The Right to Have One's Life Maintained
This leads to a more general quandary. To what extent can one use other people's bodies, their property, their time, their resources and to deprive them of pleasure, comfort, material possessions, income, or any other thing - in order to maintain one's life?
Even if it were possible in reality, it is indefensible to maintain that I have a right to sustain, improve, or prolong my life at another's expense. I cannot demand - though I can morally expect - even a trivial and minimal sacrifice from another in order to prolong my life. I have no right to do so.
Of course, existence of an implicit, let alone explicit, contract between myself and another party would change picture. The right to demand sacrifices commensurate with provisions of contract would then crystallize and create corresponding duties and obligations.
No embryo has a right to sustain its life, maintain, or prolong it at its mother's expense. This is true regardless of how insignificant sacrifice required of her is.
Yet, by knowingly and intentionally conceiving embryo, mother can be said to have signed a contract with it. The contract causes right of embryo to demand such sacrifices from his mother to crystallize. It also creates corresponding duties and obligations of mother towards her embryo.
We often find ourselves in a situation where we do not have a given right against other individuals - but we do possess this very same right against society. Society owes us what no constituent-individual does.
Thus, we all have a right to sustain our lives, maintain, prolong, or even improve them at society's expense - no matter how major and significant resources required. Public hospitals, state pension schemes, and police forces may be needed in order to fulfill society's obligations to prolong, maintain, and improve our lives - but fulfill them it must.
Still, each one of us can sign a contract with society - implicitly or explicitly - and abrogate this right. One can volunteer to join army. Such an act constitutes a contract in which individual assumes duty or obligation to give up his or her life.
The Right not to be Killed
It is commonly agreed that every person has right not to be killed unjustly. Admittedly, what is just and what is unjust is determined by an ethical calculus or a social contract - both constantly in flux.
Still, even if we assume an Archimedean immutable point of moral reference - does A's right not to be killed mean that third parties are to refrain from enforcing rights of other people against A? What if only way to right wrongs committed by A against others - was to kill A? The moral obligation to right wrongs is about restoring rights of wronged.
If continued existence of A is predicated on repeated and continuous violation of rights of others - and these other people object to it - then A must be killed if that is only way to right wrong and re-assert rights of A's victims.
The Right to have One's Life Saved
There is no such right because there is no moral obligation or duty to save a life. That people believe otherwise demonstrates muddle between morally commendable, desirable, and decent ("ought", "should") and morally obligatory, result of other people's rights ("must"). In some countries, obligation to save a life is codified in law of land. But legal rights and obligations do not always correspond to moral rights and obligations, or give rise to them.
The Right to Save One's Own Life
One has a right to save one's life by exercising self-defence or otherwise, by taking certain actions or by avoiding them. Judaism - as well as other religious, moral, and legal systems - accept that one has right to kill a pursuer who knowingly and intentionally is bent on taking one's life. Hunting down Osama bin-Laden in wilds of Afghanistan is, therefore, morally acceptable (though not morally mandatory).
But does one have right to kill an innocent person who unknowingly and unintentionally threatens to take one's life? An embryo sometimes threatens life of mother. Does she have a right to take its life? What about an unwitting carrier of Ebola virus - do we have a right to terminate her life? For that matter, do we have a right to terminate her life even if there is nothing she could have done about it had she known about her condition?
The Right to Terminate One's Life
There are many ways to terminate one's life: self sacrifice, avoidable martyrdom, engaging in life risking activities, refusal to prolong one's life through medical treatment, euthanasia, overdosing and self inflicted death that is result of coercion. Like suicide, in all these - bar last - a foreknowledge of risk of death is present coupled with its acceptance. Does one have a right to take one's life?
The answer is: it depends. Certain cultures and societies encourage suicide. Both Japanese kamikaze and Jewish martyrs were extolled for their suicidal actions. Certain professions are knowingly life-threatening - soldiers, firemen, policemen. Certain industries - like manufacture of armaments, cigarettes, and alcohol - boost overall mortality rates.
In general, suicide is commended when it serves social ends, enhances cohesion of group, upholds its values, multiplies its wealth, or defends it from external and internal threats. Social structures and human collectives - empires, countries, firms, bands, institutions - often commit suicide. This is considered to be a healthy process.
Thus, suicide came to be perceived as a social act. The flip-side of this perception is that life is communal property. Society has appropriated right to foster suicide or to prevent it. It condemns individual suicidal entrepreneurship. Suicide, according to Thomas Aquinas, is unnatural. It harms community and violates God's property rights.