Hastening Death

Ronald A. Lindsay

Almost all of us want to continue living, and we will endure much suffering, if necessary, to stay alive. But some are confronted with circ umstances that they consider insufferable.

Each day, hundreds in the United States and other Western countries hasten their own deaths, accelerating the day they otherwise would have died due to disease or decline. Some do this without any legal impediment and scarcely any moral objection, except perhaps from small numbers of religious fundamentalists. Others hasten their deaths in ways legally prohibited—although their peers may be carrying out the same actions legally just a few miles away.

In this article, I will discuss various ways in which people are ending their lives, pointing out the methods that are generally legal—in particular, cessation of medical treatment. I will also address assisted dying and euthanasia, both of which remain illegal most everywhere, with a few exceptions (the states of Oregon and Washington both permit physician assistance in dying; Belgium and the Netherlands permit physicians to perform euthanasia). I will argue that physician-assisted death and euthanasia are morally permissible in certain circumstances, and I will also argue in favor of legalizing the former practice, again in certain circumstances. Due to space limitations, my focus will be on the United States, although I will make passing reference to the state of the law in a few other countries.

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