INTERPRETING LAWS AGAINST
'ASSISTING SUICIDE'


SYNOPSIS:

    Many of the legal systems of the Earth
contain a provision within their laws against murder
prohibiting and punishing 'assisting suicide'.
But laws against counseling or encouraging irrational suicide
were enacted before medical science advanced to the point
that most deaths in hospitals involve some element of choice
concerning the timing and mode of death.
End-of-life medical decisions are NOT assisting suicide.
But how do we tell the difference?

OUTLINE:

1.  LAWS AGAINST 'ASSISTING SUICIDE'
            SHOULD NOT APPLY TO COMPLEX END-OF-LIFE SITUATIONS.

2.  CAN FREE-LANCE MERCY-KILLING
            BE DISTINGUISHED FROM GRANTING MERCIFUL DEATH?

3.  THE ORIGINAL THINKING BEHIND LAWS AGAINST
            ASSISTING IRRATIONAL SUICIDE.

4.  LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING SUICIDE
            SHOULD NOT APPLY TO VOLUNTARY DEATH.

5.  OFFICIAL INTERPRETATION OF THE LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING SUICIDE
            CAN BE A STEP TOWARD NEW RIGHT-TO-DIE LAWS.

6.  GUIDELINES FOR PROSECUTORS CAN BE ENSHRINED IN NEW LAWS.





INTERPRETING LAWS AGAINST
'ASSISTING SUICIDE'
 
by James Leonard Park



1.  LAWS AGAINST 'ASSISTING SUICIDE'
            SHOULD NOT APPLY TO COMPLEX END-OF-LIFE SITUATIONS.


    The laws against encouraging or assisting suicide
were written without regard to the so-called 'right-to-die'.
In fact, whenever a life-ending decision takes place within a hospital,
the concept of 'assisted suicide' is seldom applied.
For example, consider these four legal methods of ending one's life.
Are any of these ever called 'assisting suicide'?
(1) increasing pain-medication;
(2) begining terminal sedation;
(3) disconnecting life-supports; &
(4) giving up all food and water.

See "Four Medical Methods of Managing Dying":
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-L-END.html


    Because such medical options are well-respected and often used,
such methods of shortening the process of dying in a hospital
are seldom considered to be forms of
'assisting suicide'.




2.  CAN FREE-LANCE MERCY-KILLING
            BE DISTINGUISHED FROM GRANTING MERCIFUL DEATH?


    The in-between cases are the most difficult.
These are situations in which a loved one
receives help in dying
independent of medical care
even tho there might have been much medical attention
before the relatives decided that death was the best option.

    And the question of 'assisting suicide' arises
when the actions that bring life to an end
have been taken by someone who is not a doctor or a nurse.

    Then the public prosecutor must apply some discretion
to separate 'assisting suicide' from helping with a voluntary death
or to separate 'mercy-killing' from granting merciful death.

   
See other essays linked below that decisively separate
irrational suicide from voluntary death
and mercy-killing from merciful death.




3.  THE ORIGINAL THINKING BEHIND LAWS AGAINST
            ASSISTING IRRATIONAL SUICIDE.


    Even tho the following expression has not yet appeared in any law,
the real intent of all such laws is to discourage IRRATIONAL SUICIDE.
When teen-agers think of killing themselves because of the loss of 'love',
this would be a prime example of the urge toward irrational suicide.
If they get beyond that emotional hurt, they can continue to live.

    Other examples of irrational 'reasons' for wanting to die include:
self-loathing because of unusual sexual fantasies;
depression because of alcohol or other drugs in one's body;
bio-chemical imbalance due to biological causes;
financial disasters that could lead to bankruptcy;
public disgrace due to personal moral corruption;
free-floating, uncaused existential depression;
or because life has lost all meaning.

    Because persons suffering from any such problems
need help rather than punishment,
most laws against 'committing suicide' have been repealed.

     But because no rational person would recommend death
as the solution to such temporary problems,
the prohibition of assisting irrational suicide was left in the laws
when the provisions against committing suicide were removed.




4.  LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING SUICIDE
            SHOULD NOT APPLY TO VOLUNTARY DEATH.


    When these laws were written many decades ago,
the idea of 'rational suicide' had not yet dawned.
In order to avoid further confusion,
the expression voluntary death will replace the confusing one.

    Voluntary death differs from irrational suicide in four ways:
(1) Irrational suicide is harmful to the person who kills himself or herself.
(2) Irrational suicide is based on faulty thinking.
(3) Irrational suicide is often capricious.
(4) Irrational suicide is always regretted by others.
 
See: Will this Death be an "Irrational Suicide" or a "Voluntary Death"?
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-IS-VD.html
Operational separation can be achieved
by applying the following 26 safeguards for life-ending decisions:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/SG-A-Z.html

    The prime example of voluntary death arises from terminal illness:
When we have begun the inevitable decline towards death,
there comes a point when applying additional medical treatments
makes little or no sense:
Using more medical technology might extend our lives by a few days,
but do those additional days add any meaning to our lives?




5.  OFFICIAL INTERPRETATION OF THE LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING SUICIDE
            CAN BE A STEP TOWARD NEW RIGHT-TO-DIE LAWS.


    The Netherlands was one of the first countries
to liberalize its practices and laws with regard to life-ending decisions.
Before the law against 'euthanasia' was changed,
guidelines were issued and later revised several times
which allowed doctors to grant merciful death to their patients
if the patients were suffering and there was no hope of recovery.
Reason and compassion guided these changes.
Then after a few years, the law in the Netherlands
was officially changed to embody the safeguards.

    This could be a paradigm for other countries (or states of the USA)
for evolutionary modifications of their laws concerning end-of-life choices.

    Prosecutors everywhere in the world already have considerably leeway
when they must decide what kinds of behavior to prosecute
and what other kinds of behavior should NOT lead to prosecution.

    One of the most significant safeguards for life-ending decisions
is a review by the prosecutor in that jurisdiction
concerning the planned death before the death takes place.

    In February 2010, the Public Prosecutor for England and Wales
issued a set of guidelines for local prosecutors,
setting forth the factors favoring prosecutions for assisting suicide
and the other factors that would yield a decision not to prosecute.
The law here being interpreted and enforced
is a very brief 50-year-old prohibition of 'assisting suicide'.

   
Read a review and critique of these new guidelines.




6.  GUIDELINES FOR PROSECUTORS CAN BE ENSHRINED IN NEW LAWS.

    After a few years of applying such guidelines or safeguards
to situations that might previously have been considered
giving assistance and support for an irrational suicide,
the laws against assisting suicide might be changed.

    Under revised laws, irrational suicide will not be endorsed.
And people who help others to kill themselves for foolish 'reasons'
will still be subject to prosecution
and punishment if found guilty.
But the new laws will recognize for the first time
that there are often very good reasons
for choosing to die now rather than waiting to die later.
Such laws will embody safeguards
so that harmful behavior can easily be separated from helpful behavior.

 
   Here is a list of 26 recommended safeguards,
which are available to be adapted for any new laws with regard to the right-to-die.
Safeguard S from this list is:
Review by the Prosecutor (or other Lawyer) Before the Death Takes Place.

    New laws can be enacted anywhere on planet Earth
which will provide step-by-step, practical methods
for separating unlawful encouragement and aid for irrational suicide
from lawful end-of-life medical decisions.
Sensible safeguards that can be understood and applied by anyone
will distinguish the crime of assisting an irrational suicide
from the opposite end of the spectrum of end-of-life choices
namely making wise medical decisions when death is inevitable.
Any such new laws should discourage all forms of irrational suicide
and encourage reasonable acceptance of unavoidable death.

    We can continue to outlaw any assistance with foolish self-killing
and other forms of causing premature death.
And we can permit careful consideration of all reasonable options
for making medical decisions at the end of our lives.

    And here is a draft law against causing premature death,
which embodies all 26 of the recommended safeguards
for separating harmful behavior
irrational suicide and mercy-killing
from helpful behavior
voluntary death and merciful death
and all other forms of reasonable life-ending medical decisions.



Created 10-13-2009; Revised 10-14-2009; 1-21-2010; 3-11-2010; 3-12-2010; 5-2-2010; 12-3-2010;
4-2-2011; 4-3-2011; 1-14-2012; 2-28-2012; 3-16-2012; 7-18-2012; 9-1-2012;
 4-6-2013; 6-13-2013; 12-13-2013; 6-19-2014; 5-19-2015; 7-15-2015; 10-9-2015; 8-6-2016;



AUTHOR:

    James Leonard Park is an independent existential philosopher,
living and writing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
He is an advocate of the right-to-die when good safeguards have been fulfilled.
He has drafted a model law against assisting a premature death,
which could be adapted by any jurisdiction
that now has a law against 'assisting suicide' on the books.
This draft-legislation contains practical ways of separating
voluntary death from irrational suicide
and merciful death from mercy-killing.
If we prohibit assisting or cooperating with a premature death,
timely death
will become more possible.



    An op-ed article has been created on the same theme:
"Replacing Laws Against 'Assisting Suicide' ":
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/ASL.html.

    If your own lawmaker will pay attention,
you could send this chapter and/or this op-ed piece
to see if these might be helpful in drafting a new law
to revise or replace any existing law against 'assisting suicide'.
The URL Interpreting Laws Against 'Assisting Suicide'  is:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-ASLAW.html.




The above critique of laws against 'assisting suicide'
is also Chapter 54 of How to Die: Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions:
Interpreting Laws against 'Assisting Suicide'.

Would you like to join a Facebook Seminar
discussing this book-being-revised?

See the complete description for this first-readers book-club:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/ED-HTD.html

Join our Facebook Group called: Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/107513822718270/




Some related chapters:

A New Way to Secure the Right-to-Die:
Laws Against Causing Premature Death
.

Two Approaches to Right-to-Die Laws:
Granting Permission and Banning Harms
.

Pulling the Plug:
A Paradigm for Life-Ending Decisions
.

Losing the Marks of Personhood:
Discussing Degrees of Mental Decline
.

Advance Directives for Medical Care:
24 Important Questions to Answer
.

Fifteen Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions .

Will this Death be an "Irrational Suicide" or a "Voluntary Death"? .

Will this Death be a "Mercy-Killing" or a "Merciful Death"? .

Four Medical Methods of Managing Dying .

VDD:
Why Giving Up Water is Better than other Means of Voluntary Death .

Voluntary Death by Dehydration:
Safeguards to Make Sure it is a Wise Choice
  .

Choosing Your Date of Death:
How to Achieve a Timely Death
Not too Soon, Not too Late .

Depressed?
Don't Kill Yourself! .



   
Further reading:

Best Books on Voluntary Death

Best Books on Preparing for Death

Medical Methods of Choosing Death

Books on Terminal Care

Books on Helping Patients to Die

Best Books on the Right-to-Die

Books Opposing the Right-to-Die



Go to the Right-to-Die Portal.


Return to the DEATH page.


Go to the Medical Ethics index page.


Go to other on-line essays by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.


Return to the beginning of this website:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum .



 





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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.