Recently The Los Angeles Times reported on Sharlotte Hydorn, the 91-year-old woman who sells mail-order suicide kits for $60. Her reasoning is that people commit suicide “by jumping out of windows and buildings, and hanging themselves.” With her kit, the task could be made easier. As described by Richard Marosi of the Times, Hydorn “peddles a product touted for its deadly simplicity. Inside her butterfly-decorated boxes are clear plastic bags and medical-grade tubing. A customer places the bag over his head, connects the tubing from the bag to a helium tank, turns the valve and breathes. The so-called suicide kit asphyxiates a customer within minutes (Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2011).”
Apparently there is a demand for Hydorn’s suicide kits; individuals, young and old, terminally ill or despondent, have requested the “exit bags” on average 100 per month. Hydorn is driven, she claims, not by a desire to make money, but by compassion. From her perspective, to end suffering by means of suicide is the humane thing to do. It’s not about killing people, she maintains, but about helping people who desire to end their misery.
I must admit that if and only if one removes God from the equation, Hydorn’s point of view carries some force. After all, as Ivan Karamazov (of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov) insinuates, if there is no God, everything is permitted.
So the question is how to argue against the promotion of assisted suicide without simply invoking God as the reason to reject it. In other words, in a pluralistic society that appeals to a strict separation between Church and State, are the non-theistic arguments against assisted suicide strong enough to withstand the forcefulness of the arguments for assisted suicide?