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Thomas D. Sullivan Assisted Suicide and Assisted Torture Our family used to worry that my father would burn to death. A firefighter in Chicago at a time when terrible infernos were still common, my father had seen quite a few companions die while trying to help people trapped in buildings. My father seldom talked about his job at home, and when he did he kept it light, telling tales about the antics of the young men at Truck Nine/Engine Eleven, and so we all got the idea that it wae best to avoid the subject of fires. Once, though, when I was about nine or ten, I saw some very disturbing pictures in the paper. Unable to contain myself, I blurted out "Isn't that an awful way to die?" Trying to reassure me, Dad quietly replied"Those pictures suggest the people trapped in the building all burned to death, but usually the victims don't feel the flames—they die first by asphyxiation." Maybe, I thought, but I wondered if he was just hoping it was true. One thing seemed clear. Whatever exactly "asphyxiated" meant—I was none too sure—it was better to be asphyxiated than to go on living a few minutes in the midst of flames. I have often since thought about the fate of Dad's friend Dino, who wasn't logos 2:3 summer 1999 logos asphyxiated. Dino was working with a team of firefighters on the top of a building, trying to open up the roof. The building was supposed to be able to resist fire for several hours before collapsing. But because the owner had pulled several major support beams out of the basement to make the basement store more spacious, it all collapsed in about twenty minutes. When the roof gave way, Dino grabbed onto a crossbeam. Firefighters, who could not immediately reach him, sprayed water on Dino from the ground below. In agony, Dino slowly melted away. The thought later crossed my mind that instead of hosing Dino, somebody should have shot him. Crossed my mind. Did I ever come to believe that killing an innocent person might be the right thing to do? I don't know. I might have. What I do know is that frightening images disposed me to believe a person might be better off dead. For that reason, I have always felt drawn to the case for the permissibility of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Drawn, but not convinced. In what follows I will try to explain why. My focus will be personal choices, not legal and public policy issues. Questions about decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, fair treatment of especially vulnerable patients, maintaining public trust in the medical profession, and forcing medical personnel to act contrary to conscience are all exceedingly important. I think that Daniel Callahan and Margot White are probably right when they say "It is impossible in principle and in practice to regulate either euthanasia or physician assisted suicide successfully."1 Since, however, we cannot deal with everything at once, I will here only try to draw attention to a few ideas that seem worth bearing in mind when making personal decisions about the end of life. I will begin by attempting to get a clear view of just what is at issue. I will then argue that if I am to ready myself to kill innocent humans, I must satisfy a burden of proof. Next, I will consider whether the three most prominent arguments in favor of the legit- ASSISTED SUICIDE AND ASSISTED TORTURE imacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide provide adequate reason to believe the burden can be satisfied. 1 . The TraditionalArgument in Two Premises What, if anything, is wrong with suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia? The traditional short answer is that: ( ? ) Suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are all forms of intentionally killing innocent human beings. And, (2) It is always wrong intentionally to kill innocent human beings. Of course this settles nothing. All it does is move the issue back to premise (2). Why, after all, is it always wrong to kill human beings? Some consequentialists have argued that it makes no more sense to say you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 77-95
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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