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In “A Right of Self-Termination” David Vellman claims suicide is not permissible on the grounds of self-determination. Vellman first outlines the two principles on which a person claims suicide is permissible and then argues against the first principle; that one can make their own life shorter in order to make it better. Vellman does so through the Kantian view of the value of personhood, namely dignity. Vellman argues in the case of one committing suicide for self-interest, as in to escape harms or attain goods, they are in direct contradiction of their own dignity, since dignity is the only thing which gives value to goods and harms done onto them. Vellman then argues in the case of one committing suicide solely to exercise their autonomy as free agents, they are in contradiction with the very reason their autonomy is worth respecting in the first place. Although he admits suicide can be permissible if one can no longer live with dignity, he is unsure in which situations one can justify this sort of suicide without consequently justifying it for the case of self-interest. In this paper, I will summarize this argument by Vellman in further detail, and then provide an objection to his claim that suicide contradicts the respect respect for one’s autonomy.
Vellman first supposes that an argument in favour of the permissibility of suicide would rest on two principles; a person has a right to make their life shorter in order to make it better, and we should defer to a person’s judgement on what is good for them. This second principle results in the fact that we should respects a person judgement on if their own life is worth living. Vellam agrees with this second principle, for he argues if it is not the case, then we must consequently undermine self autonomy. Vellman then points out that the first principle can allow for a person to end their own life if they deem it no longer worth living. From the second principle, one cannot argue that this is choice is not good for them, and thus suicide is permissible. However, Vellman does not agree with the first principle for he claims that a life has value for more than just the person whose life it is.
Vellman now attempts to appraise the value of human life, and argues in support of Darwall’s claim “That a person’s good is a rational object of desire for anyone who cares about that person.(…) even the person himself is rationally obliged to care about his good only insofar as he cares about the person whose good it is – that is himself.” (Vellman, 610). This is to say that the value of a persons good depends on the value of the person whose good it is, and as such, a person’s good matters only because people matter. Therefore, people must matter for their own sake, for if not, then a person’s good is relative to self-interest. If it were relative to self-interest, then we would have an infinite regress that can only stop when it reaches a value that is valuable for its own sake. However, this regress never starts, for each person is valuable for their own sake, due to their rational nature. In summary, this is akin to Kantian moral theory, that each person has an inherent value, namely dignity, due to their rational nature.
Vellman now goes on to argue that with the value of human life being the inherent value of rationality, suicide is not permissible solely because the person autonomously chooses it. Since every person inherently possesses dignity, no particular person’s opinion is worth more than someone else’s. This dignity definition of the value of a person coincides with the second principle, that one can decide for themselves what is best for them. However, it does not allow for the first principle, that a person has a right to end their own life if they deem it the best course of action for their own good. This is because for a person to justify that their death is their best course of action, they can only do so by claiming that their life no longer posses anything of value. Everyone posses the inherent value of dignity, and so they must appeal to the fact that they no longer posses’ dignity. If they no longer posses’ dignity, then we have no reason to respect their opinion of their best course of action. As to say, one cannot ask for us to respect their dignity in claiming they have no dignity worth respecting. This may seem to undermine Vellman’s claim that the second principle holds due to respect of autonomy, but this is not the case. Vellman claims that this inherent value, is inherent to all people, so it is not up to any particular person to accept or deny. This is to say that someone cannot deny their inherent value without undermining its worth for everyone else. Therefore, one cannot autonomously choose suicide without contradicting the very thing that makes their autonomous decisions respectable.
Vellman then argues against the rational that one should be able to commit suicide to escape harms. Vellman has defined the value of a good insofar as the person is of value, so a good or harm is only a good or a harm because it is happening to a person with intrinsic value. That leads to the fact that a person’s well-being is not worth more than the person, for the person’s well-being only has worth because the person has inherent worth. From this, a person cannot exchange their life for any good or removal of harms, for this is degrading their dignity to the wroth of such goods and harms. However, their dignity is the only thing that gives these goods and harms value in the first place, so it must be of more worth. Therefore, if one is to want to commit suicide solely to escape harms, as in the case of medically assisted suicided, Vellman has concluded this is impermissible.
Vellman then claims that his argument is not an objection to suicide in general, only suicide to escape harms, for this is trading dignity in exchange for goods and/or lack of harms, which degrades the value of dignity to that of goods and harms. Vellamn points out, on this view, a person’s death is permissible if they can no longer live with dignity. Vellman claims the discussion on this topic should be about undignified life, not dignified death. If a person is in unbearable pain, euthanasia should not be to relieve the person of harms, but rather for the sake that the person has irretrievably lost their dignity. In this case they would be dying for the sake of dignity and not for self-interest. However, Vellman is unsure in what sense a policy can be outlined for euthanasia of this justification. For if one is in such unbearable pain as they no longer have dignity, then they are no longer acting rational, and are giving into the animalistic desire to escape such pain by any means necessary. Vellamn points out, in this state it seems unclear how we could go about respecting one’s autonomy in their request of euthanasia, when we know that such a request in only justifiable if they are currently lacking rationality. Therefore, Vellman has argued suicide for self-interest is never permissible, however, suicide may be permissible if one is leading an undignified life. Vellman admits he is unclear how to provide a general case of permissibly for the former case without consequently allowing for the latter case. Vellman claims more work needs to be done, and the forming of policies and laws on the topic needs to progress slowly.

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