The Right to Die
ON May 26, 2011, federal agents (FBI, US Postal Inspection Services) raided the house of one Sharlotte Hydorn (91) of California with gun drawn, and searched for 11 hours, leaving the house in a mess.
Ms. Hydorn was accused of offering up for sale, by e-mail, a suicide kit – GLADD, resulting in the death of a mail-order customer from Oregon, Nicholas Klonoski, 29, suffering from depression but otherwise healthy. “She sells them for $60 each, including shipping and instructions, under the brand name GLADD, which stands for Glorious Life and Dignified Death.” “FBI raids home of suicide kit maker in California.” (FBI raids home of suicide kit maker in California,” Reuters, May 26, 2011).
I believe that we have a right to choose death over life, thus this commentary.
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO LIVE – DIE
The US Constitution, commonly acknowledged to be one of the most advanced and exemplary one in the world guarantee people’s rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) specifically stated:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence further made clear the Government must respect the people’s right to choose for themselves the form of Government that is most conducive to effectual “Safety and Happiness”:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “
The Declaration of Independence also warned that it is the habits of Government and nature of citizens to put up with Despotism of the worse kind, i.e., paternalism:
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security…”
THE ISSUE: WHAT IS (RIGHT TO) HAPPINESS?
The issue about right to live vs. die, hinges on the meaning of happiness. What it is and who decides?
It is clear that the US government would not be raiding Ms. Ms. Hydorn’s house if she is selling a life support system, instead of a death inflicting one. But why not?
The simple answer is: Government somehow thinks, paternalistically, that all suicide is bad. Conversely, all prolonging of life is good.
I disagree, strongly, that taking life is bad. My position is that taking life is neither good nor bad. It all depends on ones life circumstances: whether it brings net happiness (or what amount to be the same “meaning”) to the individual involve.
To the question of what is happiness, it is the “uninhibited” pursuit of ones meaning in and of life, without infringing on the rights of other to do the same. Since meaning of life is subjective and cannot be experienced by others; other people, still less government, has no way to judge, still less impose.
If indeed the pursuit of happiness (meaning of life) is up to the individual to decide, I do not see how the government can now tell a person (except those who are not capable of deciding – immature or mentally sick) what meaning of life (and in turn happiness) is. More simply: life has no meaning except to the person involve.
More practically, the government do not know and cannot decide for the person what meaning of life (or happiness) is for one very simple reason, the government has no way of accessing the inner most thought and feeling of the person, as lived: (In theoretical terms, as I argued in another context: “The person who is closest to a person (by impact and knowledge) is the person to solve the problem.” Problem is defined as: unfulfilled expectations of all kinds, due to resource limitations.)
WHAT IS HAPPINESS: A CASE STUDY
Ones life is made of many moments (M), M1, M2, M3 to Mn). A person’s experience (thinking + feeling) of M, individually and in aggregate (M1 + M2 + Mn), is what makes for net happiness score.
Case#1: I go to the library to read a book. It brings stimulation to my brain, but my body gets fat.
Case#2: I go to the bar to get drunk after I pass my examination. I make a lot of friends, but I have a hang over in the morning,
The above two moments of life have one thing in common. They both shortens my life for the factor of M/Mn (number of seconds / 60 years life span x 265 days x 24 hrs x 60 minutes x 60 seconds). I have just killed time in and by the moment. I submit to you, killing time, is killing life, in short form.
If the government can regulate my choice of life, to live or not to live. The government should be able to start with the most basic unit of life: the moment a person live – gong to the library (case#1) vs. going to bar (case#2). Since the government cannot (due to lack of capacity) and should not (due to ideology - constitution) regulate life in the moment, it has no right to regulate life and death.
Case#3: A person is 20 years old. He lives a happy life, up to this point. He wants to end his life because he do not want to allow the future to diminish his happiness thus far achieved. He should be able to do so.
In case#3, it is clear to everyone that whether a person is 20 or 60, happy or unhappy, sick or well. (S)he should have the absolute right to take his/her own life. (His/her obligation to country and contribution to society should be a consideration in his/her decision making, and might be make a pre-condition of taking ones life.)
It is not my purpose to argue for dead. I love life too much.
It is my purpose to promote happiness, i.e., to find meaning in life.
Life is worth living, without meaning, to the person involved.
As to whether promotion of death would soften people’s will to live or in turn deplete human stock, I defer to the wisdom Darwinism:
If people, individual and as a collective, find meaning in life, they will live. Otherwise, they will die, or at worse, engage dead man walking!
Kam C. Wong, “ Whose Life is it Anyway?”