Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Essay One: Legal Explanation

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Essay One: Legal Explanation

Article excerpt

At the end of my life, I presume to restate my opinion on a question which has occupied my thinking for many years, but which most people timidly avoid because it is seen as delicate and hard to answer. Indeed it could not unjustly be said that in this case we have to do "with a sticking point in our moral and social outlook."(1) It consists in this: Should permissible taking of life be restricted, except in emergency situations, to an individual's act of suicide as it is in current law, or should it be legally extended to the killing of fellow human beings, and under what conditions?

Dealing with this issue directs us to many cases whose circumstances shake each of us to the core. Hence it is even more necessary not to leave the last word either to feelings or to exaggerated scruples, but instead to decide the matter on the basis of a thoughtful, juridical evaluation of the grounds which favor, and the considerations which oppose, an affirmative answer. Only on such firm foundations can we build further.

Therefore, I put the greatest emphasis on strict legal argument. For this very reason, a firm starting point can be secured only in current law. To what extent, then, is killing humans allowed (2) today again apart from emergency situations, and what is to be understood by this? Recognizing a right to kill would be the opposite of "allowing." We are not considering any such right here.

Scientific clarification of the statutory starting point is even more critical because it is so frequently understood very vaguely or even totally misunderstood.

Part I: The Current Legal Status of Suicide,

and So-Called Complicity in It

(1) Human beings are raised into existence by an irresistible force. Coming to terms with this fate is our life task. How we do that, within the limits of our freedom of movement, is up to each of us alone. To that extent one is the native sovereign of one's own life.

Despite the fact that the book here translated has been mentioned in a variety of recent works, including Robert Lifton's Nazi Doctors (at pages 45-48), obtaining an intact copy of the original German text was strangely difficult. The only North American library that appears to own the book is Harvard's Widener Library, which, however, was unable to locate it.

We are therefore most especially grateful to Professor Doctor Reinhard Lauth of Munich for his personal assistance, and to Mr. Richard Meiner of the Felix M einer Verlag for his remarkable generosity in producing for us a clean copy of the original book from the private Meiner Verlag archive. We were doubly fortunate in this, since the Meiner Verlag had only just rediscovered the volume, which they had thought to be irretrievably lost. Without Professor Lauth' s kind inquiries, and Richard Meiner's generosity, this translation would not have been possible.

A photocopy of the original Meiner Verlag book is now held by Clark University's Goddard Library and is available to scholars who have need of it.--W. Wright, P. Derr.

1 Jost, Das Recht aufden Tod [The Right to Die--Trans.], Gottingen, 1895, p. 1.

2 Freigegben--Trans.

The law, which is powerless to make the strength of individuals proportionate to the burdens laid upon them by life, expresses this idea distinctly by recognizing everyone's freedom to end his own life.(3)

After an extended, deeply unchristian, interruption in the recognition of this right (an interruption demanded by the church and supported by the obscene idea that the God of love could wish that human beings not die until they undergo endless physical and spiritual suffering),(4) it has now been fully reestablished (except in a few backward countries) as an inalienable possession for all time. Natural law would have grounds for calling this freedom the primary "human fight."

(II) But how this freedom is to be viewed in the context of our statutory provisions is by no means certain. …

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