Suicide: The Only Question That Matters

Graph of suicide rates in the United States by...
Graph of suicide rates in the United States by age in 2005. Data from the CDC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Dakota County, Minnesota jury voted on May 14 to convict Final Exit Network of helping Doreen Dunn take her own life in 2007.

If the prosecution’s claims are true, Dunn, who suffered from chronic pain, sought Final Exit’s assistance in ending her life; two of the group’s members sat with her as she killed herself by inhaling helium;  they then removed the equipment from the scene so that it would look like she died of natural causes (presumably so that they would not be charged with the crime of “assisting a suicide”).

One of those who sat with Dunn was granted immunity to testify against Final Exit Network. The other has since died, leaving the organization as sole defendant, subject to fines of $33,000.

The conviction reaffirms a disturbing implicit property claim: The claim that the state owned Doreen Dunn’s life, and that it owns yours as well. It would have been more honest to charge Final Exit with “stealing government property.”

Do you own yourself, or does the state own you? With respect to suicide, this is the only question that matters.

To continue living, or not to do so, is the most basic, primal decision each of us makes every minute of every day of our lives.

If you own yourself, then by definition the decision to continue living or to end your life — for any reason, at any time, with or without the assistance of others, in any manner that doesn’t violate others’ rights — is yours alone to make.

Anyone claiming a right to take that decision out of your hands is by definition claiming ownership of your life. But that would amount to slavery, an institution formally abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment.

Some try to dodge the baldness of their ownership claim by imputing it to God, with themselves as mere enforcers. But in America, it’s not the state’s job to inflict the religious beliefs of some on unconsenting others.

Some argue a “slippery slope”: Legal assisted suicide, they say,  will be faked to conceal murders. But that gets it exactly backward. If suicide is legal it can be chosen openly in advance (perhaps with sworn affidavits), making it harder rather than easier to fake.

It’s time and past time we required legislators, and implored juries, to recognize the ownership of each individual over his or her life — and death.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.




Marriage: How to De-Politicize the Culture War

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In the United States, same-sex marriage is de facto legal — based on a combination of court rulings and legislation — in 36 states, the District of Columbia and several American Indian jurisdictions.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to come down on the side of ending marriage apartheid nation-wide this summer. Even if it doesn’t do so in one fell swoop, the Constitution’s “full faith and credit clause” will make itself felt over time, if for no other reason that married couples move, then divorce.

Ireland’s late-May referendum may be a global bellwether. 62% of voters in that largely Catholic country brushed aside the objections of church leaders to legalize same-sex marriage.

Some social conservatives, particularly in the United States, seem to have finally got it through their heads that they’ve lost this battle; they want to move on. A few of them even have an inkling of the best way to go about doing so.

On May 19, Alabama’s Senate passed a bill that, if also approved by the House and the governor, would move marriage from the category of state-licensed activity to a matter of contract between parties. No ceremony necessary — if you want one, that will be between you and your church or other social group.

It’s about time! Libertarians have been suggesting this for decades.

With the state out of the business of defining and licensing marriage, that institution can evolve organically as people decide for themselves how to organize their lives.

People who want to marry can just consult a lawyer. Or, and I predict this will happen very quickly, legal services firms will make boilerplate marriage contracts available for inexpensive download, with selections of additional “drop-in” clauses to accommodate most reasonably common scenarios (property settlements in case of divorce, for example, as are handled with “pre-nups” now by some couples).

The Alabama bill, according to news accounts, specifies only two parties, but not their sexes. On the ground, those who want marriages of more than two parties will presumably be able to have workable contracts drawn up to accommodate their desires, neatly sidestepping (for e.g. polygamy) the decade-long political war we just went through over same-sex marriage. Presented with a facially just and valid contract, a court will likely honor and enforce that contract.

Will this approach get the state out of marriage matters entirely? No. Marriage contracts might specify arbitration instead of state court litigation in case of divorce, but when it comes to matters of child custody and child support, the state will probably assert a compelling interest to intervene as it sees fit.

But it’s a start. People are better than politicians at making important life decisions for themselves.

[hat tip for the Alabama story — George Phillies of Liberty For America]

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.




Regulating Rides: Markets Are Better than Politics

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Jacksonville, Florida’s politicians have, once again, arrived at an impasse on the matter of how to regulate “ride-sharing” services UberX and Lyft (Christopher Hong, “UberX, Lyft remain in limbo as City Council looks to state for new regulations,” Florida Times-Union, May 17). Instead of asking the state’s legislature to bail out its regulatory regime, perhaps the city council should exchange the “how” for a “whether,” and answer “no.”

The best way to handle regulation of UberX and Lyft is to repeal all regulations pertaining to taxi and limousine services in Jacksonville (and, of course, in other locales as well).

If that sounds radical, it is. But “radical” is not the same thing as “extreme.” Rather, it refers to addressing matters at their roots. So let’s do that.

Taxi regulation is not, and never has been, about protecting customers. It is, and always has been, about protecting established businesses from competition.

In Jacksonville’s case, the purpose of the city’s medallion system is to keep prices high for the benefit of Jacksonville Transportation Group (owners of Gator City Taxi, Yellow Cab and Express Shuttle) by limiting cab numbers, making entry into the market very expensive, and thus ensuring that JTG operates without significant competition.

When JTG and its political allies spout off about “protecting the customer,” they’re just laying down a line of bull to cover up their real agenda: Maintenance of JTG’s de facto monopoly at the EXPENSE of the customer. This is equally true of similar medallion and regulation regimes in cities across America.

Instead of fighting this monopoly scheme, UberX and Lyft are — in Jacksonville, anyway — ignoring it. Which does get to the bottom of the matter, doesn’t it?

Of course, this upsets the local politicians, who are used to being obeyed. It also upsets JTG, which has become accustomed to making money through control of politicians instead of through open competition to provide the best service at the best price.

But it doesn’t upset the customers — citizens of Jacksonville who, thanks to UberX and Lyft, can now get a ride when they need one, instead of when JTG gets around to providing one, at a price set by the competitive market rather than by JTG’s political machinations.

Jacksonville’s council faces a simple choice. It can remain aligned with JTG by shoring up its monopoly, or it can align itself with the voters, the customers, the people, whom it claims to serve.

If it wants to do the latter, it will resolve that the city shall repeal, and henceforth lay no, restrictions on commercial ride services beyond those codified in state law. Which, in my opinion, UberX and Lyft, and their customers, should ignore as well.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.