Michael Gerson’s recent column was titled “Defining the value of a human life.” In it, he states that human life has a value greater than autonomy and choice. Gerson uses that broad assumption to argue against the right of an individual to terminate his own existence, as is now conferred, with constraints, on the populace of Belgium.

People do not commit suicide because they are happy, healthy, comfortable and content. They also do not necessarily commit suicide because they are depressed and crazy. It would be refreshing if our society could admit that for folks in chronic pain with no reasonable hope of remission and for people whose quality of life is very poor, death may be welcome and a completely rational choice.

So who is to determine the value of a life and whether that value outweighs whatever burdens and pain that life entails?

Well, ideally the owner of that life of course, so the question devolves to who owns any individual human life? Is it the individual himself, his family, friends, a god, a religious group or perhaps the state? At various times and places individuals have selected from among all of these. I suspect that the majority of Americans would choose something other than themselves, especially since most people are not in chronic pain or suffering profound disability and pining for the relief of death.

But should others’ opinions trump the individual’s most personal of choices? Isn’t America about the freedom of individuals to have the broadest feasible scope of control over their own lives and to be the final arbiters of such fundamentally private questions?

Ron Sammonds Jr.

retired engineer

Baton Rouge