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What is the Right to Die?

By Leonardo Von Navorski
Updated May 17, 2024
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The right to die is the belief that humans have the right to decide when they no longer want to live, regardless of the circumstances. A person’s right to death in a manner of his or her choosing is a controversial subject around the world, and it’s been at the forefront of a number of human rights arguments. This right might apply to one afflicted by a terminal medical condition or to a person who no longer has the desire to live.

Critics of the right to die argue that governments have a direct interest in whether one lives or dies and therefore should have the ultimate say-so regarding the matter. Proponents of the right to die argue that decisions made regarding one’s life and body should be made by the individual and his or her family alone. The matter generally involves arguments for or against assisted suicide, but it might involve other issues as well, such as the discontinuation of extended life support. Assisted suicide is usually performed by euthanasia, a practice also performed by veterinarians for suffering or terminally ill animals.

As of 2010, only a handful of nations formally recognized a right to die and had granted their citizens a legal choice in the matter. These nations included Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In many nations, such as the United States, the act of assisted suicide has been considered a serious and punishable crime. One high-profile case involved Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a pathologist who helped more than 130 patients end their lives in the early 1990s. Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years in prison. U.S. states such as Oregon and Washington, however, have legalized assisted suicide under certain circumstances.

The right to die argument also arises in situations when one is in a partial or complete vegetative state and relies on life support to live. Proponents in this situation argue that keeping the person on life support is unhealthy for the person and the family. Critics argue that societies have an interest in protecting life no matter the circumstance, particularly if the afflicted person is unable to communicate whether he or she wants to continue living.

In general, religious groups around the world reject the right to die. There are exceptions of course. In Hinduism, it’s acceptable for one to end his or her life if he or she no longer has responsibilities or the desire to live. A similar theme is found in another religion originating in India, Jainism.

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Discussion Comments
By anon217120 — On Sep 24, 2011

I believe that for euthanasia to be legal, it should be under proper circumstances. For example, a person who is terminally ill or someone who is paralyzed neck down should be allowed assisted suicide.

What is crucial in this discussion are two top things: Freedom of choice, and quality of living. First off, we can never feel how another person feels like entirely. So, if they decide to end their lives, it is their choice to do so. And lastly, mere existence does not equate to living life; because when you live your life, you are still able to reach your goals and dreams.

I hope assisted suicide will be able to help patients who are slowly decaying and those who choose to die.

By Crispety — On Apr 04, 2011

@Mutsy - You bring up a good point. I think that suicide is a serious offense and people should not be allowed to act upon it regardless of how they are feeling.

For example, a drug addict that can no longer take the pain and helplessness that comes with his addiction should not be allowed the right to die. We have become a society that sometimes devalues human life which is really sad.

I recently read that over 60% of women in New York City have abortions every year. That is an astounding number.

I think that we should offer more counseling for people that are feeling suicidal because I personally think that God should really be the one to decide when your time is up.

By mutsy — On Apr 02, 2011

@GreenWeaver - You are right and I also wanted to say that we have to be careful how we classify the right to die movement because a teenage suicide could easily fall into this dilemma as well.

We all agree that people with suicidal thoughts need help in order to feel better, but where do you make a distinction? You really can't which is why the right to die debate will never lead to anything more than just debate because the laws sure won't change because there are so many terrible things that could happen if it did.

I understand the right to die with dignity but this is not the same. The right to die with dignity really should refer to people that are terminal and in hospice care.

By GreenWeaver — On Mar 31, 2011

@Sunny27 - I totally agree with you. If the right to die was allowed, I would be afraid of how many might exploit the death for potential gain when there sizable assets involved.

I think that many right to die cases could be problematic if the person dying did not have a living will or offer a power of attorney to someone on their behalf.

This is how a lot of these cases pick up steam. I remember years ago of a case of a young women who had an accident and fell into a vegetative state. Her husband wanted to take her off life support and her parents didn't. It must have been a real emotional rollercoaster for both families and eventually the husband won and she was taken off life support.

I think that the right to die debate will always be around because there will always be so much to consider because you can never reverse the decision once it is made.

By Sunny27 — On Mar 29, 2011

@Anon13222-I have mixed views on the subject. For example, when my mother was dying of cancer and was in a coma the doctors told us that her death was inevitable and her organs were shutting down. In this case, I feel that prolonging her life would not be right because the quality of her life was gone. There was no chance for her to make a full recovery and she was brain dead at the time.

I think that when you talk about people that are terminal but are not at this state yet it might be different because this situation involves a person that is able to function normally. I don't feel that because of the anguish that the person is feeling that they should take their life.

I also think that this can be a slipperly slope if it is ever allowed because we can have people ending other people's lives prematurely under the guise that it was an assisted suicide. Once the person dies we cannot question them on their death. That is why I think that the right to die laws are written the way they are in the United States.

By anon132222 — On Dec 06, 2010

I have to do my assignment which is about euthanasia. You know, I want all your views about do we have a right to kill ourselves?

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