In the UK there’s an organisation called Dignity In Dying that is campaigning for a change in the laws relating to mentally competent individuals who wish to end their lives as a result of terminal illness. Currently, assisted dying (along with assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia) are illegal in the UK and a person who aids another in ending their life can be sentenced to up to fourteen years in prison.
Over the months I’ve been following this organisation’s social media campaigning with interest because, although they are asking for ‘better’ laws and not questioning the moral legitimacy of The Law in the first place, they are talking about liberty and individual choice – and that’s never a bad thing. As they say:
“The case for change is clear – unbearable suffering, inflicted on a dying person who wishes to die, is unjust and unacceptable.”
Indeed, it is unjust and morally unacceptable. It is one of the most obvious ways in which The State, with its supposed legal and moral ‘right’ to use coercive means to restrict the choices and peaceful actions of individuals, causes human suffering as result. Most laws exist as a result of the successful lobbying of government by various special interest groups. Through The Law such groups get to impose their choices upon the rest of society, which has the effect of erasing everyone’s else’s freedom (or ‘right’) to make and act upon their own choices because anyone who resists the choice inflicted upon them is imprisoned. In effect, laws grant certain groups of people the ‘right’ to choose what everyone else should do; a right or freedom that without the coercive powers of The State no one would grant them.
The cartoon below, released by Dignity In Dying, reveals that those at the organisation recognise and acknowledge the immorality and absurdity of the assertion that groups of people, be they politicians, doctors or vicars, somehow have the right to choose what a (mentally competent) but terminally ill person does with their own body. I think it’s great that they’ve been circulating media like this because this cartoon is a recognition of the concept of human self-ownership and, by extension, property rights – which is the foundation of liberty.
The Dignity In Dying campaign has had a great deal of mainstream media exposure and the backing of various celebrities, which is wonderful because it’s pushing the concept of self-ownership and liberty – the idea that we should strive for a society where individuals are free to make their own choices – into the spotlight; it’s getting people to think about why it’s necessary and good for individuals to be at liberty to choose and to act upon those choices. Liberty is good because the opposite is immoral and it’s necessary in order to allow individuals to arrive at the result that’s best for them. The assisted dying scenario is a particularly good example to use to highlight the virtue of liberty because the negative consequences of restricting terminally ill people’s freedom to end their own suffering are so heart-wrenchingly tragic.
Take a look at the image at the top of this post. On the right side is the original Dignity In Dying poster and on the left is my re-working of it. I’ve no doubt that many people would be uncomfortable with or troubled by the argument on the left because of its connotations – it means accepting that taxation is a violation of our exclusive right to dispose of our property as we wish – but it’s simply just a logical extension of the Dignity In Dying argument based on self-ownership. For if we hold that no one has the right to tell another what they should do with their body, then it follows that no one has the right to tell people what they should do with their property (i.e. redistribute a percentage of everyone’s wealth via taxation). This is because, as a consequence of the physical law of cause and effect, we not only own our minds and bodies we also own the effects of our minds and bodies. Which means along with the exclusive right to choose what we do with our bodies (which is what Dignity In Dying is campaigning for), we also have the exclusive right to choose what we do with our property (which is basically what libertarianism and anarchism set forth). The logical distance between these two self-evident truths is a mere hair’s breadth, but to the majority it still seems like a chasm; a leap from good to evil. However, that chasm is slowly shrinking and the distant mirage of evil is slowly fading. One day soon enough people will see that they can easily manage that little logical leap and that there’s nothing to fear on the other side. And then humanity will never be the same again.