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Since the question was closed and I probably did not express myself clearly enough, let me rephrase what is below:

  • laws come from some cultural legacy
  • in Europe we generally believe that killing someone is not good
  • a law on abortion is in place because society thinks that there is some killing (or alledged killing) and it has to be legally framed. Whatever is this law is good or bad is outside the realm of this question. Do not discuss whether this is a murder or not - it is irrelevant here
  • by default assisted suicide was murder in the past, and some countries decided to make a law that allows assisted suicide in some conditions Whether this law is good or not is irrelevant here

My question is: we have two laws where one (abortion) is for A making the decision to kill B (with the context above, please do not debate whether this is correct, the law was put undeniably in place for that reason), and the other (suicide) is when A decides to kill oneself, asking for help B.

→ Why does the law on A killing B is more liberal than A killing oneself with B help ←

If this is not clear enough and there are discussions about whether abortion or suicide is morally good or bad (except if this directly answers the question) I will delete the question because we cannot have nice things.


When looking at the legal landscape in Europe, US (until recently at least), Canada - so countries culturally related to Judeo-Christianity, there are usually laws for abortion (more or less liberal) but suicide is not. Or rather there is no provision for assisted suicide.

If there is any, it came after the abortion laws.

I can imagine that abortion is complicated for some people as they may hold the idea that there is killing of another person by the perpetrator (the mother) and therefore there is a will to protect that unborn person.

Suicide on the other hand is something you do to yourself, so even if both are "evil", one is obviously "eviler".

I am curious why the laws are more open to allowing the alleged killing of someone else, but fiercely forbid to do it to oneself.

I am specifically not interested in whether abortion or suicide are good or not. What I am interested in is why to the possibility of killing someone else is discussed and legally bordered, and suicide is a clear "no" (or was coded later than abortion)

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    I’m voting to close this question because this is basically an invite to discuss abortion/assistted dying. This will provoke more heat than light.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 21:42
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    @JamesK this is not an invitation, and I specifically said so in my question. Feel free to edit it so that it reflects better the intent which i mentioned in another comment.
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 22:15
  • The question can be reworded to be made about governments, but at the moment, it's a typical "what should the law be" question. One of the answers did address the question as if it were about the governments. However, answers should not be clarifying what the questions are. Liberal Democracies do not subject their legislation to clerical reviews. So religious opinions do not enter into the legislation-making process. But they have a part in the political process. Rephrasing along those lines could one possible fix to this question. There are others.
    – wrod
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 5:14
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    I think that explaining this by that infants cannot properly exercise they rights of democracy is correct and on topic. Socially active people with big interest in assisted suicide are likely low in numbers.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 6:58

6 Answers 6

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I'll think you'll get a lot of philosophical takes, but the cynical answer here comes down to the nature of politics, and identity politics in particular.

Many women and women's organizations view abortion as a key right required for full economic equality between the sexes. There is by contrast at any given time very few people with a vested interest in allowing assisted suicide. Those who do want it, quite bluntly, often don't stick around long. And while millions of women live their lives with the prospect of unwanted pregnancy omnipresent, very few people spend much time conceptualizing that they might one day be infirm and pitiful and want to end it all.

Many women vote based on the legality of abortion. Some political parties want their vote, support, donations, etc. Pretty much no one is a single issue voter on euthanasia.

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    It should be noted that despite popular misconception, there isn't that much of a gender gap on abortion views.
    – dan04
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 0:41
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    @dan04 Although to be honest Gallup's trifecta of possible positions on abortion is an extremely poor way to study it, in my opinion. The middle ground is WAY too wide; people who think abortion should banned with only exceptions for rape are very far apart from people who think abortion should be totally unrestricted before 24 weeks, but both are technically "abortion should be legal, but only under some circumstances". I think the answer to that question tells you more about how strictly someone interprets the phrase "under all circumstances" than it does about their position.
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 2:48
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The people who think early term abortion should be legal and easily available do not think of it as killing a person. They see an early-stage foetus as a collection of cells that has the potential to become a person, but has not yet done so: much like sperm and ovum cells.

On this viewpoint, your question doesn't arise. It's not that abortion is an "acceptable form of killing someone", so it has absolutely no relationship to whether killing yourself is acceptable.

The arguments used to advocate for allowing assisted suicide do not justify it by arguing that the dying person doesn't count as a person. In fact almost the complete opposite: they argue that the dying person should be allowed the agency to choose death (at least under some circumstances) because of their humanity.

The belief that foetuses count as people much earlier in development naturally leads to reasoning that abortion should be illegal, since on that view it is "killing someone". If this belief is your starting point then your question seems like a good one; why allow killing an unborn person who can't have any say in the matter, but not allow killing someone who actually wants to be killed? But if you're really "curious" about the politics behind the laws on abortion and euthanasia, the answer is very simple and boring: there are simply enough people who don't start from that belief that the politics of abortion and euthanasia have nothing to do with each other. So there's no reason at all to expect the laws on one topic would be more or less permissive than the other.

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    Exactly this. Despite the OP's best efforts, it is not possible to avoid a "philosophical" stand on this question.
    – Zeus
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 1:35
  • @Zeus You don't have to take a philosophical stance yourself while discussing this. But when the question is of the form "Why does society decide X?", the answer is most likely going to involve other people's philosophy.
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 2:14
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    well, that's what I meant, perhaps not clearly. Tackling this question without examining underlying philosophy is misleading.
    – Zeus
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 4:04
  • @Zeus Yes, sorry; I meant that as a complement to your comment, not a disagreement!
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 6:55
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and suicide is a clear "no"

That is incorrect. The German supreme court has ruled that there is a right to a self-determined death. Criminalisation of assisted suicide services has been judged unconstitutional by the court.

See: the press release (in English)

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  • Yes, but has that happened after of before the legislation on abortion?
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 8:18
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    The latest legislation on abortion (which abolished the prohibition on advertising for abortion services) was later. Other legislation on abortion was earlier, even much earlier. Why does that matter?
    – Roland
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 8:24
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Why does the law on A killing B is more liberal than A killing oneself with B help

In phrasing it like this, you have removed the context that explains the difference, so I'm afraid I'll have to discuss that context to answer your question.

Abortion is special because

  • the mother's support is necessary for the child to survive, and, at least early in the pregnancy, can not be provided by any other person
  • providing that support may be onerous, or even outright dangerous, to the mother

This means that even if we just look at the right to live, you need a law that specifies when the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the child. And thus the first abortion law gets created. And once we get into the habit of comparing the interests of the child with the interests of the mother (and the interests of society at large), it is a small change to include interests other than the right to live. After all, "this pregnancy will ruin my life and I am going to kill myself" is very close to "my life will end" from a practical perspective.

The situation is different for suicide. First, laws against suicide itself are not usually enforced, given that a successful suicide puts the perpetrator beyond reach of the law, and punishing an unsuccessful suicide is likely to encourage, rather than deter, repeat attempts. Moreover, most people don't need help to suicide, and since we can't ask the deceased whether his death was his will, it's probably safer (and more common) to treat it as a murder.

Now there are cases where somebody wishes to die (and society understands), but can not effect that on his own. But these cases are few, and often the consequence of terminal illness, and thus tend to be resolved naturally before the person (or their relatives) have organized a political campaign to change the law. Also, it's a rather recent development that medicine can keep people of such infirmity alive for any length of time.

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The suicide is usually not viewed as a crime, but as a tragic health accident where a person's psychological condition deteriorated to the point where they took their life. It makes a suicide attempt more akin to a heart attack. This is if we discount social reasons for suicide.

People aren't prosecuted for having health problems usually. So if you ask me, it's the other way around. Abortion is frowned upon whereas suicide attempts attract genuine pity.

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Historical reasons. Assisted suicides did not exist or were uncommon in the past. Assisted abortions have always been practised legally or illegally and in the past abortions were so crude that often both, the mother and the baby died. Abortion was legalised to take it out of the shadow and put it under the control of trained doctors.

Assisted suicide did not have practical reasons to be put under control, it came from a more philosophical approach.

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