Think piece: Liberty and assisted suicide


deathShould libertarians support assisted suicide? Or is the question akin to Locke's consideration of legalized slavery? Henry Oliver weighs the debate and argues that freedom over ones body is intrinsically linked to the freedom to die.

This week the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia has come up again. In one case a woman in a coma who had signed a living will asking to be taken off her life support. The court has allowed this. In another case, M is not in a Permanent Vegetative State (PVS), but in a Minimally Conscious State (MCS). The dilemma here is that she is conscious and reacts to stimuli to the extent that she cries when listening to music; but she cannot actually communicate. The reason for the application is: “she would never want to live a life dependent on others, even if she retained her mental facilities”. Is this assisted suicide or murder, and should liberals want this legalised?

At first glance it would seem that, as is so often the case, JS Mill has the answer:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant…Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

However, Locke says something similar, about our bodies being our property, but denies us the right to sell ourselves into slavery. Mill too denies the right to servitude.

Can the sovereignty of our own bodies extend to the right to suicide, and if so then on to assisted suicide? [Continue reading]