David Hume

“Of Suicide”

 c. 1755

If upon account of age and infirmities I may lawfully resign any office and employ my time altogether in fencing against calamities and alleviating as much as possible the miseries of my future life: why may I not cut short these miseries at once by an action which is no more prejudicial to society? But suppose that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of society; suppose that I am a burden to it; suppose that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to society. In such cases my resignation of life must not only be innocent but laudable. That suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves, no one can question who allows that age, sickness, or misfortune may render life a burden and make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever threw away life while it was worth keeping. For such is our natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to reconcile us to it, and though perhaps the situation of a man’s health or fortune did not seem to require this remedy, we may at least be assured that anyone who, without apparent reason, has had recourse to it was cursed with such an incurable depravity or gloominess of temper as must poison all enjoyment and render him equally miserable as if he had been loaded with the most grievous misfortunes. If suicide be supposed a crime, ’tis only cowardice can impel us to it. If it be no crime, both prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence when it becomes a burden.

Jack Kevorkian

Letter to Chief Justice William Rehnquist

 2000

Medical art and science are entirely secular and serve a dual purpose: to lengthen life and to preserve or enhance its quality. Theoretically both aims are equally important, but arbitrary (and mainly sectarian) bias fostered an obsession to prolong life, no matter how inimical to its quality. The benefits of medicine permit its practitioners to perform acts that ordinarily are crimes. Thus we condone and even laud surgical mutilation…as well as the occasionally nearly lethal poisoning of chemotherapy. The resultant quality of life is always subordinate to the chief aim of prolonging it. Why shouldn’t the ranking sometimes be reversed? Why should we not just as readily condone and laud the chief aim of expunging—humanely, quickly, and with certainty—an intolerably low quality of individual life through a medical act ordinarily deemed to be homicide? The mere availability of the euthanasia option often improves the quality of, and even prolongs, the lives of many terminal or incurably suffering patients. Having such a choice seems to dissipate the panic of helplessness by assuring a modicum of personal control. Consequently the vast majority of patients go on to die “naturally” and with few complaints despite continued excruciating suffering. This greatly eases the burden of families and caretakers. There is no doubt that unfettered access to this option, coupled with unencumbered medical consultation, will dramatically improve the quality of life and drastically reduce the appalling suicide rate among the lonely, isolated elderly.

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