Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rights and Mercy Killing - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Rights and “Mercy Killing” - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Rights and “Mercy Killing”
“Rights and the Alleged Right of Innocents to Be Killed.” Ethics 87 (July 1977): 383–394.
Is a physician (or anyone else) duty-bound to intentionally kill a patient because the patient demands this as a “right”? This moral dilemma—whether a patient's demand that someone kill him is ever a “right” or a sufficient reason to morally require that the other person to kill him—helps us to clarify the nature of rights and why rights do not apply in deciding some moral issues. To view the morality of euthanasia merely in terms of “rights” and their correlative duties is shortsighted. Killing others may, sometimes, be the right thing to do without being a response to a “right” claimed by the victim. Where rights per se do not apply, other important moral motives may be relevant such as “gracious, loving, charitable, sacrificial, heroic, or saintly acts.”
An adequate moral answer to the propriety of killing (or helping to kill) an innocent person who desires death avoids the concept of right or duty. It lies between two extremes that err by fallaciously invoking rights and duties: (1) Some claim that we are, under all circumstances, duty-bound or morally required to strive to preserve lives; they thus condemn aiding or abetting suicide and euthansia. (2) At the opposite extreme, others claim both an absolute “right” for each individual to choose his death and the further instrumental “right” requiring others to aid him if the need arises.
The plausibility of any such claim to particular rights depends on the nature and characteristics of rights. It is argued that innocent patients have no legitimate “right” to demand that others must aid them to commit suicide. This argument is amplified by exploring three features of rights. First, any alleged right implies a correlative duty of someone to provide that right. This “demand quality of rights” would mandate that rights override other moral considerations. It is necessary to justify why someone must be subject to such a duty or demand. Secondly, analysis of the moral force implied by a claim of right shows that we cannot be duty-bound to kill innocents. And thirdly, rights apply to some but not all situations. This, however, still leaves open the possibility of killing the willing patient by invoking some other moral notion, such as mercy, kindness, or humaneness.
Moral concepts other than rights may be invoked in deciding situations where rights and duties do not pertain. Rights “are prima facie justifications for acts in accordance with them. The assertion of a right is the assertion of a sufficient reason for action. “When John legitimately claims a right from James rather than asks a favor, James is duty-bound to comply. However, in some moral situations it is more sensible to invoke favor, kindness, or spontaneous choice.