements of human dignity than helping them kill themselves. The common good is thus promoted on the individual level by helping the patient find relief.
This is just part of the answer, so be sure to get the full story.
By the way, I'd like to thank Scott Adams for a cordial and informative discussion!
Also, here is Scott's response to my answers.