Many of the legal systems of the Earth
contain a provision within their laws against murder
prohibiting and punishing 'assisting a suicide'.
But laws against counseling or encouraging irrational suicide
were enacted before medical science advanced to
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 a suicide.
But how do we tell the difference?
LAWS AGAINST 'ASSISTING SUICIDE'
SHOULD NOT APPLY TO COMPLEX END-OF-LIFE
CAN FREE-LANCE MERCY-KILLING
BE DISTINGUISHED FROM GRANTING A
THE ORIGINAL THINKING BEHIND LAWS AGAINST
ASSISTING AN IRRATIONAL SUICIDE.
LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING A SUICIDE
SHOULD NOT APPLY TO VOLUNTARY DEATH.
5. OFFICIAL INTERPRETATION OF THE
CAN BE A STEP TOWARD NEW RIGHT-TO-DIE LAWS.
6. GUIDELINES FOR PROSECUTORS CAN BE
ENSHRINED IN NEW LAWS.
James Leonard Park
1. LAWS AGAINST
SHOULD NOT APPLY TO COMPLEX END-OF-LIFE
The laws against encouraging or assisting a suicide
were written without regard to the
In fact, whenever a life-ending decision takes place within a hospital,
the concept of 'assisted suicide' is seldom applied.
For example, the following are four legal means of ending one's life,
which are almost never considered 'assisting a suicide':
(1) increasing pain-medication;
(2) terminal sedation;
(3) disconnecting life-supports; &
(4) giving up all food and water.
"Four Legal Methods of Choosing Death":
Because such medical options are well-respected and
such methods of shortening the process of dying in a hospital
are seldom considered to be forms of 'assisting
2. CAN FREE-LANCE
BE DISTINGUISHED FROM GRANTING A MERCIFUL
The in-between cases are the most difficult.
These are situations in which a loved one
receives help in dying independent of medical care
tho there might have been much medical attention
before the relatives decided that death was the best option.
And the question of 'assisting a 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 a
suicide' from helping
or to separate a 'mercy-killing'
from granting a merciful
See other essays
linked below that decisively separate
from voluntary death
from merciful death.
3. THE ORIGINAL
BEHIND LAWS AGAINST
ASSISTING AN 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
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
most laws against 'committing suicide' have been repealed.
But because no rational person would recommend
as the solution to these temporary problems,
the prohibition of assisting
an irrational suicide was left in the laws
when the provisions against
a suicide were removed.
4. LAWS AGAINST
SHOULD NOT APPLY TO
When these laws were written many decades ago,
the idea of 'rational
had not yet dawned.
In order to avoid further confusion,
the expression voluntary
death will replace the confusing one.
death differs from irrational
suicide in four ways:
(1) Irrational suicide is harmful
to the person who kills himself or
(2) Irrational suicide is based
on faulty thinking.
(3) Irrational suicide is often
(4) Irrational suicide is always
regretted by others.
this Death be an "Irrational Suicide" or a "Voluntary Death"?
Operational separation can be achieved
by applying the following 26 safeguards for life-ending decisions:
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
but do those additional days add any meaning to our lives?
OF THE LAWS AGAINST ASSISTING SUICIDE
CAN BE A STEP TOWARD NEW
The Netherlands was one of the first countries
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 actually 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
Prosecutors everywhere in the world already have
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
is a report
to 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
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
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
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
for choosing to die now
rather than waiting to die
Such laws will embody safeguards
so that harmful behavior
can easily be separated from helpful
Here is a list of 26 recommended
which are available to be adapted for any new laws with regard to the
Safeguard S from this list is:
Report to the
Prosecutor Before the Death Takes Place.
New laws can be
enacted anywhere on planet Earth
which will provide step-by-step,
for separating unlawful
encouragement and aid for irrational suicide
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
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
from helpful behavior—voluntary death and
and all other forms of reasonable life-ending medical decisions.
10-13-2009; Revised 10-14-2009; 1-21-2010; 3-11-2010; 3-12-2010;
4-2-2011; 4-3-2011; 1-14-2012; 2-28-2012; 3-16-2012; 7-18-2012;
James Leonard Park is an independent existential
living and writing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
He is an advocate of the right-to-die when good safeguards have been
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
If we prohibit assisting or cooperating with a premature death,
timely death will become more possible.
The above critique of laws against 'assisting
is also Chapter 47 of How to Die:
Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions:
Interpreting Laws against 'Assisting Suicide'.
are a few related on-line essays by James Park:
A New Way to
Secure the Right-to-Die:
Laws Against Causing Premature Death .
to Right-to-Die Laws:
Granting Permission and Banning Harms .
A Paradigm for Life-Ending Decisions .
Losing the Marks of Personhood:
Discussing Degrees of Mental Decline.
Directives for Medical Care:
24 Important Questions to Answer
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"? .
Methods of Choosing Death .
Death by Dehydration:
Why Giving Up
Water is Better than other Means of Voluntary Death .
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 .
Books on Voluntary Death
Books on Preparing for Death
on Terminal Care
Books on Helping Patients to Die
Best Books on
Go to the Right-to-Die
Return to the DEATH
Go to the Medical Ethics
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.
Return to the beginning
of this website: