Protesters against decriminalisation of euthanasia in front of the Portuguese parliament. | Photo Credit: Patricia De Melo Moreira, NBC news, getty images

Why Should the Right to Die Be Respected as Much as the Right to Live?

When someone dies a “hero”, the individual is usually held in high regards by society. When one decides to determine their time of death with their own hands, they are instead frowned upon. Why is there a double standard upon the same concept – death? And why should society be more accepting to the idea of euthanasia and assisted suicide?

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“There are no experts on death, for there is nothing to know about it. Not even those who study the death process have an edge on the rest of us. We are all equals in thinking about death, and we all begin and end thinking about it from a position of ignorance.”

J. Mason, Death and Its Concept, retrieved from philosophersmag.com

For the past few decades, there has been a huge uprising of the liberal left championing the ideas of pseudo-humanism. This phenomenon can be evident in discussions by the pro-liberals regarding the rights to die. To discuss further, it is important to distinguish between the principles governing that of the rights to live or die. 

The right to die is none other than the sole prerogative of an individual to decide when one should die regardless of one’s medical condition. The right to live is the inherent right to sustain one’s own life, or rather, the moral principle that one should not be killed by another person. While one is inevitably entitled to the inalienable right to live, the right to take away one’s life should also be respected. It is not for us, but for the individual himself, to claim.

The right to live is universally recognised, chartered as one of the key rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right to die is, however, often deemed as sacrilegious. The dismissal of the right to die does not respect the individual’s true autonomy to decide what is best for his life by casting doubts on his discretion as an individual. Hence, to truly respect a fellow human being and his autonomy as a discerning individual, we should not be practising a double standard of morality by denying the right to die in dignity. 

In 2008, a retired French teacher suffering from esthesioneuroblastoma (a rare form of cancer that saw her being disfigured at the last stage) was not granted her wish to die in dignity. She eventually committed suicide which sparked a public debate over legalising euthanasia in France. 

Individuals suffering from chronic and terminal diseases often do not only suffer physically but may also be forced to see themselves deteriorate beyond their control, which deprives them of their dignity. Hence, to accord full respect for a human being, we would therefore need to respect both one’s right to live as well as their right to decide when and how to end their life. 

The right to die should be respected, or there will be social ills. If one’s right to die is not accorded with equal respects as one’s right to live, people who have been physically and psychologically suffering will be forced to end their lives in a violent and antisocial manner, such as suicide. To these long-suffering individuals, they are plagued not only by their physical and mental illnesses but also by the stigma placed on them by society for entertaining such “immoral thoughts”. This social isolation can add to their misery and shame, which may eventually push them to commit suicide. 

We see this as a common trend amongst senior citizens in some of the most densely-populated cities or states, such as Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong, where the senior citizens feel that they no longer have the dignity nor social empathy to continue living meaningfully. In the long run, a high suicide rate in society would be deemed as a social ill, reflecting negatively on the nation as a whole. If the right to die is respected and legally recognised, a proper and comprehensive process can be exacted to alleviate individuals from their chronic suffering when they are medically justified for euthanasia.

Suicide Cases in Singapore from 2013-2017. The highest rate among the elderly. | Photo Credit: Samaritans of Singapore, Straits Times Graphics

On the account that social ills may arise since suicide and euthanasia are currently illegal in almost all countries, certain parties have raised the concern that arguments favouring the right to die are just sophistries that masquerade a self-centred attitude towards life (which should not be encouraged and endorsed), but ironically, this is the exact mindset that can bring about social ills in our “civilised” society. 

Regardless of all the arguments that support the right to die, the underlying agenda is seen to be self-centred and self-serving – people who wish to end their lives on their own terms and conditions do not spare a thought for those around them. Moreover, it is believed that if the right to die is respected and legalised, the message conveyed to society, on the whole, can be detrimental. This is especially so for the young and impressionable who may believe that death is an easy way out of difficulties in life, where they do not need to account to their family and loved ones. 

In Netherlands, minors who are 16 and above are given the right to proceed with medical euthanasia without any other’s consent (specifically their parents), should their physicians deem that they fulfil the legal conditions for euthanasia: firstly, their request has to be “informed” and “voluntary and well-considered”, and secondly, their conditions are causing “unbearable suffering, without prospects of improving” and “there is no reasonable alternative to address it”. 

The fierce stand to rebuke these Dutch policies on euthanasia was sparked when a 16-year-old girl, Noa Pothoven, who suffered from several psychiatric illnesses, was granted her wish for medical euthanasia. This was alarming to many because assisted suicide, in most countries, is typically centred around adults who are suffering from physical illnesses in the later stage of their lives. 

This also leads to the question of how the law is able to determine whether a psychiatric patient fulfils the capacity of making a “well-informed” judgement. Furthermore, the basis for this conclusion – that a patient with psychiatric disorders has “no prospects of improving” and “no alternatives” – is often uncertain and subjective.

Having said that, in the face of dire considerations and circumstances, can it not be said that the value of human life wanes in quality to the point that intending death can become a rational choice-worthy option? Contrastingly, some may think of “death” as the ideal choice as their families would have one less person to care for, which in turn is “sparing a thought for those around them”. In this case, on the account that each individual has their own rights, imposing the idea of “not sparing a thought for those around them” is infringing on this exact right and those who do, are ironically the self-centred ones, instead of those who wish to die.

To end off, the right to die should not be disdained as death is part of life. Given that death is a part of life, the right to die must come together with one’s right to live. The process of dying is inevitable, and invariably it is this phase of ‘living’ that is most uncertain and painful. If the right to live means the right to minimise pain and maximise positive experiences in one’s life, then surely the painful process of dying for those with terminal illnesses or for those who have no further meaning to continue their existence, should be managed or even expedited under the individual’s wish and control. Death in such cases is therefore not a bad thing for these individuals, but may ironically be the sweetest part in their lives, becoming a rational option that should be respected in order for society to advance and progress. 

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