September 29, 2015

"But what if someone sincerely believes that he is obligated by his own religion, or at least motivated by that religion, to assist suicide?"

Asks Eugene Volokh.
What if, for instance, he believes that the parable of the Good Samaritan commands him to help his patient, or his wife, or anyone else to escape pain — or what they feel to be indignity — by helping them end their lives? (Assume that the target of this help wants to die, is in pain and is already near death. And assume that we’re in a state that forbids assisting suicide.)...
The federal Free Exercise Clause doesn't require accommodations, but there are statutes and state constitutional law provisions that give relief from substantial burdens on the exercise of religion unless the government has a compelling interest that can only be served by imposing that burden.
[T]he government [could say] that it has a compelling government interest in preventing people from being pressured into giving up their lives, and that a total ban on assisted suicide is the least restrictive means of preventing such pressure.... [S]ubtle pressure can happen even while the relatives are denying to themselves that they actually want the person to die... [O]nce assisted suicide becomes just another choice... families might subtly or overtly threaten to withdraw their affections, and the ill person may find life no longer worth living.... Is there a compelling interest in preventing such emotionally or psychologically pressured choices (even if not forcibly coerced choices) in favor of suicide?
I have an old Religion-and-the-Constitution exam somewhere — not in this computer — where I made up a religion that had an "assisted suicide" belief, basically a ritualistic killing of persons who had reached a certain stage of debilitation in proximity to death. My hypothetical went beyond a religious belief that one ought to help a dying person die when that person wanted to die. In "my" religion, the dying person also had an obligation to depart. I explained these religious beliefs with such dry neutrality that not one student expressed any outrage or disgust.

I wonder what Professor Volokh would say if the dying person's desire to die rested on religious obligation.

ADDED: In my exam hypo, the individuals who were killed were members of the religion, sharing the killer's belief system. In Volokh's hypothetical, the killer could be a real Dr. Death Reverend Death, ministering to everyone who wants to die (and is in pain and near death). Dr. Kevorkian, but with religion.

AND: Kevorkian, much criticized by religionists, was hostile to religion:
In his keynote address at the Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention in 1990, Kevorkian told convention-goers: "Religion is telling law what to do, and law is telling doctors what to do. Religion dictates to law, and law dictates to ethics. No wonder we have problems. That's insanity!"

52 comments:

Brando said...

I'm sure Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz would rush to defend such would-be Kevorkians because they are after all champions of religious liberty.

damikesc said...

There is not a religion I've ever heard that views the human body as less than a gift from God that we have no right to kill. All of them view your body as a gift from your Creator and not just something you can do with whatever you wish.

Anybody making a claim is not basing on any faith I've ever seen.

The Cracker Emcee said...

I made up a religion where monkeys fly out of my ass at 20-minute intervals. What would Eugene say if said monkeys flew into rush hour traffic and tore the windshield wipers off every Volvo they could find?

Michael K said...

Richard Lamm was not reached for his opinion.

Lamm said that elderly, terminally ill patients, have “a duty to die and get out of the way... so that our kids can build a reasonable life."

He had evaded his duty so far and is 80.

rhhardin said...

You'd think that the good Samaritan story would have been recognized as racist by now.

Probably they don't want to criticize Jesus.

The point is that you wouldn't expect a Samaritan to be good.

So you get this unexpected aid in your death by a person that you'd have expected to he unhelpful.

Wait, is this a contradiction?

Laslo Spatula said...

"I explained these religious beliefs with such dry neutrality that not one student expressed any outrage or disgust."

I posit that there is no such thing as a neutral hypothetical.


I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

You can just move into single-payer health systems if you want to off yourself.

rhhardin said...

Outrage AND disgust both at once may be impossible. You have to choose. I suppose you could alternate, but with what dwell time?

rhhardin said...

What happens if somebody assists in your suicide and takes your wallet?

wildswan said...

The thing is that people are not left in pain these days. So take out that part.

And they can refuse "heroic" treatments that are very hard on them but that only extend their lives by a day or a month. Even treatments like dialysis which are not particularly hard on them can be refused. This often results in death within a predictable period.

They can go home and be with their family almost till the end and then go to a hostel where the workers can explain what the onset of death looks like so that the family is not frozen with terror and unable to face what the dying person has to face.

And this is what people should be thinking about. How can I be with the dying person helping them? Not asking: how how can I justify running away in fear leaving the nursing to unknown persons and the killing to a doctor.

Why tell a the doctor to brutalize himself by giving an injection to an unknown dying person? And it's funny how the people who oppose the death penalty for murder are quite ready to support it for their "loved ones" whose quality of life", (i.e., they are old) isn't up to the standards of a Millennial.

rhhardin said...

The religious exemption is needed because of the size of government. It ought to have been taken care of by freedom of association and such things, lost long ago.

CommonHandle said...

damickec,
"Anybody making a claim is not basing on any faith I've ever seen."

India is actually going through something similar to what is being described, though this is a religious obligation to suicide rather than 'assisted' suicide.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34105602

Ron Winkleheimer said...

@The Cracker Emcee

Ditto. We have enough real world issues balancing religious liberty with other rights. Only lawyers would see a need for hypothetical situations.

Ann Althouse said...

"There is not a religion I've ever heard that views the human body as less than a gift from God that we have no right to kill."

Never heard of human sacrifice?

Aztecs?

Gahrie said...

In "my" religion, the dying person also had an obligation to depart

In many cultures there was a cultural expectation that the elderly and infirm would sacrifice themselves for the good of the village. (The old Inuit on an ice floe routine.)

Peter said...

Should other legal processes fail, there is always jury nullification ...

Dr.D said...

No Christian minister can assist in death. It is understood that God is the author of life and He is the one to determine the beginning and the end. That said, you might well find some voodoo priest, satanist, etc. willing to help. It's what they do.

Laslo Spatula said...

In "my" religion, the dying woman also has an obligation to depart. The men have no such obligation.

Quantize the Hypothetical!

I am Laslo.

John Tuffnell said...

Don't forget to sell the spare parts.

Waste not want not.

Laslo Spatula said...

Ming had this solved.

Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?

The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes.

Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?

The Emperor Ming: Certainly!

Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space?

[Ming glares at Zogi]

Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.

The Emperor Ming: I do.


I am Laslo.

James Pawlak said...

Kervokian was hostile to LIFE.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Is there a compelling interest in preventing such emotionally or psychologically pressured choices (even if not forcibly coerced choices) in favor of suicide?

But of course Big Gov is expressly in the business of using emotionally or psychologically pressured choices to influence citizens' behaviors nowadays. You can call it a "Nudge" if that makes it more palatable, but that's what we do, and the more Big Gov you get the more of that you'll see, necessarily.
When you combine Big Gov with Big Media (deciding what topics are out of bounds, which videos are just too disturbing to show, etc) people get nudged all over the place--almost enough to dust off those Marxist ideas about false consciousness--the ones the Left still use to excuse their intrusions into your life in the first place.

Michael said...

This is another case where hypocrisy can be a good thing. The regime we had for years was that assisted suicide was illegal but allowed. In extreme cases, patients/families and doctors would take actions that would result in death (excessive morphine drip, etc.) knowing that they were breaking the law. Everyone, including prosecutors, would pretend to believe that death was from natural causes - unless - there was reason to believe that action was taken for reasons of financial gain, relatives' personal convenience, etc., in which case everyone could be subject to prosecution. This would allow death in extreme cases, make families and especially doctors very careful about everyone's motivations, and honor the reverence for life in religion and society while quietly acknowledging that there are times to make exceptions.

Of course, this was when people were allowed to exercise judgment and conduct their own affairs.

Eleanor said...

As long as people enter into a religion willingly, I have no problem with the religion expecting them to do anything. If the religion expects you to kill yourself at some point, but you're free to leave the religion instead, then only those ready and willing to die will. Various religions have rules about what members can eat, wear, do for entertainment, etc. They dictate who their members can marry. The rest of us are free to follow different rules and customs. There's no danger to society from ritual killing as long as those being killed are from inside the group doing the killing, and people in the group have the freedom to leave at will. People should be free to drink as much Kool-Aid as they want, but not to give it to their kids or slip into someone's drink without telling them. The real danger comes when a government makes those decisions for the people, and there's no "opt out" clause.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5YtyW1aXIY

Michael K said...

"Even treatments like dialysis which are not particularly hard on them can be refused"

The commonest cause of death of people on dialysis, or was a few years ago, is suicide. It is very easy. Just stop going to dialysis or, in the old days of the Scribner shunt, disconnect the shunt. I had a patient do this once. It made a huge mess.

Doctors used to do this in cooperation with patients and their families. I did. Then the lawyers got involved.

Christopher said...

"Religion is telling law what to do, and law is telling doctors what to do. Religion dictates to law, and law dictates to ethics. No wonder we have problems. That's insanity!"


Whenever I hear/read a statement like this I am reminded of the subject of eugenics and how all those crazy religious folks are the only ones to have consistently opposed it. All those rational people jumped on the forced sterilization and euthanasia bandwagons the first chance they got.

SeanF said...

Althouse: I wonder what Professor Volokh would say if the dying person's desire to die rested on religious obligation.

I wonder why you wonder that. You seem to be implying it might cause some kind of cognitive dissonance for Prof. Volokh, or cause him to rethink what he's saying about the person doing the assisting, but I don't see why it would.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Richard Dawkins advocates that it is time to stop deferring to any given belief, value or judgment on the basis that it is motivated by religion.

But there is such a thing as history, same as there is such a thing as the way things are right now.

It's pretty easy to see the way things are trending for the future.

dbp said...


1. The Aztec's "sacrificed" Human prisoners--people they were going to kill anyway.

2. Isn't the government far more restricted in what it can compel you to DO than in what it can prevent you from DOING?

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

Pro-choice for premeditated abortion of wholly innocent human lives.

Pro-choice for construction of congruences to selective excludes politically unfavorable orientations and behaviors.

Pro-choice to fit the square peg in the round hole.

A pro-choice doctrine is a-religious or amoral. A pro-choice cult is the answer.

eric said...

Wait, I thought Logans Run was just a movie?

Right guys?

Bobby said...

dbp,

"The Aztec's "sacrificed" Human prisoners--people they were going to kill anyway."

Generally-speaking, during the time period before, during and after the guerra florida this is true, but with respect to the whole of Aztec history, it was not always the case that human sacrifices had to come from prisoners of war. Different Aztec gods required different kinds of sacrifices, and Huitzilopochtli was the one who required prisoners of war as his tribute, happened to be in ascendance at the time of both the guerra florida and the Spanish conquest, and is therefore most commonly known and understood by the rest of us. However, I suspect even casual observers of Mesoamerican history are familiar with the practice of the losing ballgame side being sacrificed (as just one example of many non-prisoner of war sacrifices that were quite common in Aztec and, to a lesser extent, Mayan religious culture).

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The Aztecs needed protein like Mars needs women.

iowan2 said...

God this is tedious. Life wins. Taking a life is illegal as per the US constitution. Life is a right. For babies and the infirmed. That's the decision of the governed, not government. Abortions and assisted suicide have always existed. What the debate is about is immunity from prosecution. Roe v wade granted blanket immunity. It never changed the constitutional protection of life. Just prevented legal consequences. Abortions took place before Roe. The risk of prosecution was there. Assisted suicide has always been with us, again we are just talking about immunity. The only way to do grant that is from the people. Not judges. They lack the power. The people never ceded their power to judges.

Fernandinande said...

Ann Althouse said...
Never heard of human sacrifice?

Aztecs?


Never heard of Islam? Crusades? Inquisition? Buddhists? "Divine Wind"?

Fernandinande said...

iowan2 said...
God this is tedious. Life wins. Taking a life is illegal as per the US constitution.


No.

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; ..."

Static Ping said...

Bobby, the ball game sacrifices are still very much under debate. It may have been the losing team's captain or even the entire losing team, but some theories say that it was the winning team's captain that was sacrificed as an honor, having some parallels to the Viking Valhalla honor. It may have also been used as an excuse to sacrifice prisoners who were put in a rigged game. It is also possible that all of these are true for different cultures, at different times, and for different purposes.

As I understand it, much if not most of the Aztec human sacrifices did not involve willing victims, though there probably were exceptions. For instance, Tezcatlipoca's sacrifice involved a young boy who would get to spend the year as the living incarnation of the god, escorted by four beautiful women, and when the year ended the youth would be sacrificed. It is unclear from Wikipedia if the youth was a volunteer or a captive, but the concept of four beautiful women servicing you for a year might be sufficient motivation.

The Aztecs would be a poor choice for an example of assisted suicide, given the involuntary nature of many of the sacrifices as well as the inclusion of child sacrifice. Perhaps a modified version of the Aztec religion in which all sacrifices were voluntary would work in the hypothetical, but the "standard" religion involves too much of killing the non-involved to be tolerated in any society that did not explicitly embrace it.

Static Ping said...

"Religion is telling law what to do, and law is telling doctors what to do. Religion dictates to law, and law dictates to ethics. No wonder we have problems. That's insanity!"

I think that quote says more about the doctor than religion. He definitely did not grasp the definition of "insanity." Religion informing law may not be the ideal arrangement and it may be of questionable legality depending on the legal structure of the institution, but it is definitely a rational way to form law. It is most certainly a rational way to form ethics, given that religion delves heavily into that area. Failing to get what you want is not the definition of "insanity."

dbp said...

This is a good point Bobby.

The Aztecs did destroy things they thought of as valuable as a sacrifice to they gods, even if most of the people murdered were prisoners. They presumably did not kill old people whose "lives were no longer worth living" as human sacrifices though. They were savages not utilitarians after all.

Fernandinande said...

"Such sacrifices then were well-established in Mexico before the Aztecs came, being found in some degree even among the relatively peaceful Toltecs. What the Aztec priesthood did was to multiply them to a frightful extent."

Static ping said ...
For instance, Tezcatlipoca's sacrifice involved a young boy who would get to spend the year as the living incarnation of the god,


Read all about it: "Killing the God in Mexico."
"And during the time that this representation lasted, which was for a year in some feasts, in others six months, and in others less, they reverenced and worshipped him in the same manner as the proper idol; and in the meantime he did eat, drink, and was merry. When he went through the streets, the people came forth to worship him, and every one brought him an alms, with children and sick folks, that he might cure them, and bless them, suffering him to do all things at his pleasure, only he was accompanied with ten or twelve men lest he should fly. And he (to the end he might be reverenced as he passed) sometimes sounded upon a small flute, that the people might prepare to worship him. The feast being come, and he grown fat, they killed him, opened him, and ate him, making a solemn sacrifice of him."

Bobby said...

Static,

It's been more than a decade since I studied pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, and it was never my area of expertise. But Ann's point was to use (specifically, Aztec) human sacrifice practices to refute damikesc's point that he'd never heard of a religion that didn't view the human body as anything less than a gift from God that we had no right to kill. And on those grounds, she's correct.

I agree that the Aztecs probably would have had the highest proportion of unwilling-to-willing sacrifices-- in fact, it was their need to sacrifice so many prisoners of war that (among other things, of course) drove them to such war-like behavior (which explains, in part, why so many of those other Mesoamerican cultures were all too willing to join Cortes in overthrowing their Aztec masters, but that's a different matter). Certainly, many of the other Mesoamerican cultures would have been better examples to draw a parallel to assisted suicide. But even the Aztecs would have had some number of willing sacrifices (I think they even believed that dying in war or by sacrifice were the only ways of getting into the highest levels of "heaven," a fate which also linked to a mother's chances of getting in).

But there's lots of religions and cultures that view suicide or assisted suicide in much greyer shades than does Judeo-Christian tradition -- I think Japanese seppuku is perhaps the most well-known to Americans. Were the Aztecs the best example? Probably not. But it still makes her point that such religions and cultures did and do exist, and dismissing it out of hand with "well, I've never heard of such a thing so it can't exist" is dodging the philosophical issue that she put before us.

iowan2 said...

Blogger Fernandinande said...
iowan2 said...
God this is tedious. Life wins. Taking a life is illegal as per the US constitution.

No.

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment..........

I was responding on a phone. I took as assumption, due to brevity, that everyone understands the constitution explicitly calls for the death penalty, that assumes due process. It does illustrate how the judiciary has violated their jurisdiction in setting limits, as far as age, fitness,seriousness of the charge, etc concerning the death penalty. How its used and its limits are 100% a power that rests with the people.

To repeat. Judges rulings on assisted suicide, abortions, the death penalty are all rulings that exceed judicial powers, powers that constitutionally rest with the people, not judges.

Static Ping said...

Bobby: Well noted. I am not an expert on the Aztecs either, but the ball game controversy is something I stumbled upon over the years.

As to the philosophical, it gets very confused very quickly. If one assumes that human sacrifice can be tolerated on religious grounds, the dangers of this institution become obvious. First, children cannot consent, so that would have to be out. Second, for adults those that do consent would have to be scrutinized. Should it be legal to pay someone to be a sacrifice? How do we verify that the volunteer is really a volunteer and not drugged, brain washed, etc.? And what happens if consent is revoked at the last minute and the sacrifice is completed anyway? Third, we get into the whole human trafficking problem but now on an entirely other level. Fourth, the Aztecs sacrificed things of value, so a person on his dead bed would be of no value. What happens when the sacrifice is terminally ill but hides that fact? Can the religion demand a refund?

n.n said...

So, Kevorkian was a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation cult. With its own peculiar religious/moral philosophy (probably pro-choice) and tell-tale faith. Perhaps it's just a correlation, but unacknowledged faith breeds narcissism.

William said...

In order to discourage illegal immigration, the Commanches used to torture the children of settlers to death before their parents' eyes. Then they tortured and killed the parents. I understand that there was some religious significance to these acts. If you piteously begged for mercy before you died, then your soul became the slave of the warrior in the afterlife. If you manned up and faced down these tribulations stoically, then your soul achieved freedom in the afterlife......Certain Indian tribes are given a dispensation to use peyote, but toleration of religious customs will only get you so far. Indians are not allowed to torture babies--those that are post term anyway--and Kentucky fundamentalists are not allowed to dodge signing marriage licenses.

Mark said...

There are already, present or past, plenty of religions. Some of them have been death cults. So why this need to invent some BS religion for some hypothetical?

The Godfather said...

An intellectual case can be made for suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, etc. The problem is that, in reality, the subjects are almost always the weakest and most helpless among us, whereas others involved in the decision-making may benefit from the death of the subject being sooner rather than later. How "voluntary" is a sick, old person's decision to forego life-extending treatment urged on him/her by the family or by the hypothetical death cult priest? If it is a legitimate function of government to protect the helpless, aren't laws against suicide a way of leveling the playing field (or dying field) a little?

richard mcenroe said...

The VA is presently pushing assisted suicide literature on elderly disabled vets. If you want to know if something is a good or bad idea, look and see if this administration is doing it.

Nichevo said...

Cut to the chase please, Ann, which freedom do you now wish to take from us for our own good?

Why would you not vote for Hillary!? You are Hillary!.

mikeyes said...

Richard McEnroe,

Please show me where the VA has literature that either offers physician assisted suicide or offers lethal methods to VA patients. You can't make that statement without backing it up. Since it is against VA policy to do so and probably illegal to boot, you are accusing them a crime that needs to be prosecuted.