1/17/2006

Dostoyevsky and assisted suicide

I'm reading through Dostoyevsky's The Idiot right now, and one of the characters, Ippolit, is sick with consumption and has only a few weeks to live. He has also been heavily influenced by European nihilism. Ippolit decides he would rather kill himself than live out his few weeks. In a manifesto, he explains his reasons for wanting to take his own life:

Now to begin with, there is this curious consideration: by what right, with what motive, would anyone think to dispute my right to these two or three weeks I have left? What business is it of any court of law? Who actually wants me not only to be condemned, but to behave nicely while I endure the term of the sentence? Surely no one really wants that? For morality's sake? I could understand if I was a picture of health, and attempted my life when it "might be of use to my neighbor" and so forth, then morality might reproach me in the old-fashioned way for disposing of my life without asking permission, or some such reason. But now, when my sentence has already been read out to me? What sort of morality is it which not only demands your life but your last gasp too, as you yield up the final atom of your being, listening to the prince's consolation?
Ippolit goes on for several pages. The point, though, is that on my way home from work today I was listening to the radio. In a news piece about the recent Supreme Court ruling that Oregon's assisted suicide law was constitutional, the station played a short interview with a woman who has terminal cancer, and who has been fighting for the constitutionality of the law. When asked why she wanted to be able to choose to end her own life, she gave basically the same answer that Ippolit, Dostoyevsky's European nihilist, gave. It was really eerie to watch what Dostoyevsky was fighting so hard to keep out of Russia be established by the Supreme Court of the United States.