Right to die

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The right to die is a concept based on the opinion that a human being is entitled to end their life or to undergo voluntary euthanasia. Possession of this right is often understood that a person with a terminal illness, or without the will to continue living, should be allowed to end their own life, use assisted suicide, or to decline life-prolonging treatment. The question of whom, if anyone, should be empowered to make this decision is often central to the debate.

Some academics and philosophers, such as David Benatar, consider humans to be overly optimistic in their view of the quality of their lives, and their view of the balance between the positive and the negative aspects of living.[1] This idea can be considered in terms of antinatalism and the lack of agency regarding one’s birth and who should have authority over one’s choice to live or die.

Proponents typically associate the right to die with the idea that one's body and one's life are one's own, to dispose of as one sees fit. However, a legitimate state interest in preventing irrational suicides is often up for debate. Pilpel and Amsel wrote:

Contemporary proponents of "rational suicide" or the "right to die" usually demand by "rationality" that the decision to kill oneself be both the autonomous choice of the agent (i.e., not due to the physician or the family pressuring them to "do the right thing" and commit suicide) and a "best option under the circumstances" choice desired by the stoics or utilitarians, as well as other natural conditions such as the choice being stable, not an impulsive decision, not due to mental illness, achieved after due deliberation, etc.[2]

Hinduism accepts the right to die for those who are tormented by terminal diseases or those who have no desire, no ambition or no responsibilities remaining. Death, however, allowed by non-violent means such as fasting to the point of starvation (Prayopavesa).[3] Jainism has a similar practice named Santhara. Other religious views on suicide vary in their tolerance and include denial of the right as well as condemnation of the act. In the Catholic faith, suicide is considered a grave sin.[4]


There is a question in ethics as to whether or not a right to die can coexist with a right to life. If, it is argued, the right to life is inalienable, it cannot be surrendered, and therefore may be incompatible with a right to die.[5] A second debate exists within bioethics over whether the right to die is universal, only applies under certain circumstances (such as terminal illness), or if it exists. It is also stated that 'right to live' is not synonymous to 'obligation to live'. From that point of view, the right to live can coexist with the right to die.[6]

A court in the American state of Montana, for example, has found that the right to die applies to those with life-threatening medical conditions. Suicide advocate Ludwig Minelli, euthanasia expert Sean W. Asher and bioethics professor Jacob M. Appel, in contrast, argue that all competent people have a right to end their own lives. Appel has suggested that the right to die is a test for the overall freedom of a given society.[7]

The 1991 Patient Self-Determination Act passed by the US Congress at the request of the financial arm of Medicare does permit elderly Medicare/Medicaid patients (and by implication, all "terminal" patients) to prepare an advance directive in which they elect or choose to refuse life-extending and/or life-saving treatments as a means of shortening their lives to shorten their suffering unto certain death. The treatment refused in an advance directive under US law, because of the 1991 PSDA, does not have to be proved to be "medically futile" under some existing due-process procedure developed under state laws, such as TADA in Texas.[8][citation needed]

By country[edit]

As of June 2016, some forms of voluntary euthanasia are legal in Canada,[9] Colombia,[9] Belgium,[10] Luxembourg,[11] the Netherlands,[10] and Switzerland.[10]


As of August 2011 a British Columbia Supreme Court judge had been requested to speed up a right-to die lawsuit so that Gloria Taylor could have a doctor assist her in committing suicide. She suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease.[12] She died of an infection in 2012.

A British Columbia civil liberties lawsuit is representing six plaintiffs and challenges the laws that make it a criminal offence to assist seriously and incurably ill individuals to die with dignity.[citation needed]

On 6 February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that denying the right to assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The court’s ruling limits physician-assisted suicides to “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.” The ruling was suspended for 12 months to allow the Canadian parliament to draft a new, constitutional law to replace the existing one.[13]

The court decision includes a requirement that there must be stringent limits that are “scrupulously monitored.” This will require the death certificate to be completed by an independent medical examiner, not the treating physician, to ensure the accuracy of reporting the cause of death.[14]

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) reported that not all doctors were willing to help a patient die. However, the belief in late 2015 was that no physician would be forced to do so but the CMA was offering educational sessions to members as to the process that would be used.[15]

On 17 June 2016, legislation passed both houses of the Parliament of Canada and received Royal Assent to allow euthanasia within Canada.[16][9]


On 20 May 1997, the Constitutional Court of Colombia decriminalised piety homicide, for terminally ill patients, stating that "the medical author cannot be held responsible for the assisted suicide of a terminally ill patient" and urged Congress to regulate euthanasia "in the shortest time possible".[17]

On 15 December 2014, the Constitutional Court had given the Ministry of Health and Social Protection 30 days to publish guidelines for the healthcare sector to use in order to guarantee terminated ill patients, with the wish to undergo euthanasia, their right to a dignified death.[18]


Since 2018, the Supreme Court of India has legalised passive euthanasia in India during a case involving Aruna Shanbaug under strict conditions, namely that the patient's consent (or relatives) is needed, and that he/she must be in a terminally ill or vegetative state.


The Netherlands legalized voluntary euthanasia in 2001 and is one of the few countries in the world to have done so. Under current Dutch law, euthanasia by doctors is only legal in cases of "hopeless and unbearable" suffering. In practice this means that it is limited to those suffering from serious medical conditions (including mental illness) and in considerable suffering like pain, hypoxia or exhaustion. Helping somebody to commit suicide without meeting the qualifications of the current Dutch euthanasia law is illegal.[19] These criteria concern the patient's request, the patient's suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the absence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life.[19]

In February 2010 a citizens' initiative called Uit Vrije Wil (Out of Free Will) further demanded that all Dutch people over 70 who feel tired of life should have the right to professional help in ending it. The organization, initiated by Milly van Stiphout and Yvonne van Baarle, started collecting signatures in support of this proposed change in Dutch legislation. A number of prominent Dutch citizens supported the initiative, including former ministers and artists, legal scholars and physicians. Among them were former politicians Frits Bolkestein, Hedy d'Ancona and Jan Terlouw, as well as television personality Mies Bouwman.[20][21][22] This initiative has never been legalised.

New Zealand[edit]

Euthanasia is illegal in New Zealand. In 2015, lawyer and cancer sufferer Lecretia Seales brought a case (Seales v Attorney-General) to the High Court to challenge New Zealand law for her right to die with the assistance of her GP, asking for a declaration that her GP would not risk conviction.[23][24]

United States[edit]

The term right to die has been interpreted in a number of ways, including issues of suicide, passive euthanasia, active euthanasia, assisted suicide, and physician-assisted suicide.[25] As the health of citizens is considered a police power left for individual states to regulate, it was not until 1997 that the US Supreme Court made a ruling on the issue of assisted suicide and one's right to die. That year, the Supreme Court heard two appeals arguing that New York and Washington statutes that made physician assisted suicide a felony violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[26] In a unanimous vote, the Court held that there was no constitutional right to physician assisted suicide and upheld state bans on assisted suicide. While in New York this has maintained statutes banning physician assisted suicide, the Court's decision also left it open for other states to decide whether they would allow physician assisted suicide or not.

Since 1994, five states in the US have passed assisted suicide laws: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and Colorado passed legislation in 1994, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2016, respectively, that provides a protocol for the practice of physician assisted suicide.[27] The law in these five states allows terminally ill adult patients to seek lethal medication from their physicians. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that nothing in state law prohibits physician-assisted suicide and provides legal protection for physicians in the case that they write a prescription for lethal medication upon patient request. In California, the governor signed a controversial physician assisted-suicide bill, the California End of Life Option Act, in October 2015 that passed during a special legislative session intended to address Medi-Cal funding,[28] after it had been defeated during the regular legislative session.[29] Because the bill was passed during a special session, it did not take effect until June 2016.[30][31]

In early 2014, a New Mexico Second District Judge Nan Nash ruled that terminally ill patients have the right to aid in dying under the state constitution, i.e. making it legal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient.[32] The ultimate decision will be made with the outcome of New Mexico's Attorney General's appeal to the ruling.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David,, Benatar,. The human predicament : a candid guide to life's biggest questions. New York. ISBN 9780190633844. OCLC 969543345.
  2. ^ A Pilpel; L Amsel. "What is Wrong with Rational Suicide" (PDF)
  3. ^ "Hinduism — Euthanasia and Suicide". BBC. 2009-08-25.
  4. ^ "Catholic Digest - The Magazine for Catholic Living - Do people who commit suicide go to hell?". Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  5. ^ Feinberg, Joel. (April 1, 1977). "Voluntary Euthanasia and the Inalienable Right to Life", The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, The University of Michigan. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  6. ^ (in Dutch) Humanistisch Verbond: 'Recht op leven, plicht tot leven' (translated: Dutch Humanist Association: 'Right to live, obligation to live')
  7. ^ "Next: Assisted Suicide for Healthy People". The Huffington Post. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  8. ^ Kelley, K. (March 1995). "The Patient Self-Determination Act. A matter of life and death". Physician Assistant (American Academy of Physician Assistants). 19 (3): 49, 53–56, 59–60 passim. ISSN 8750-7544. PMID 10141946.
  9. ^ a b c MacCharles, Tonda (17 June 2016). "Assisted dying to become law after Senate backs Liberals' bill". thestar.com. Toronto Star. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Smartt, Ursula (23 December 2002). "Euthanasia and the law". BBC News.
  11. ^ "Euthanasia & Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) around the World - Euthanasia - ProCon.org". euthanasia.procon.org. 2016-07-20. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  12. ^ "B.C. court asked to fast-track right-to-die lawsuit". CBC News. 2 August 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  13. ^ Supreme Court rules Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide Sean Fine, Globe and Mail 6 Feb. 2015
  14. ^ Guichon, Alakija, Doig, Mitchell and Thibeault (28 December 2015). "Assisted dying: Four problems, one simple solution". Globe and Mail. Toronto, Canada. Retrieved 2 January 2016.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ The Canadian Press (27 December 2015). "Canadian doctors express mixed opinions on assisted dying". CTV News. Bell Media. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  16. ^ Keane, Rebecca (20 June 2016). "Canada legalises euthanasia for the terminally ill". Her.ie. Maximum Media; Dublin, Ireland. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  17. ^ Constitutional Court of Colombia (20 May 1997). "REPÚBLICA DE COLOMBIA Corte Constitucional Sentencia No. C-239/97" (PDF). Retrieved 24 November 2016. (in Spanish)
  18. ^ Redacción Salud (19 February 2015). "Los principios para regular la eutanasia" (in Spanish). ElEspectador.com.
  19. ^ a b Buiting H, van Delden J, Onwuteaka-Philpsen B, et al. (2009). "Reporting of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands: descriptive study". BMC Med Ethics. 10: 18. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-10-18. PMC 2781018. PMID 19860873.
  20. ^ "Citizens group argues 'right to die'". Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  21. ^ "'Right to die' for elderly back at centre of Dutch debate". Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  22. ^ Frans Bosman en Corrie Verkerk (2007-02-10). "70-plus eist zachte dood" (in Dutch). Het Parool.
  23. ^ "Lecretia Seales: Lawyer with cancer embarks on challenge to New Zealand's euthanasia laws". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  24. ^ "Judge thanks woman for right-to-die case". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  25. ^ "Due Process of Law". Justia Law. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  26. ^ https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10644975876581235704&q=vacco+v.+quill&hl=en&as_sdt=40000006
  27. ^ Barone, Emily (3 November 2014). "See Which States Allow Assisted Suicide". Time.
  28. ^ https://www.gov.ca.gov/docs/6.16.15_Health_Care_Special_Session.pdf
  29. ^ Koseff, Alexei. "Assisted-death bill passes first Assembly committee". Retrieved 17 February 2019 – via Sacramento Bee.
  30. ^ Karlamangla, Soumya. "How California's aid-in-dying law will work". latimes.com. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  31. ^ Siders, David; Koseff, Alexei. "Jerry Brown signs doctor-assisted death bill". Retrieved 17 February 2019 – via Sacramento Bee.
  32. ^ Hamedy, Saba (19 January 2014). "New Mexico judge affirms right to 'aid in dying'". Los Angeles Times.

Further reading[edit]