On the Ethics of Suicide, Assisted or Otherwise

Secular Right has had several posts lately discussing the legalization of suicide; the progression started here and continued here and here. Further developments may be forthcoming.

For myself, I simply cannot summon up any sympathy for the people who insist that the state (in whatever form) must prohibit and prevent suicide. I can easily understand and agree with the idea that it is quite easy to dress murder as suicide and certain standards should be upheld both by society and the people who wish to end their lives so as to avoid confusion and needless investigation. I even sympathize with the idea that inherently lethal objects and services should be somewhat more controlled and restricted than more harmless things.

But our lives are our own, and we have no inherent responsibility to any state or organization that we do not take up ourselves – and our free choice gives us the ability to repudiate any such responsibilities we have accepted. No action we take is without implication for others, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot be permitted to take actions even if they make someone else uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or unhappy.

Our right to swing our fists ends where other people’s noses begin, but other people’s right to stick their noses in end where our fist-swinging zones begin, as well.

There are always plenty of people who believe that authority – whether in the mantle of political systems or religious organizations – owns everyone else and has the right to try to control and direct the actions of others. This is simply unacceptable. Of course, such people either want to be personally in charge of such decisions or substitute proxies that agree with them in all ways, and so they never fear that authority will force them to a course of action they consider intolerable.

I am further disturbed by the people who say that the terminally ill should be permitted to kill themselves, but the depressed cannot be. As though depression were some clearly definable, external, pathological condition! Anyone who wishes to die may do so as far as I’m concerned; no one who does not wish to assist in any given case may be forced to do so.

The idea that physicians and other medical professionals are obligated to provide any arbitrary ‘treatment’ is equally disturbing to me, especially when used as an argument against assisted suicide. They aren’t, regardless of what any law might say, and they cannot shuck the responsibility of choice by invoking legal or professional requirements. Nor can others divest them of that responsibility by trying to alter such.


3 Responses to “On the Ethics of Suicide, Assisted or Otherwise”

  1. Do you read The View From Hell?

    The psychiatrist I went after a while back has returned again to the topic of suicide. A reasonably healthy man decided he wanted to go out together with his terminally ill wife. This is “disquieting”. For God’s sake, think of the medical professionals that might be asked to take part!

  2. I have read it on occasion. I would not say I read it.

    Disquieting? It’s really no one else’s business. If there is good evidence that his actions were really self-willed, as opposed to an intricate and murderous bluff on the part of another party, there isn’t even any reason for the police to investigate.

    People must have the right to make their own mistakes, not least because our own opinions on whether those actions are mistakes or not are not definitive. If someone chooses poorly to die, or to live, that’s a tragedy. If someone chooses poorly for them, substituting their own judgment for that of the involved party, it’s an abomination.

    If you have nothing at stake, you have no grounds for demanding that our judgment override that of those who do.

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