As 79-year-old “Dr. Death” Jack Kevorkian – a campaigner of assisted suicide – is set to leave prison coming Friday, the question of “right to die” will perhaps become a hot topic as the celebrity pathologist says he will “work to have it legalized.”
But I believe the fight to legalize assisted suicide needs to address the fundamental question first – is there a fundamental right to suicide? At the end of this entry I try to give an answer.
An article by the Associated Press at ABC News says, “as he prepares to leave prison June 1 after serving more than eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence in the death of a Michigan man, Kevorkian will find that there’s still only one state that has a law allowing physician-assisted suicide Oregon.”
The only son of Armenian Genocide survivors, Kevorkian has been quoted as saying that as an Armenian he knows what pain and suffering is. But, I think, he may not see his struggle succeed during his lifetime because the root of the question – whether somebody has a right to die – has not been established; not even debated much.
This semester I took my first introductory class to law – Constitutional Law II with Denver Attorney Charles Norton who teaches at the University of Colorado at Denver. One of the students initiated a debate on “right to die” and continued arguing – with intuition – that is should be recognized in the Constitution. The debate was quite long but did not seem very academic. The professor discouraged the off topic and I was silent all the time. On my way to home something in me also said that a person should have the right to decide their fait, and I came up with a constitutional argument.
Several weeks after the first debate the topic was again brought up by the same student. After not talking for an hour, I finally presented my thesis and ended up including it in my final paper as a final thought (it was not part of the questions though). I guess if I end up feeling stronger about the issue and take time a PhD thesis could be written on this, but right now I just want to present the thought to those of you who have background in constitutional law. And by the way, please don’t plagiarize my thesis below.
Death is universally inevitable. One cannot have right to something that is already absolutely unavoidable. Yet voluntary conscience decision to end one’s own life is an extreme application of one’s right to pursue happiness (which can be established with the Palko formula of a fundamental right).
In short, there is no right to die but there is right to happiness which, in an extreme situation, may mean to end life.
With the Palko test (a Supreme Court case that established the precedential definition of a fundamental right with the following criteria: 1.”principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental;” 2. liberty and justice would not exist if the fundamental right was sacrificed), the United States Supreme Court will never recognize a right to suicide because it is not rooted in the traditions of the American people.
Quit contrary, America’s major religious [Judeo-Christian] tradition holds it a crime to commit suicide. In addition to the tradition, death is universally inevitable. One, I would think, cannot have a right to something that is already absolutely unavoidable.
Fifth-century historian Yeghishe has said, “Unconscious death is death, conscious death is immortality.” Voluntary conscious decision to end one’s own life could be an extreme application of one’s right to pursue happiness.
Although a right to “pursue happiness” is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. constitution, it is mentioned in America’s birth certificate – the Declaration of Independence – which is a written document (if not THE written document) of America’s collective conscience.
If the Palko test is impartially applied, I think it would be an objective and valid argument to say that right to pursue happiness is a fundamental one and liberty and justice cannot exist without recognizing it. It may take a long time before the Court, if ever, recognizes such a right and only after its establishment it would be possible to argue that voluntary conscious decision to suicide is part of the fundamental right to pursue happiness.
So Dr. Kevorkian’s struggle may be a long one, and it may be wise to consider the Constitutional issues involved with it.
I will charge only $15,000 an hour to present this argument to the United States Supreme Court. 😉