March 3, 2024

Against commercial-assisted suicide

The journal Bioethics recently published an attack on commercial assisted suicide (CAS). The author, Yoann Della Croce, condemns it as “morally indefensible and practically inefficient”.

While many people would agree with his arguments, the most intriguing feature of the article is that someone else has actually made a serious argument for establishing commercial services to help people kill themselves.

Back in 2014, a German bioethicist, Roland Kipke, declared in Bioethics that if assisted suicide were legal, a commercial service would have “considerable advantages”.

  • It is often argued that assisted suicide would corrupt the practice of medicine. But if a layman did it for a fee, there would be no danger of this.
  • Assisted suicide would not breach the trust which is so important for the doctor-patient relationship, as doctors are not involved.
  • Doctors would not be forced to comply and patients would not be forced to shop for a willing physician. “Commercial assistants … leave no doubt as to their willingness to support autonomous suicidal wishes.”

Kipke’s central point is that physician-assisted suicide is based on liberal esteem for autonomy. It is logically inconsistent to argue that people have a right to take their lives but not a right to pay for someone to help them. “People who endorse physician-assisted suicide have to endorse commercially assisted suicide as well, or they have to revise their endorsement of physician-assisted suicide.”

Revisiting this paper in 2023, Della Croce acknowledges that in theory, there is nothing wrong with a single commercial transaction for euthanasia. However, “the commodification of a given good necessarily implies the creation of a market of said good”. If commercial assisted suicide is permitted, it would create a “morally problematic” market.

“Overall,” he concludes, “a morally justifiable market of CAS would require such restrictive and heavy regulations that the idea of CAS loses its appeal when faced with the practical difficulties that come with its implementation.”

Where to from here? Della Croce points out that commercial assisted suicide is instinctively morally repugnant – which may explain why so few bioethicists have written about it. But in an era when the “yuk factor” is derided as a primitive taboo, don’t be surprised if you start reading more about it.