Party or die? Neither, thanks.

Last week campaigners went to court, man, they didn’t wanna go on living. They asked the judges, “Please”, but they still said, “No”. Man, being terminally ill and/or paralysed is such a drag! And now the court has thrown out the best case the campaigners had. But they shouldn’t fight… for the “right… to die”. Rather, they should fight for the freedom to voluntarily enter into contracts.

Just like the right to party, the right to die is constantly being fought for. And just like the right to party, the right to die is ridiculous, unjust, and illiberal. Sadly, there is a good deal of support for it, and the typical objections (pressure being put on those who feel they are a burden on their relations; thin end of the wedge/slippery slope arguments; the innate value/sanctity of human life) while not being completely without merit, do completely miss the point.

A while back the phrase “rights imply responsibilities” (or variations on it) became commonplace. However, this perfectly good cliché was taken, by Right-wingers especially, to mean that if you  – meaning, presumably, foreigners, layabouts and ragamuffins – want to be treated decently then you must “play by the rules”. But this is far too vague. Rights and responsibilities (better, obligations or duties) are two terms describing the same relation: if I have the right to do X, you have the responsibility not to interfere with my doing X; or if I am unable to perform X by myself someone must do it for me.

Put simply, if I have the “right to die” and am unwilling or unable to kill myself, someone must kill me, and, should that person be unwilling to do me in, they must be forced to kill me. The “right to die” means the “obligation to kill”. But where does such an obligation come from? There is no contract between me and literally everyone else that says at least one of you must kill me if I so wish – and, if there is a “right to die”, everyone must have just such a contract with literally everyone else.

Obviously sympathy goes a long way towards explaining the popularity of “the right to die”. No one likes to see people suffer for years with illness when they would rather just get it over and done with. And, undoubtedly, opposing the “right to die” will seem, to some at least, incredibly heartless. Fortunately there is a solution which is both humane and distinctively human: let people contract to be killed. Repeal the stupid law against suicide. If a man wants to kill himself, let him kill himself – whose business is it but his? And if he cannot kill himself, for whatever reason, let him arrange with another to kill him on a contractual basis. Money need not change hands, an agreement is enough. Let wives put pillows over their husbands faces if they both agree this is what they want; let friends help their friends die; let doctors give their patients a peaceful death. Just don’t, whatever you do, call for the State to give itself the power to force people to kill one another.

  29 comments for “Party or die? Neither, thanks.

  1. Jun 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I agree with the point you make that a “right” to assisted suicide equals an obligation on someone else to kill, which is untenable, but I cannot see how your solution via contracts would solve the fundamental problem, that killing someone is a crime, unless done in self-defence. This is the case, even when the person in question wishes to die.

    The last time I thought about this, my view was this:

    • Jun 30, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Cigarettes are pretty harmful, Richard. Deadly, even. And if harming someone even with their permission is a crime, then selling fags is a crime. The same – sadly – must be true of any number of “harmful” things, of course.

      ‘Nanny state libertarianism’ does have a nice ring to it, though.

      • Jun 30, 2014 at 9:32 pm

        That’s a false analogy on a number of levels. My position has nothing to do with “nanny state libertarianism”, but rather natural rights and the inalienability of the will.

        Firstly, life is, in my view, an inalienable property, and thus cannot be bought, sold or given away. The person who contracts to kill someone is taking a life which does not and cannot belong to them. Therefore it is manslaughter. Aside from that, no matter what contract is signed, the question of consent can only apply at the moment of the act. If I contracted for my death, and then changed my mind at the last minute, killing me would be murder, notwithstanding a piece of paper stating my consent. As such, whether a killing be ‘legitimate’ or in fact murder cannot be established prior to the killing taking place, which means that some kind of investigation will be necessary after the fact, to ascertain whether a crime has been committed, a crime where the victim, if such is the case, is not able to speak for himself. I would prefer such matters to be handled by a jury, rather than a panel of experts, so I would rather keep the law as it is. Given the attitude of the public, which apparently is sympathetic to assisted suicide, convictions would be very rare.

        • Jun 30, 2014 at 11:03 pm

          It’s a perfectly good analogy, Richard. If the idea is that, for whatever reason, a man cannot “really” consent to be harmed, then anything that harms him is a crime. Smoking harms, therefore supplying cigarettes is a crime. As is boxing; any number of S&M practices; making spicy food for someone with an ulcer, etc etc etc.

          re: consent at the time an act takes place, this is somewhat problematic. Unless we’re all walking round chanting “I consent to this, I consent to this”, like some lawyers version of Kabaddi, then almost everything must become a police matter. Or how about this. What if I’d bet you Algeria would beat Germany, and when you came to collect your money I’d shouted “Stop thief! You’re taking my money at this moment in time, and, at this moment in time I most certainly do not consent to this!” You’d be buggered.

          • Jul 1, 2014 at 10:21 am

            ” If the idea is that, for whatever reason, a man cannot “really” consent to be harmed, then anything that harms him is a crime. ”

            That is not the argument, and if it were, indeed, the law would overthrow all sense of individual responsibility. In order to make your case you are creating a vast category of acts including those done by individuals to themselves which may be harmful to themselves, acts done by one individual on another which may be harmful to the latter, and acts done by one individual to another where the intention is to kill. This last category must be considered separately, as it is significantly different.

            “Unless we’re all walking round chanting “I consent to this, I consent to this”, like some lawyers version of Kabaddi, then almost everything must become a police matter.”

            If you consider the laws against rape, you will see that it is only consent at the time that matters, notwithstanding the difficulties in prosecuting such cases.

            Furthermore in the case we are discussing there is an important difference, namely that sex is not a crime, but the taking of life is indeed a crime. Whereas with rape, the prosecution must prove there was no consent, the default being no crime has been committed. In the case of manslaughter, the defence must – in your scenario – prove that there was consent, thus the default is a crime has been committed, and the victim is not around to give evidence one way or the other.

            As for your betting analogy, this is a poor example I fear, as betting debts are considered mere “gentlemen’s agreements” and cannot be enforced via the courts. But of course, if two parties engage in a contract for the transfer of property and one party then denies the contract exists and calls the other a thief, the law would be involved, as one party is accusing the other of a crime.

            On a practical point, having the contracts as you suggest will not stop the need for some kind of investigation.

            • Jul 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

              There is not a significant difference, Richard. In each of those categories there are only mutually beneficial exchanges voluntarily entered into. Which is to say, there are no categories.

              Rape is, by definition, non-consensual sex. Hence, a crime. Consensual killings are, by definition, consensual killings. Hence, not a crime.

              “… if two parties engage in a contract for the transfer of property and one party then denies the contract exists and calls the other a thief, the law would be involved, as one party is accusing the other of a crime.”

              But surely “the law” wouldn’t waste its time with such nonsense, if it’s only consent at the time that an act (in this case the act of paying a debt) takes place that matters?

            • Jul 1, 2014 at 6:28 pm

              “But surely “the law” wouldn’t waste its time with such nonsense, if it’s only consent at the time that an act (in this case the act of paying a debt) takes place that matters?”

              This indicates your failure to distinguish between alienable and inalienable. If you buy my car, and I accept payment and then refuse to hand over the car to you, then I am unjustly withholding from you something which has become your property. It no longer matters if I change my mind about the deal, the deal has been done. The question for the law is “whose car is it?”

              This cannot be the case where we are dealing with matters of the will, as would be the case with your suggested contract. I cannot hand over via a contract my ‘right’ to commit suicide. You have no legal means of acquiring such a property in me. You may perhaps incur a moral obligation to kill me, but no property right in me. As above, the question for the law is “whose life is it?” and it cannot be transferred from one to another.

            • Jul 1, 2014 at 7:22 pm

              But we’re not dealing with matters of the will. We’re dealing with matters of the body. Inalienability of the will is irrelevant (even granting it exists).

              I think you’re taking this “taking a life” stuff far too literally – or, simply, literally. Killing someone doesn’t involve a transfer of anything. There’s no “right” to commit suicide, nor does there need to be.

            • Jul 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

              The will is most certainly involved, because this is where consent, if there be any, comes from, and in the case of your contract, the question it attempts to answer is; was there consent to the killing? What I am saying is (amongst other things) that this contract cannot answer the relevant question, which is; was there consent at the time of the killing? Consent at the time of agreeing the contract would not finally answer this (although it would speak in its favour). This is similar to cases alleging date rape. Your contract is equivalent to a woman agreeing to go back to a man’s flat for coffee, which does not in itself signify the woman agrees to sexual intercourse, nor remove her liberty to agree or not agree (i.e. her individual will) when the matter arises.

              “Killing someone doesn’t involve a transfer of anything.”

              It does, but the transfer is inherently invalid.

              To kill a man is to destroy whatever property he has in himself. This property cannot be transferred to anyone else, so the contract killer is taking and destroying someone else’s property. The key problem is not with the person seeking to die, but rather with the contract killer, who has no lawful right to kill the death-seeker, because to take and destroy someone else’s property is a crime, and the property here involved cannot be transferred.

              (I think we have entered the trench warfare phase of this fight!)

            • Jul 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm

              So, consent at the time of the killing is to all intents and purposes impossible because of “inalienability”. Killing is destroying property, which is a crime, and all crimes must be punished. No contract can transfer a “right” to take and destroy someones “inalienable” property.

              If this is true of destroying property, surely it must be true of damaging property. How can my “right” to damage myself be transfered to another if its (qua aspect of my very being) inalienable?

              In other words, why not nanny state libertarianism?

            • Jul 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

              “If this is true of destroying property, surely it must be true of damaging property.”

              I think you are misled by the word “property”, to think in this instance it means the physical body and this only, but the will, the cognito ergo sum etc, which is not physically visible, but is seen in the actions of the body, this is what is most fundamentally inalienable. Destroying the body does of course destroy also the will, but all manner of things which harm or have the potential to harm the body do not do this. Furthermore, if I smoke a cigarette or get in the boxing ring, although both actions may harm my body, this is not the motivation, but rather an unfortunate possible side-effect to be weighed with possible, real or intangible benefits (e.g. the pleasure of smoking a fag, the enjoyment of boxing etc), so it is not the same as suicide or assisted suicide,

              Considering a more unlikely example; imagine someone comes to you wanting you to stab him in the arm, because for whatever reason, he wants to experience what it’s like. Even though you can rightly claim it’s nothing but a consensual act, you would still be wise to decline. Something may go wrong and more harm caused than was intended. He may decide to lie and accuse you of harming him without any consent or others may deem his consent to be absent, the unnaturalness of the request being evidence of an unsound mind.

              This example is mainly to differentiate between act which are intended to harm and those for which harm is a potential side-effect but not the driving motivation.

              As for nanny-statism, by which the state prohibits the individual from doing certain things with his own body for the individual’s own good, nothing I have said justifies such a thing. What I am denying is that someone can kill somebody else and escape a charge of manslaughter by waving a piece of paper saying that the person consented.

            • Jul 2, 2014 at 2:51 pm

              So does the will own the body, or does the body own the will? Or does the will own itself and the body? Or vice versa? (I’m presuming, of course, that “the will” is a real thing independent of the body, and not simply identical with the body such that ‘damages the will’ is synonymous with ‘damages the body’, and ‘restricts the will’ is synonymous with ‘restricts the body’ etc.)

  2. Tim Carpenter
    Jul 1, 2014 at 10:21 am

    The very phrase “right to die” concedes that another has the power to grant such a right, which means one has, in turn, conceded personal sovereignty. One becomes livestock requesting not to be milked any longer, but to allow the vet to be called. Pretty please. With sugar on top.

    Wishing to end ones life and to relieve friends and relatives from the pain of investigation could be a more positive role of the courts by lodging an intention to die.

    IMHO, the role of courts/coroners would be to ensure that there was no foul play, and to visibly and firmly punish those who murder.

  3. Ayumi
    Jul 1, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Mmmm. I’m trying to figure this out. I never consented to LIFE, see. It was given it to me. Given by what entity, if any, i.e. if you believe in God or not, doesn’t matter. My life is something that was given to me without my consent.
    Can I kill myself if I wanted to? Mmm. I can damage it as much as I want, heck, even eating cake, running too much, everything entropies, everything leads to death. But Death, it’s a definite thing, there’s on chance for change, ever, not like smoking or drinking or drugs.

    I think Richard’s right in that life is inalienable. You got it, you can’t trade it, you can’t give it away.

    I think both Suicide AND assisted suicide ought to be considered as man slaughter, and be punished as such. (You can’t punish a dead man, but it would justify a discrepancy in law).

    • Jul 1, 2014 at 7:32 pm

      Ayumi, life is incredibly alienable. People kill them themselves all the time.

      Regarding life being given to you without your consent, this is hardly grounds for an obligation. If I – out of the blue ( and because I’m quite the gentleman) – give you some flowers, does that mean you’re obligated to keep those flowers alive as long as possible? No, of course not. And things are no different here.

      • Ayumi
        Jul 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm

        Life shouldn’t be alienable. It’s a stubborn gut feeling. Its wrong. It goes against instinct. A matter of life and death goes beyond political philosophy.

        “Natural law” and “unalienable rights”, they refer to things that are beyond societal matters, beyond legislation and laws and rules. “Right to life” is inalienable. You got it, you can’t transfer it, and it doesn’t come with a “shut down” button.

        People kill themselves all the time, but they shouldn’t. No sane person – even when the person is suffering a horrendous sickness, even when that person is relieved from pain via death, – would not feel a sense of revulsion, blood running the wrong direction, that tells you it’s wrong. Suffering and pain sucks, death is easier, people do it, but that doesn’t make suicide okay.

        Sick and suffering people say “healthy people can kill themselves, why can’t I?” My answer to that would be suicide and assisted suicide are both manslaughter. Do it if you want, but know the consequences.

        I’m going a bit off topic here, but here’s an anecdote:

        Back in the days in Japan, a man committed homicide. The judge (not sure what era this was, could be a shogun) ordered the criminal to go to a monastery and learn the value of life, and when he had learnt it, come back to him. So the criminal went and did his thing at the monastery and repented and cried and talked about the profoundness of life. The judge / shogun nodded his head, said good, and ordered him killed. THAT’s eye for an eye.

        • Jul 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm

          Well if that’s how you feel, Ayumi, I won’t argue with you. 🙂

        • Tim Carpenter
          Jul 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

          Did the state grant the life? No*. Therefore, how could it be the body to stand in judgement over it being thrown away? Surely the owner could, or those that bestowed it.

          Life is, surely, homesteaded. We make what we can or chose to make of it. If it was not the purpose of life, just as a field was not there to be farmed, that does not alter the fact. If someone homesteads their own life, who has the greatest claim upon it?

          * although some would now argue it has a massive claim due to skoolzannosbittles.

          • Ayumi
            Jul 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm

            True. So then, do I have to bring in God? I was trying to make an argument without brining it in, but I guess my argument doesn’t stand if I don’t mention god.

            The concept of god and belief in it, is a powerful force to unite a nation, as well as to keep a “state” from gaining too much power. For example the US constitution states “one nation under God”, where the state is still subjected to the laws of God.

            I’m saying that suicide goes against the laws of God.

            In the religious sense (Christian, American Indian), we’ve “borrowed” this life on earth. We homestead our body, make our life ours, but after death, it goes back where it came from.

            That’s why Libertarianism works so well from a religious point of view. Every individual has a contract with God; the state has no right to intervene in it. That’s what gave rise to protestants.
            That’s why the communists persecute religions. In their view, the state granted life, and the state could take it away.

            Another word for “inalienable rights” is “god given rights”. So I guess I can’t argue without bringing it up.

            I wonder, is there’s a need for Libertarian atheists, to define where we get “inalienable rights”, such as “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” if not from god then, from where?

            • Jul 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm

              Objectively we have such a thing as furniture. Objectively we have such a thing as rights.

            • Ayumi
              Jul 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm

              Simon, interesting. See you at the meeting. I’ll catch you then if I can.

            • Tim Carpenter
              Jul 6, 2014 at 3:59 am

              It may go against the laws of god for you, but you are in no position to project that upon others.

              You believe suicide is against the laws of god? Then feel free not to commit it yourself. That is as far as it goes.

              The problem with god is that it just has to drag in that pesky thing called “Religion”. For, when people talk of god, that is usually what they really mean, and an interpretation thereof. THEIR interpretation.

              The problem with introducing a “contract with god” is who defines god and who defines the contract? Oh, wait…quasi state organisations called Religions. No thanks.

              Not content with temporal authority, a religion grants itself the spiritual and divine as well. It is totalitarianism on steroids.

              As for rights, the very term drags in such concepts as “being granted”. I prefer to look at it in the way that others do not have the right/authority to do X.

              So, one does not have a “right to life”, which basically throws out all manner of obligations upon others – very un-Libertarian IMHO – but that nobody has the right to end your life. That is very simple. It requires no granting authority. It denies authority of one over another and reaffirms personal sovereignty.

              Of course, one can then discuss how one enforces such, but that issue applies to anything, and is not unique to this case.

              So, nobody has the right to take the life of another, neither does one have the right to prevent another taking their own.

              So, the question really should be: where does one think one gets the authority to prevent another taking their own life?

              In all cases, I am talking about sovereign individuals.

  4. Jul 6, 2014 at 11:40 am

    @ Tim,

    “So, nobody has the right to take the life of another …”

    This rules out assisted suicide, no?

    “, neither does one have the right to prevent another taking their own.”

    The level of theory is one thing, but there is also the matter of justice. It may be that one does not have the right to prevent someone committing suicide, but what if someone does it anyway?

    If someone tries to prevent someone else from dying, who has already, e.g. taken an overdose, there may be no way of saying whether that would-be suicidee still wants to die, or has not perhaps had second thoughts as death comes closer, and secondly, even if the ‘good samaritan’ has infringed the rights of the death-seeker by trying to prevent the latter’s death, what would be a suitable punishment or recompense to the ‘victim’? What would be justice in such a case? It would be hard to establish mens rea, I would think. Perhaps a fine not exceeding one shilling would be appropriate.

  5. Aug 20, 2014 at 7:59 am

    This is something I’m always interested in so I’m going to come back and read what looks like an interesting exchange later when I have more time.

    However… I’ll just add for now (assuming no one else already has) that wishing to die does not necessarily mean that you wish someone to actively “kill” you.

    Being deprived of food, water and any medications that may be sustaining your life does the trick, too.

    What you are saying is that I don’t want anyone to do anything AT ALL for me once I reach a certain stage.

    • Aug 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Back from the dead, Anthem! Very good!

      • Aug 21, 2014 at 11:40 pm

        Not dead, my friend. Merely getting on with trying to make a living in this mad, mad world! 🙂

        Great to see you so active on here, on your own blog and on the (sadly seemingly defunct) Bogpaper blog.

        I still haven’t gotten around to reading the above discussion but I will add to my earlier point again here.

        In a previous life, I was a Registered Nurse. For much of my career, I worked in Nursing Homes.

        During my time in nursing homes, I came across many people (and not just elderly people – in one home I worked in, we could take in young adults with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, young people who had suffered brain injuries etc who would come into us for Respite Care – that is, respite for the families who were caring for them 24/7).


        I would look after people who had once been construction workers – big, strapping men even in their 70s and 80s, people who had been bank managers, people who had been nurses themselves and other professions such as teachers.

        There is nothing as heart-breaking as to watch people like this sit there staring into space with seemingly no clue as to what day it is.

        The big, strapping ex-engineer who now sits smiling vacantly at nothing in particular, who is unable to speak due to the stroke that cost him the use of the entire left side of his body, his ability to speak and his ability to swallow anything that isn’t thickened to the consistency of mousse. Having a luke-warm cup of tea fed to you with a spoon must be a great treat…

        Their relatives would come into visit and sit saying next to nothing because there is no point, their loved one elicits no response – they don’t even seem to know who is talking to them.

        There is nothing worse than being called into the day-room by a visiting relative because one of the residents has pulled down his trousers and is walking with faeces-covered legs through the room. We tried our best but with 20 residents and 4 staff, we couldn’t be in two places at once.

        I looked after one woman who had to be fed via a tube which went straight into her stomach, had a tracheostomy which needed suctioning every few hours lest she aspirate on her own secretions, had a catheter to drain away her urine, needed to be turned every two hours lest she develop bed-sores and had to have her “incontinence pad” (read: nappy) changed every time she had a bowel movement.

        She had no life that could be discerned. She couldn’t talk, anything said to her was met with no reaction. She couldn’t do anything at all for herself.

        She obviously couldn’t read or anything so we left the TV on in her room but we couldn’t tell if she was aware of it and, if she was, we had no idea if she approved of our choice of programme we left on for her… she certainly couldn’t change it if she didn’t.

        It just wasn’t my idea of “life”.

        The talk about euthanasia is, I feel, quite exaggerated.

        We talk about people being “bumped off” in order to allow relatives to get their grubby mitts on their inheritance before it is wiped out by the cost of nursing home fees etc but it really doesn’t need to come to that.

        When you are being kept alive by a tube in your stomach, by a saline drip into your vein and a multitude of medications being given intra-venously (because you can no longer swallow without aspirating) then we are talking about you being kept alive “falsely”.

        Doing any of these invasive procedures must surely require my consent?

        If I don’t consent to them then please respect my wishes and my body and don’t do them! In any other context, sticking stuff into people’s bodies is classed as assault.

        The problem is that to withdraw such things will surely lead to my death but it will likely be a long (ish – say a day or two), drawn-out and probably painful death (still – rather that than a long, drawn-out and painful existence without any of the joys of living) and we humans, being capable of compassion, don’t like to see a fellow human suffering – we don’t even like to see our pets suffer.

        So… if I’m going to die anyway then swap those “life-saving” (existence-prolonging) IV meds for something that can be administered intravenously that will end it quickly and efficiently for me. Honestly, I would thank you for it, if I could.

        (Incidentally… prior to all the Harold Shipman stuff… this was kind of done “unofficially”… if a person was in the very last stages of (say) terminal cancer, the person would often be given diamorphine which is a powerful analgesic. The drug was ostensibly given to alleviate the pain – which it did. However, one major side-effect of the drug is that it lowers respiratory rate and when you lower the respiratory rate to the point where it stops… guess what happens? It was, in a way, euthanasia and I never met a doctor or nurse who disagreed with it – it was just the humane thing to do.)

        If you don’t agree with any of the above… fine. It’s your life. I just don’t see how anyone else should have the right to decide for another that they cannot do the above if they have arrived at the stage where their life is “falsely” sustained and are not able to communicate contrary to any previously written wishes.

        • Aug 22, 2014 at 12:09 am

          I entirely agree. I simply cannot understand this idea that everyone must go on living for as long as possible, regardless of the quality of that life (according to their own assessment). My only objection is to the idea that it’s a “right”, which means someone (anyone) else has the obligation, ie, can be forced, to kill. Much better, and more accurate, to say everyone is free to kill themselves or arrange for someone else to kill them.

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