Does Right to Life include a Right to End Life?

As part of my LLB, I wrote a research essay on Suicide and Assisted Suicide.

The research essay was titled “Does Right to Life include a Right to End Life? Legal challenges to suicide and assisted suicide.”

In the essay I explored the Right to Life, protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In the analysis of this right, I explored its content: whether it entails a right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life or does it ensure complete autonomy over one’s life and the choice to end it.

I explored suicide, and its history as criminal offence.

I moved on to consider the plea of “Protection of Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” raised by people seeking to end their life.

Next, I considered the current laws of the United Kingdom and India, and also the Dutch law that in limited circumstances permits assisted suicide.

Then I discussed the interests of the state in preventing suicide, discussing the rationale behind the need of the state in preventing suicide, and providing a good standard of life for its citizens.

Finally, I drew a conclusion from the entire research.

The original essay was much longer, however I had to remove certain parts and condense other parts to stay close to the recommended length of 2,500 words; even the final draft exceeded the word count by almost a 1,000 words. All the references were added in-line with footnotes and a bibliography in the end. Contributing to Wikipedia over the years gave me a great habit of adding in-line citations, which proved to be immensely helpful in writing the essay.


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Should tobacco smoking be entirely banned or simply discouraged?

Smoker's questionTobacco smoking has been proven to be injurious to health; it is in fact the single largest preventable cause of death around the world. Tobacco smoke contains drugs and toxic chemicals like nicotine and tar, the former results in addiction, the latter causes long term severe adverse health issues like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, lung cancer and death. Other chemical compounds and substances like soot, suspended ash, carbon monoxide etc. have their own adverse effects on health. People who once try smoking, get addicted to it, and with trying to quit comes withdrawal symptoms where a person willing to give up smoking feels helpless and troubled, like a fish out of water.

So why do people smoke, and why they are allowed to smoke, and why should it be banned or discouraged? We will start with why they smoke. Tobacco smoking does not just come in form of cigarette, but also as cigars, pipes, hookah, water pipes (sheeshas) and beerih (rolled up tobacco leaves). Over the years, cigarettes have become something like a “fashion statement” and a sign of coolness of the urban youth,. Cigars are an icon of the elite, a symbol of status and prestige. Water pipes and hookahs have become a must for the night life in cities and urban areas, and the the beerih is a tool for the underprivileged to live off with their frustrations and troubles.

The murderous pair: the killer and its accomplice.
The murderous pair: the killer and its accomplice.

Tobacco smoke kills, so why should it not be banned? Most legal experts (hired, in my opinion, by large multinational tobacco firms) argue that every individual has the fundamental right to choose and a freedom of expression. They may be warned about the consequences of their choice, but the choice to smoke, or not to smoke, must be entirely their own.

As a consequence of this argument, the legal systems in most nations allow any sane adult person to smoke, provided the manufacturers of cigarettes and related tobacco products pint a statutory warning that smoking is injurious to health. It was probably overlooked by the lawmakers that tobacco smoke does not just kill the smoker, but those around him/her as well. Suicide is a crime, drug consumption is a crime, homicide or murder is a crime, but why is not tobacco smoking considered a crime? A smoker, by smoking is slowly killing himself/herself (i.e. suicide), he/she is consuming nicotine and other addictive drugs (drug consumption) and is slowly killing others around him/her (murder or homicide). Why do legal systems adopt a dual policy when it comes to tobacco smoking?

The answer to this may lie in the fact that the tobacco industry is the largest or the second largest (second only to telecom, where it is second) tax paying sector in most countries. The lawmakers and legislators cannot afford to loose a large chunk of the revenue. If a bill or legislation is considered to be against the interests of this industry, large bribes and underhand influences prevent such a bill to be passed or discussed in the law making bodies.

Recent laws do provide some sort of protection to the non-smokers like me. Smoking now in most regions, including Pakistan, is strictly prohibited in public places such as streets, parks, roads, shops, public transports, etc. and sale of tobacco and its related products to those under 18 is a criminal offence prosecutable under law. These laws, however, are not as effective as they were intended to be, and hundreds of thousands of people especially children under 18 still take up smoking each day, and smoking continues to be the single largest preventable cause of death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified smoking as a disease, to allow the smokers to avail their health insurance to pay off for the costs associated with quitting of smoking.

It is now probably a matter of time when the public outcry against smoking reaches new heights, and the law makers realize the facts and decide to out rightly ban and outlaw smoking in any and all forms, and consider it to be suicide, homicide, murder and drug consumption.

This article was written as my answer to the topic “Should tobacco smoking be entirely banned or simply discouraged?” given in my General Paper exam. This article has been slightly modified before being published here. The test was graded 17/20 with a comment stating “Strong ideas!”
I may also mention here, that the above article expresses my personal views about tobacco smoking; and I’m proud to state that I never have and never ever intend to smoke in my whole life!

Ahmer Jamil Khan