Assisted Suicide

Over the past ten to twenty years a big issue has been made
over a person1s right to commit suicide or not. The American
courts have had to deal with everything from assisted suicides to
planned suicides, and whether the constitution gives the American
people the right to take their own lives or whether it says they
have the power to allow someone else to take their lives. They
have had to determine in some cases whether or not homicide
charges needed to be brought up and others times whether or not
it was done for an underlying reason such as insurance fraud.
There are several aspects to suicide and the law, but we are
only going to discuss a few of them. First of all we will
examine why anyone would want to take their own life and decipher
the differences between a rational suicide and an irrational
suicide. Secondly we will look at ways assistance has played in
the area of suicide. Next, we'll look at what the constitution
says and see if any of the states have allowed suicide. Finally,
we'll study some of the cases that have been brought before the
American courts.
Suicide has become a big part of American society, year
after year more people are taking their own lives for many
different reasons. A lot of philosophers have broken down all
the reasons of suicides into two different categories, rational
suicide and irrational suicide. A rational suicide has been
given five basic criteria that usually must be met for the
person's act to be considered rational. The five criteria which
a person must show for their suicide to be considered rational
are, "the ability to reason, realistic world view, adequacy of
information, avoidance of harm, and accordance with fundamental
interests."(Battin 132) Another opinion of rationality of
suicide is, "it is the best thing for him from the point of view
of his own welfare-or whether it is the best thing for someone
being advised, from the point of view of that person's
welfare"(Brandt 118). People have to characterize suicides
because a lot of times they don't understand what that person is
going through so by grouping them and placing criteria on them it
allows them to accept it in an easier manner.
A lot of suicides are grouped in the rational category
because they are committed so the person can be saved from the
pain they may be experiencing from a terminal disease. This
seems to be just about the only true rational and morally correct
reason why a person should commit suicide. Yet a lot of times
these patients are "heavily sedated, so that it is impossible for
the mental processes of decision leading to action to
occur."(Brandt 123) In other words these patients have a
rational reason to commit suicide, yet their mind is not capable
of making that decision.
So if terminally ill patients are the only ones who have a
good rational reason to commit suicide, then where does that
leave everyone else? Well just about everyone else commits
suicide because of a little thing that enters everyone's life at
some time and that thing is called depression. Depression can
come from several different things, such as a loss of something
like a job, a loved one, a limb such as an arm or leg, or
anything else that might be held dear to that person. Other
things could be rejection at home or in the work place, abuse,
and sometimes even the thought of getting old and not wanting to
know what tomorrow holds in store. There are alot of arguments
that these are rational reasons but just because you are having a
bad day doesn't actually mean you have a rational reason to go
out and throw yourself off a building or tie a rope around your
Another big issue about suicide today is the one that deals
with assisted suicide. When we think about this the first person
who pops in our mind is Dr. Jack Kervorkian. Yet Kervorkian was
not the first, "The Hemlock Society was founded by Derek Humphry,
a british journalist, in Los Angeles in 1980. The organization
advocated active euthanasia, or aiding the death of a hopelessly
ill individual."(Long 76) This society was responsible for
several deaths because of their "listing of lethal doses of
eighteen commonly prescribed drugs and a manual on suicide, which
quickly became a best-seller."(Long 76)
Dr. Kervorkian is probably the most famous man in America
when it comes to assisted suicide. His cases and his defiance of
the law have kept him the spotlight in the American media and has