Are You Yours?


Assisted suicide is a hot-button topic for some folks. While I have long assumed in principle that I have the right to take my own life, this morning I woke up thinking about my father and whether I would or could help him do the same. He is elderly and has been diagnosed with a disease that is almost certain to end in extreme pain. Pain is the most frequently offered reason for what might be called "therapeutic" suicide.
Not long ago I read an article by two Christian philosophers who spun a very convoluted web as they tried to prove that I do not own my body. They seemed to lean on some version of natural law to prove that either God or humanity owns us, and that a body is somehow very different from a car, a house or other goods that we typically think of as being legally titled.
From their position it was easy to reach their conclusion: We have no right to take what doesn't belong to us.
Maybe I didn't follow all the fancy philosophy carefully enough, but I'm afraid it sounded to me like gobbledygook. If anyone other than I owns this body, she or he has been pretty relaxed about it.
I take it where I want to when I want to, use it for hard physical work, hit its thumb with a hammer, take stupid risks, feed it things that may not agree with it in the short or long term, drop it into rivers or lakes on a whim and otherwise treat it as my own. If I don't own it every bit as completely as I own my car, somebody is playing fast and loose with the word "own."
But suppose I accept their argument for a moment. In that case, I must at the very minimum have a long-term lease. When I think about this deal as a contractual rental agreement, their point of view makes very clear sense. Because the reason they have taken the time to publicly philosophize is not in search of abstract truth.
They want to put the lease in writing. They believe assisted suicide, or any suicide for that matter, must be illegal. All of the philosophical claptrap is underpinning for legislating laws to control disposition of my body, and your body and, naturally enough, those of unborn children.
Well, I have a lot of trouble with that. You see, every lease I have ever been involved in allowed either party to terminate it somehow. Sometimes a penalty had to be paid, sometimes notice had to be given so many days ahead or in writing. But both the lessor and the lessee could opt out.
Now, I'll admit that terminating the lease on my body may be a little different than, say, moving out of an apartment. Less packing, for one thing. And leasing another body involves rules that aren't all that clear just yet.
But one aspect of common law seems fundamental in this case. I have never heard of a valid lease that was imposed without the signatures of both parties. I, for one, would never sign a lease that didn't give me the right to get out of it when it suited me.
So, here's the deal. "Humanity," "God," "Congress," whoever owns this rental unit I've been running around in: If an escape clause isn't in your contract I won't sign it. I don't care if it's a contract with America or a contract with the Almighty. I will vacate this premises at my pleasure.
And if my father asks me to help him do the same, I will honor his request. Moses found that rule written in stone.

C.L. Bothwell III ruminates on life's absurdities from his home in Black Mountain, N.C.

© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 10/11/95