In the wake of the Schiavo case, I’ve been thinking about the limits of libertarian ethics. I’ve also been thinking about Bill Kristol’s definition of a liberal: someone who would see an eighteen-year-old girl stripping on a stage and the only political concern he had would be to wonder whether she was making the minimum wage. It’s possible I’ve misunderstood the consequences and obligations of libertarianism, so here’s your chance to set me straight. Please answer succinctly in the comments, and if it’s not too much trouble tell me where you’re coming from–libertarian, liberal, conservative, Whig, whatever. Not just liberals and libertarians–I’d like to hear how everyone approaches this problem:
Sandy is a healthy eighteen-year old woman. She is well-educated, not intoxicated, and in her right mind. One day she decides to protest the policies of the Administration, and goes to Lafayette Park across from the White House, douses herself in gasoline, and strikes a match. You are walking by and see her do so. You know Sandy is sober and has made this decision with some premeditation, and understands and intends the consequences of her actions.
You are close enough that you can snuff the match out, without risk to yourself, before Sandy commits a painful and hideous suicide.
1. Do you do so? Why, or why not?
2. If Sandy is pregnant, does that fact change your answer? Why or why not?
See-Dubya, a bloviating religious conservative, believes life is a gift from God. He is walking with you in Lafayette Park and sees Sandy. He draws back his well-thumped bible to knock the match away from her, frustrating her attempt.
3. Do you stop him? Why or why not?
Same situation, except that Sandy is now Srindar, a widow preparing to fling herself on her husband’s funeral pyre in fulfillment of a long-established custom. (We are no longer in present-day Lafayette Park, but let’s not get bogged down in further contextual details.) She will suffer social ostracism–but no legal or material penalty–were she to refuse to kill herself in this way.
4. Do you stop Srindar from immolating herself? (If you give a different answer from 1 above, why?)
5. If someone tries to intervene, do you stop them?
UPDATE 8:40 PM Sunday night–Thanks for many excellent and thoughtful responses. This is exactly what I had hoped for. I will try to jigger the time-stamp on this entry to keep it near the top, above my other posts (but not Patterico’s), tomorrow. So if you return here and still see this post on top, scroll down a bit to see if there’s new stuff below it.
N.B.: A few of you understandably thought this post was by Patterico. Actually, this is by Special Guest Blogger “See-Dubya”. Patterico has foolishly entrusted me with the keys to the blog for a week or so, though he checks in now and then.
NOW: Several of you have justified intervening in these cases by reasoning that Sandy and Srindar simply couldn’t really be in their right minds when they decided to end their lives in such an awful manner. Let me tell you why I think that line of argument won’t wash.