Magazine | October 31, 2011, Issue

Letters

Suicide Dissolution

In their argument against assisted suicide (“Western Suttee,” October 17), Diederik Boomsma and Jonathan Price claim that “a state recognizing an inalienable right to die could not be anything approaching a true community defined by mutual rights and duties” because this entails “fully negotiable relations to the political community,” because in such a community “citizenship is increasingly seen as a matter of rights without duties,” and because “the most basic duty to others — to remain alive within reason — is rejected.”

I confess to being unfamiliar with the philosophical arguments they cite — their view might well be Aristotle’s. But regardless of where it comes from, I do not find it convincing, and I wish they would elaborate.

It seems to me that the right to die poses no greater threat to a community than the right to leave the community for another reason does. When one leaves a community, whether by natural death, suicide, or emigration, the “mutual rights and duties” simply evaporate; from the community’s perspective, this means one less contributor, but also one less beneficiary. The community itself continues to function, and the rules — the balance between rights and duties — for those who remain in the community do not become “fully negotiable,” or typically change at all.

Bertrand Guns

St. Louis, Mo.

 

Diederik Boomsma and Jonathan Price reply: Even the decision to emigrate may not be as morally neutral as suggested by Mr. Guns. What if you leave behind a sick mother? Surely the duties of a husband or father do not simply “evaporate” by the individual’s choosing to leave. Would it be okay to emigrate at any time? After you get a mortgage? While in the army in a battle? In fact, there are laws against such irresponsible behavior. Would it be less irresponsible to leave by committing suicide, claiming a state-guaranteed right to die? In many cases, the decision may not be illegal but, nevertheless, be immoral.

It is true that, after death, the mutual rights and duties of a person de facto disappear. But the consequences of death — and suicide in this case — do not. It is a cliché but still true that no man is an island; he is dependent on countless others, towards whom he inescapably has positive duties. To think of society in terms of “contributors” and “beneficiaries” is to reduce the political community to merely an economic arrangement. There are differences between duties towards the family or community and towards the state, of both degree and kind. But if the state actively defends and champions the rights of individuals to die, that right affects and, in fact, erodes the mutual commitments that bind the community and family.

Private life is a separate sphere but not separable from public life. And to support such a “liberty” to die or be killed is to foster the illusion that society is a sea of free-floating individuals, that the ultimate freedom is freedom from consequences. Freedom, then, is — as Janis Joplin belted out — “just another word for nothing left to lose.”

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Quotin’ Obama

When an MSNBC commentator accuses someone of racism, it’s dog bites man. MSNBC is a Left-heavy channel; the Left can hardly talk without accusing others of racism. Last month, however, ...
Politics & Policy

Occupy Salem

So there were Hula Hoops, a composting station, facially pierced trustafarians eating quiche, 9/11 truthers and U.S.S. Liberty truthers, the Black Panther Party, a demand that you “define your aesthetic, ...
Politics & Policy

Action Report

‘I’d say it’s been quite considerable,” says Ed Feulner, “judging from both the friendly and critical calls that I hear on a routine basis from Capitol Hill.” Feulner, the longtime ...

Features

Politics & Policy

The Storm-Calmer

Baton Rouge, La. — The Louisiana Democratic party has effectively conceded this year’s gubernatorial race. This does not mean merely that the party could not find a big-name challenger — ...

Books, Arts & Manners

The Straggler

Words, Words, Words

  The launching of a conservative weekly journal of opinion in a country widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather ...
Politics & Policy

To Serve and Protect

In a New York Times obituary published a few days after his death earlier this year, William J. Stuntz’s onetime boss at Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, ...
Politics & Policy

A Left Fairy Tale

Near the midway point of The Ides of March, George Clooney’s handsome new movie about a fictional battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, I found myself trying to imagine the ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ A bunch of obnoxious, freakish-looking people made a spectacle of themselves in downtown New York. You don’t say. ‐ “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which ...
The Long View

From Craigslist.org:

RIDESHARES WANTED: Looking for chill, progressive person to share ride to #occupywallstreet protest in New York. Me: 28, inked, Ph.D. candidate in Modern French Outsider Fiction, progressive, smart, great conversationalist, diverse ...
Athwart

Null, Spacy

Moving stones from one place to another is an ancient human pastime. For thousands of years, it’s all they had to do. You can build an astrological observatory with religious ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

HEAVEN AND EARTH Experience of life: its routines; the workaday world; home leisure, reassuring in their way, buttress our sense of life’s rational elements, its continuity upholding our need for a beginning, a middle, ...
Happy Warrior

Revolution, Inc.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Ben & Jerry’s, the hippie-dippy Vermont ice-cream makers, have come out in favor of “Occupy Wall Street.” Or as their press release puts ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

Suicide Dissolution In their argument against assisted suicide (“Western Suttee,” October 17), Diederik Boomsma and Jonathan Price claim that “a state recognizing an inalienable right to die could not be anything ...

Most Popular

Elections

In Defense of the Electoral College

Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is ... Read More
Elections

Stick a Fork in O’Rourke

If, as I wrote last week here, Joe Biden may save the Democratic party from a horrible debacle at the polls next year, Beto O’Rourke may be doing the whole process a good turn now. Biden, despite his efforts to masquerade as the vanguard of what is now called progressivism, is politically sane and, if ... Read More
National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict -- countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and ... Read More
U.S.

The War on Red Caps Roars On

Three recent prosecutions suggest that President Trump’s supporters who have endured abuse and violence for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats will receive justice. Police arrested Ryan M. Salvagno, 19, of Somerset, N.J., on February 27. Two days earlier, authorities say, he hounded an ... Read More