Yuill on assisted suicide

In Assisted Suicide: The liberal, humanist case against legalisation, Kevin Yuill tries to make a “humanist” case against assisted suicide. The book has some parts that might have been okay in isolation, like where the author points connections between ideas like environmentalist pessimism and advocacy of assisted suicide (Chapter 3, pp. 73-76). But overall the book is just a muddled compromise that omits a lot of problems with Yuill’s position.

For example on p. 142 Yuill writes:

Why shouldn’t those who feel the need for security of a quick and easy departure have it? A libertarian answer is to make deadly drugs available to the public, albeit with warnings about what ingesting them will do and perhaps even a waiting period.

There is no prospect at all of this reform being adopted without several fundamental changes in many institutions in the West. For example, anyone who attempts to commit suicide and fails can be involuntarily committed by psychiatrists. Involuntary commitment means the patient is “treated” without his consent by being locked up and drugged. This means that committing suicide is treated as a criminal act even though there is no explicit law forbidding it. And saying you want to commit suicide can easily lead to involuntary commitment. So if a person tries to get suicide drugs, why wouldn’t he be involuntarily committed for making such a request? Yuill never sez anything about involuntary commitment in the book.

A psychiatrist with a patient who commits suicide may be sued by the patient’s relatives if the psychiatrist had any indication that the patient might commit suicide. So why wouldn’t people be able to sue a pharmacist who sells drugs explicitly intended to help people commit suicide?

Yuill’s omission of these problems makes no sense since he cites Thomas Szasz, who has pointed out these problems. For example, Yuill writes the following:

Most insightful for its unique perspective on suicide is Thomas S. Szasz’s Fatal Freedom: The Ethics and Politics of Suicide (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999). In a characteristically brilliant but flawed book, Szasz argues against medicalization and in favour of personal responsibility for one’s actions. See also Battin and Ryan Spellecy’s reply to some (certainly not all) of Szasz’s points in ‘What Kind of Freedom? Szasz’s Misleading Perception of Physician-assisted Suicide’, in Jeffrey A. Schaler (ed.), Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics (New York: Open Court, 2004), pp. 277–290.

Yuill doesn’t describe the flaws in “Fatal Freedom”, he just points to criticisms made by Battin and Spellecy that were refuted in Szasz’s reply in the book Szasz Under Fire.

If you want to read good books about suicide in general, including assisted suicide, the best books available are Szasz’s books Fatal Freedom and Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

2 Responses to Yuill on assisted suicide

  1. Justin Mallone says:

    >he just points to criticisms made by Battin and Spellecy that were refuted in Szasz’s reply in the Szasz Under Fire.

    I think that’s supposed to say “in the *book* Szasz under fire.”

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