To the common person, the term natural law may not hold much significance or may register in their mind as a type of law that is of the earth or based on nature. While this may seem like the right definition, it is not the case. The idea of Natural law is one which has a very broad range of application and is generally misapplied when the term is incorporated in the topics of science, philosophy, history, theology, and law. According to allaboutphilosophy.org, Natural Law is a moral theory of jurisprudence, which maintains that law should be based on whatr’s correct. (1) Furthermore, they state that Natural Law is discovered by humans through the use of reason and choosing between good and evil. (1) Because of this, Natural Law is seen as a consistent method of reason which can be held universally in its standards of morality and ethics.
A commonly debated topic which is rooted in morality is that of assisted suicide and whether the actions taken by the one committing suicide and the one helping are moral or not. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are topics which have been looked at in the United States as uncommon practice for much of the early 1900s until the mid-70s and 80s, which is when the idea began to gain pubic attention and traction within the Supreme Court. The general idea in question when it comes to assisted suicide, is whether it is moral for a person to decide that they are ready to die and for someone to help them accomplish that desire. While over the years, the general view has been that suicide and assisted suicide is wrong and by all costs should be avoided. By looking at assisted suicide through the lens of Natural Law, I believe that assisted suicide could be allowed to let people could choose their own death. The only problem with this idea is that Natural Law is a body of unchanging moral principles which is regarded as the basis for how all humanity conducts themselves. This means that everyone would have the opportunity to choose assisted suicide if they so desired. Professor Robert George recognizes the Natural Law as central to the Western tradition of thought and morality, politics and law. (2) Furthermore, Americar’s founding fathers sought to create institutions and procedures that enshrined those basic, natural rights that people possess, not as privileges or opportunities granted by the state, but as principles of Natural Law which it is the moral duty of the state to respect and protect. (3) Through this, people may believe that they have the right to act in whatever way they see necessary, which can be defended by saying that it is within the Natural Law for them to act in this manner. The aspect that they are not addressing is whether the actions are moral or not, which in the case of assisted suicide, they do not appear to be moral.
Although there has been much debate on whether assisted suicide decisions fit within the boundaries of Natural Law, there has been a push from the opposition on whether the rights from the Natural Law should be upheld and whether the justifications by Natural Law can bridge the gap between the schools of thought of Christianity and that of secular ethics within todays world. Craig Paterson speaks on how the laws of nature describe how physical entities act, Laws of nature are descriptive not prescriptive. These uniformities or regularities simply are. Physical entities do not deliberate on how they behave; they do not choose to act or not according to laws of nature. (4) He goes onto say that Natural Law is concerned with how the rational human being should act. I agree that human beings were created with minds and a will which makes them capable to make reasonable decisions after giving deliberation and thought to the situation. By their complex creation and by having the freedom and will to choose to act as they please, humans should have the ability to behave in a way that mere physical entities are not able. (4) By the above definition, this would allow human beings to choose to participate in assisted suicide if they gave it reasonable thought and deliberation and found it to be in their best interest. A reasonable human being would not choose to do something if it were not in what they saw as being in their own best interest or would provide them with optimum happiness.
So where does this fall into the ethics of Natural Law? The Natural Law can be defined as a group of principles of right action which prescribes behavior for situations of morally significant choosing. (5) In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Natural Law is the rational creaturer’s participation in the eternal law. (6) This definition implies that there are principles which have been reasoned from the Natural Law which are applicable to all people and should be used as common knowledge. Furthermore, the Bible alludes to the Natural Law as being written on the hearts of all men (7), while Aquinas referred to the general principles as being impressed on human reason by nature. (8) Any reasonable person can discern that they have within themselves the Natural Law which should provide them with the knowledge needed to help them make the appropriate decisions in whatever situation they may face. The Natural Law, whether we seem to realize it or not, influences many of the decisions that we make every day. Whether we act out of selfishness when given the opportunity or if we act selflessly and do the moral thing, we are being influenced by the Natural Law which can play such an influential role in our lives.
This question of whether we are acting morally selfish or selfless can come into question when talking about the topic of assisted suicide. While some people may not be in favor of allowing assisted suicide, one could argue that by not allowing assisted suicide you are being morally selfish and inconsiderate of the person who is requesting this. The person who is asking to be allowed to end their own life in the manner that they wish, could be going through a very difficult disease or may simply have peace with dying at that given time. While some people may not agree with this means of dying, it is not up us to decide the fate of that other person. On the contrary, some people not in favor of assisted suicide may suggest that it is not that individualr’s decision on whether they should end their life. And it is certainly not ours to say what they can or cannot do with the time God has given them on earth. What we can do is encourage them to live in a way that honors God and in most peopler’s eyes that would mean not committing assisted suicide or assisting someone in suicide no matter the circumstances that they are in.
Giving a Biblical take on the moral law, as mentioned before in Romans 2 2:15 it says that the Natural Law has been written on the hearts of all men. (7) Since it is written in the Bible that the Natural Law is written on the hearts of all men, it should be presumed that the Natural Law should follow the moral standards of the Bible. With this said, in Exodus 20:13 it says, You shall not murder (9) which a reasonable person should stretch to the standard of You shall not murder or help someone murder. In relation to assisted suicide, the person killing themselves and the person administering or aiding in the suicide are both breaking the sixth commandment of the Bible. The big question is why is something as vile as breaking a commandment given to us by God, a commandment which is supposed to be written on the hearts of all men, so easily and frequently committed? I believe that the discussion of whether assisted suicide is moral and whether it follows under the views of Natural Law is simply a mockery of the commandments of God. While we are called by God to show others compassion and mercy, I do not see how taking oner’s own life and assisting in that action could be necessary and morally just by society or the government. I mention the government since it is the government who passes the laws and makes it legal to commit and to assist in assisted suicide. A government and nation which is supposed to be One nation under God (10) and by that mention, a government and nation which abides by laws given to us by God through the Bible.
On the opposition of this opinion, people who do not see the need for there to be a Natural Law or for us to follow or do not recognize the Natural Law, would most likely argue that they have the freedom and ability to decide their own fate. While this may be true, and as Americanr’s we are given the right to many things which can determine how our lives play out, we should not overlook the power which we are given with these decisions. The right or the ability to take oner’s own life is a decision which we should not have. And if someone is considering making that decision, they should be more than sure about that very final and decisive decision. Furthermore, a person who is in favor of the ability to choose assisted suicide would most likely argue that not everyoner’s circumstances would be the same and that there are certain circumstances which should allow for assisted suicide. For example, if an individual was in a very serious accident and there was nothing that could be done to end the pain and save their life, one could argue that the individual should be given the option to be taken off life support.
Although the individual who would die is not the one administering the ending of the life support, the doctor doing it would be assisting in the death of the patient. In many peopler’s eyes, this situation would seem morally just and reasonable for the practice of assisted suicide to be deemed legal and morally just. In relation to assisted suicide, the person requesting the treatment is often critically ill or has a terminal disease. In cases like these, it could be deemed rational to allow them to choose assisted suicide as a means to end their suffering. Whereas if someone were not terminally and was just having a run of bad luck with work, or injuries, they should not be able to choose assisted suicide. If the person is able to recover and return from the difficulty that they are going through, then they should not be able to choose assisted suicide. My point is, that only people who are terminal and have incurable diseases or who are in excruciating pain, in many cases would be the only ones able to participate in assisted suicide.
Another argument in favor of assisted suicide is that what if someoner’s quality of life is not at the optimum level and that there is nothing which could be done to improve it besides dying? If someone does not see their quality of life improving, then they would argue that they have the right to make their life better by ending it. While this might just seem outright ridiculous to some of us, it may seem rational to others. The need to be in control of their life is just as important as being alive and when an individual is not willing to give up that control, they take their own life to maintain that control. Regarding Natural Law, one with this view of dying to maintain control and happiness would say that within the moral principles there should not be a standard to measure happiness. Meaning that not everyone will find happiness in the same things that every other person will. It could be argued that this may be one of the best arguments in favor of assisted suicide. That people should be able to pursue their optimum happiness however they see fit and that there should be no hindrance on this. Normally this pursuit of happiness comes at a price, one where in normal lives we must give up something simple to have something else. In the case of assisted suicide and happiness, the thing being given up is a personr’s life, which to the reasonable person would seem to be extreme measures to achieve happiness.
While this seems to be a decent argument, I still believe that a reasonable person would see the actions associated with assisted suicide as ones which should not be allowed on a regular basis but only under extreme circumstances. Based on the Natural law, I do not see how assisted suicide is aligned with this law. Although I personally do not agree with it, I could see how one may request that assisted suicide be allowed if it were the only option of someone to end their pain and suffering of which there would be no other alternative other than death. In these rare cases I think that assisted suicide could be morally just by society. Furthermore, it would not fall under the Natural Law if it were not a law set in uniform for all of humanity. It would seem to go against the Natural Law if it were only applied to some people and others it was not. This is saying that some people would have a kind of excuse to be able to commit assisted suicide while others were not allowed. If this would be the case, I would say just outlaw the practice of assisted suicide all together to eliminate any possible biases in the selection of who can and who cannot commit assisted suicide. This determination of who would be allowed would need to come from the government and in that case, there would be many hurdles to climb in order to get the law passed and there would be many people opposed to the idea of assisted suicide to be legal. I also believe that the criteria of who can commit assisted suicide and who is not would be very complex and would incorporate a process which would take so long that the people who are ill and request assisted suicide would die naturally before they could commit assisted suicide.
In conclusion, a Natural law view would deem the act of assisted suicide as unjust and morally wrong, except for the cases when it is the only possibility for an individual to achieve happiness and be relieved of pain and suffering. While this may be a very general interpretation, I think that it is the only way that laws could be written which would allow people to use assisted suicide legally. While I personally am not in favor of assisted suicide, I do recognize how some people may see assisted suicide as being the only means to achieving happiness and relieve suffering. In the end, I firmly believe that we are to respect the gift of life which God has given us and that we are commanded to treat it with the utmost respect and honor.