Right or obligation?

I was hanging out with my friend Marc the other day, when he said something that I only half-noticed at the time:

In all you do or say or think, recollect that at any time the power of withdrawal from life is in your own hands. (Meditations, book 2, paragraph 11)

It came back to me, however, when I read of the death of Edward and Joan Downes.

I feel that they have done nothing evil; nor have those at Dignitas who helped them. From what statements are available, it sounds like the couple’s children agree with their decision.

I could spend post after post discussing and weighing the arguments presented by people who think that assisted suicide should be legal, and those who think it should not. But I honestly don’t think I’d come up with anything that hasn’t been said before.

I do have a question, though. Is life a right? Or is it an obligation? Should people be allowed to take their own lives? To help others do so? Should doctors expend their efforts on the possibility of extending someone’s pain-ridden life by a few days? Or is that simply a cowardly form of torture, accepted because of the fear we healthy people have of unwanted death?

As with so many real-world problems, the answer is not easy. But the story of Edward and Joan Downes forces us to wonder if the current state of affairs is appropriate.

As I understand it, British law criminalizes those who participate in assisted suicide overseas; but nobody gets prosecuted for it, possibly because such people always seem to be loving family members, as far from criminal as one can get, morally speaking.

[I have to apologize to my readers – somehow, I managed to post this without actually writing the last paragraph. Here it is.]

It is inexcusable for a legal system to prohibit an act but to systematically refrain from executing the prescribed sanctions. The law is an ass – but when carried out appropriately, it is at least a consistent ass. Those involved in this law (legislators, police, etc) should either repeal the law or enforce it as it stands. I think they should repeal it, but either solution would be better than the current state of affairs.

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