An Argument against Legalization
SO FAR, we have considered arguments for assisted suicide and euthanasia based on history, fairness, neutrality, the harm principle, and utilitarianism. I have suggested that, if the harm and neutrality principles support any assisted suicide right, they tend toward (if not require) a right open to all competent adults; that arguments from history and fairness seem not to compel such a right at all; and that arguments from utilitarianism are indecisive.
In this chapter, I seek to lay the groundwork for a different argument, one that has been largely overlooked in contemporary American debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia. It is an argument for retaining existing law on the basis that human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.1 My argument, based on secular moral theory, is consistent with the common law and long-standing medical ethics.
To be clear from the outset, I do not seek to address publicly authorized forms of killing like capital punishment and war. Such public acts of killing raise unique questions all their own.2 In this chapter, I seek only to explain and defend an exceptionless norm against the intentional taking of human life by private persons. I begin by seeking to suggest that there are certain irreducible and non-instrumental human goods (and evils); I then proceed to argue that there is a moral imperative not to do intentional harm to such goods, and that such a rule would prohibit assisted suicide and euthanasia.
What do I mean by a basic good? And what does it mean to claim human life as a basic good?
In claiming something as a basic good, I have in mind something that is understood and felt as intrinsically worthwhile, an end that is a reason, sufficient in and of itself, for action and choice and decision. I have in mind something that is categorically good, not something that is good only because of its instrumental usefulness in achieving some other end. By definition, a basic good