As noted here
recently, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed piece lauding the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide. Four readers respond
in today's N.Y. Times
. The responses range from the syllogistic (killing is wrong; suicide is a subset of killing; suicide is wrong) to the empathic. That latter category includes both sentiments both pro (PAS is a humane alternative to "the cruelty of a medical and legal system that requires keeping bodies going despite the wishes of suffering, hopelessly ill people") and con ("palliative care . . . is an invaluable alternative to euthanasia. Those with terminal illness need not end their own lives. Death with dignity is possible without hemlock"). Perhaps the least persuasive of the letters grounded its argument entirely in autonomy: "Terminally ill, competent adults should be allowed to die on their own terms." As an argument in favor of allowing patients who want to die to kill themselves, this argument works, but it's already legal in all 50 states to kill yourself. As an argument in favor of state-sanctioned and supported medicalized killing, autonomy falls flat. All but the most zealous proponents of patients' rights concede that autonomy has limits, which usually arise when a person's autonomous right to do X
has consequences for others. Beating the autonomy drum for PAS fails to address the subtler problem of line-drawing that such a claim inevitably raises.