Sex and Death
(by Ruth von Fuchs)
It is often said that a prohibition on assistance with suicide
gives protection to certain people who are particularly vulnerable.
I suggest that this view is erroneous in two ways:
1) What vulnerable people get is not protection. Instead they get obstruction or abandonment.
2) Whatever protection is provided goes not to the weak and vulnerable
but to the strong and secure.
Where death is concerned, we strive to protect people
from having it imposed on them in violation of their will – either blatantly
against their will, or as a result of having had their will "bent".
An example of the first scenario is what we call murder, which we criminalize;
an example of the second scenario is what we call "counselling suicide",
which we also criminalize.
It is instructive to compare our handling of death
with our handling of sex, which also is something we feel should not be
imposed upon people against their will. When sex occurs in blatant violation
of a person's will, we call that rape, and we criminalize it; when sex
happens because a person's will has been bent, we call that seduction,
and although we do not criminalize it we consider it to be abusive behaviour.
So far there is a strong parallel between our handling of death and our
handling of sex.
Now let us look at the situation in which a person
wants sex, or wants death, but is unable to achieve the goal without help
(because of some physical disability, for instance).
With sex, we do not consider that in order to keep
people from having their will violated we must keep them from having their
will supported. Disabled people who fall in love are sometimes given assistance
with sex and they are very glad that no misguided interpretation of "protection"
caused them to be denied this help.
With death, however, we currently do act as if preventing
violation of a person's will requires preventing support of a person's
The reason for the difference is probably this: whereas
hardly anyone believes that no sane person can possibly want sex, quite
a few people still believe that no sane person can possibly want death.
But these people are mistaken. Although it may be true that no one ever
desires death as an absolute good, we definitely can get into a situation
where we desire death as a relative good ("the lesser of two evils").
You may have been asking how the criminalizing of suicide
assistance can afford protection to the strong and secure. Here's how:
Many people have an intense dread of being asked to help end someone's life. Their revulsion from the situation is instinctive and powerful. In the voices of certain guests on television or radio shows about euthanasia and assisted suicide, one can hear the terror underlying the speakers' passionate declarations of "I could never do it" or even "No one should do it."
As long as it remains a criminal offence to help a
person escape from life, those who long to escape but cannot succeed unaided
will be aware that if they receive assistance from a doctor or a relative
or a friend they are exposing that person to imprisonment or bankruptcy
or both. This awareness will often be enough to ensure that the doctor
or relative or friend is protected from hearing the dreaded request.