Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"We are all terminal."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has an enlightening article on an interview he did with Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

This quote will obviously stand out for most people:
"The single worst moment of my life... was the moment I was born."

What philosophy shapes this man's thinking? For instance, how can he be so willing to say something like this:
"They just don't get it in Oregon, " he said. "Or in Washington state or Montana, the other states," where assisted suicide has been legalized. In those states, a person has to be considered terminal in order to qualify for assisted suicide.

"What difference does it make if someone is terminal?" he said. "We are all terminal."

Kevorkian's philosophy seems to have an inner coherence. It is a radical individualism, based on the principle that humans have the right to absolute personal freedom. As Gupta realizes,
This wasn't just about assisted suicide; this was about upholding the ability for people to do whatever they wanted to do, without interference from doctors, the states or the federal government.

That the rights of the masses should not impede on the rights of a few. Someone once told me that was the "gist" of the Ninth Amendment, and it is something that has helped inform Dr. Jack Kevorkian's thinking and his life.

Kevorkian has taken this belief in personal liberty to the extreme. Each individual is entitled to determine the value of absolutely everything pertaining to his own existence, including whether or not to continue in that existence.

Gupta brings up a natural objection to this principle, yet Kevorkian does not waver:
"In times of desperation, people may make decisions they regret," I started up again. "This isn't about deciding whether you want frozen yogurt or ice cream. These decisions about patholysis are ... forever."

He agreed with that point, but quickly pointed out that he obtained mental health exams on all of his patients before agreeing to proceed. He also thoroughly reviewed medical records -- about what he was looking for exactly, he was less forthcoming. Fact is, he says he turned down "many" patients who had requested his services.

Could it be that the value of human life is ultimately undermined by the belief that reason comes from within the human person? So long as a human being is thinking rationally--by what standard remains unclear--Kevorkian believes he has the right to determine his life is not worth continuing.

I've been commenting on libertarian political and economic thought for a while now. In a previous post I said I disagree with libertarians that personal liberty is the highest political good. Kevorkian is the perfect example to illustrate my point. In his philosophy, the individual actually has supreme moral authority over himself. Taken to the extreme, this leads to devaluing human life; this is why he can say that the worst point in his life was being born.

Which from a common point of view undermines the whole philosophy, because if human life isn't even inherently valuable, why should a human be trusted with moral decisions? But then again, maybe these decisions being made aren't moral decisions at all, since they are being made concerning human life--which, it is assumed, has little or no inherent value. In which case it appears to make very little difference what rights we have as humans.

Where can reason even begin when the subject is your own life? What are the rational criteria for distinguishing between life and death? Death is not a product to be consumed; death consumes you. Death and life are not products to be compared; life is the presence of possibility, and death is the absence of any possibilities.

Our nation was founded on the belief in the right to life, liberty, and property. Perhaps the most fundamental error we could commit philosophically is equating any of these two. Life is not property. You do not have life; you are alive, or else you are dead. To be dead is not to have death instead of life; to be dead is for death to have you.

Which makes me wonder: can any political ideology be truly coherent if it accepts the idea that the ultimate destiny of all humanity is to die?

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