In the wake of Brittany Maynard’s highly publicized death, many advocates are pressing for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide for patients in the throes of terminal illness, as in California’s recently introduced Senate Bill 128, a “death-with-dignity” measure. The claim to such a right raises many questions. For instance, if there is a “right to assisted suicide,” why would such a right be restricted only to those in the throes of terminal illness? What about the elderly person suffering a slow but nonterminal decline, or the young adult in the throes of depression, demoralization or despair?
Once we adopt the principle that assisted suicide is acceptable, then the fences erected around it – having six months to live, or having mental capacity, for example – are inevitably arbitrary.