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Does a person have a right to death?


The right to life is one of the most dearly held freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, followed closely by the right to make choices without government force or coercion. These two rights are fundamental from the Declaration of Independence to the Bill of Rights — life and liberty.

These two rights do not often directly overlap, meaning it is rare for a person to use his or her right to choice to deal with his or her own right to life. Abortion due to harm of the mother, “pulling the plug” and physician-assisted suicide are the three most common examples. The first two examples are currently legal. The third example, however, is only legal in Oregon, Montana and Washington, and only under strict circumstances with many hurdles in the way.

Picture Grandma A, a 94-year-old woman who has recently suffered her third stroke. This time she lost all mobility, as well as the ability to use the bathroom by herself. The stroke also made it painful for her to breathe and speak.

The doctors have determined that she can live another two years, but she will be in pain and lack the ability to do anything. The estimated cost for care in these last two years can reach six digits.

Grandma A has two married children with five grandchildren. She would rather leave her money and possessions to her family now than wait in misery for two years while much of the money gets dried up in health care costs.

Some people would automatically say that Grandma A has the right to choose death. Others would say it depends on the circumstances. Still others would say it’s not right under any circumstances.

Under the current laws in the states that allow physician-assisted suicide, the patient must be in sound mind, have less than six months to live and must go through a waiting period of at least 15 days. The purpose of the hurdles is to protect doctors from lawsuits for wrongful death of patients that might not have been sane when asking for assistance with death, as well as other potential problems.

While I understand that it needs to be carefully monitored, do the hurdles currently in place infringe on the ill individual’s right to choose what he or she wants to do with his or her own life?

What about individuals with illnesses like ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, that slowly drains the life of a person over a period of two to three years? Should they not be given the option because it is longer than six months? 

Ultimately, physician-assisted suicide comes down to a single question: can a sick person who will eventually die because of the sickness be able to choose death? If the right to life is a fundamental right, why is the right to death not?


Trenton Winford is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Madison.