Well, first of all, because it already is. This is not a theoretical proposition, but a “self-evident truth,” as the original inventors of the concept of civil rights (the author of the U.S. Constitution) put it. They talked about a right to life, not an obligation or duty to live, and also specified that the mentioning of this particular right (as well as any others) “cannot be construed to deny or disparage” any other rights.
Very few people understand the significance of this today, thanks for the most part to the influence of Christianity on our culture. As even a cursory analysis of history reveals, taking one’s own life wasn’t regarded as an act of violence or hideous moral transgression before this religious influence took hold. It’s pretty much the same deal as with homosexuality — the Greeks and Romans, on the whole, were radically more accepting of it than some of our own contemporaries. Euthanasia itself is a Greek word, and its original meaning is “good death,” which doesn’t necessarily imply outside assistance — nor does it imply suicide, by the way; it simply means the kind of death that the individual deems to be good. Different schools of thought of course differed on what such goodness is, but the important thing to remember is that there was no wholesale condemnation of voluntary death in the Classical world.
The Enlightenment is often regarded as a return to pre-Christian ideas about social life — a continuation of the natural evolution of thought that was forcibly halted during the medieval period. In light of this, the legal prohibition and social condemnation of voluntary death looks more like a religious phenomenon than a moral principle with secular justification behind it, a situation akin to that of a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions — and indeed, both issues deal with bodily autonomy. This is yet another reason why we already have a right to voluntary death: denying such a right amounts to the establishment of a religion by the government. So the real question is not why suicide should be recognized as a right, but how come that already isn’t?
Moreover, I have strong reasons to believe that if people were allowed to choose their own time and manner of death, without having to fear detainment, forced medical treatment, and permanent disability in the case of failure, and to express their views on the matter without being censored or (again) having to fear dire consequences, 1) fewer suicides would occur in the first place, and 2) those that do occur would be successful, which would significantly decrease human suffering.
Even if someone isn’t really determined to die by their own hand, knowing that it’s not allowed can be a very distressing thought to a lot of people. Think about it — isn’t it comforting to think that whatever situation you’re in, you have a way to get out of it? No one knows in advance what kind of medical, financial, family-related or other emergency may strike them, and just having a Plan B in any of these cases might help you to think more clearly and handle the circumstances more efficiently, even if you decide not to take that option.
In my personal experience, I’ve learned that life will come to an end anyway, whether we want it to or not, and it is the quality of that life that matters the most, not its mere length. Having seen a great deal of effort wasted on keeping people alive who either didn’t want to be or were in no condition to get anything out of it (case in point, my dad’s dad, a WWII vet, felt that he was mentally dead long before he was actually dead, due to Alzheimer’s), it quickly became obvious to me that that is exactly the thing I do not want. I don’t know why it’s such a default, or why people don’t seem to be (or want to be) aware of the fact that death is real and it happens to all of us. If you cling to life too hard, at a certain point all you do is cause more pain, both to the person in question and their loved ones/caretakers.
Not all voluntary deaths are a response to adverse circumstances, however. There is a pervasive assumption in our society that the decision to die is somehow a form of “giving up,” or that it can only be brought about by some sort of suffering. How do we know that, though? Humans are not mind-readers. Psychological models, charts and schematics can offer some insight, but the fact is that those do not apply to every single individual.
I can only speak for myself here, but I have noticed something very alarming about this. People have asked me why I am an advocate for voluntary death and why have I chosen this path for my own ending; but they scarcely listen to my answers! Even despite my lengthy explanations about how I want to make the event a celebration of individuality, a moment to share with my loved ones without uncertainty and the dread of putting them at risk of incarceration for simply being there; about the fact that I want to be an organ donor and that is only possible with a healthy, young body (the legal age limit is 50 years), so it is also an act of charity, rather than “selfishness” as it is often framed; about the fact that I’m not in any emotional distress (most of the time, though I do get angry about the injustices of the world) — they still default back to the assumption that I must be “depressed” (whatever that even means; I could write a whole new article about the absurdity of criminalizing sadness, or emotions in general). I am constantly told I should “seek help” (help with what, exactly?), or that I don’t value life enough because I’m an atheist (which is the most absurd idea I have ever heard — if anything, we value life more than religious people because we’re aware of the fact that we have only one!), or that I need a “real man” to force me into a heterosexual relationship to “clear my head” (I have never been attracted to men in a sexual manner, so this is downright insulting)…
In other words, there is always some excuse not to listen to what I’m actually saying. My decision is based on rational considerations, not emotional whim. And I don’t believe that I’m the only one who has made a decision to die voluntarily due to these considerations, either. As Wendy O. Williams put it: “I don’t believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have.”
I still think that pressuring people to hate or kill themselves is wrong — but isn’t that what the psychiatric establishment is doing to begin with? They take the socially and/or cognitively different, and call them alienating names, while trying to make them more like the majority, without even considering whether they want to change or not. It is taken as a default that if you are not like “most people,” that is necessarily wrong, and your fault. The fact that you might have different needs and sensitivities is pathologized. While the reality is more like this: “Everyone needs accommodation, even able-bodied neurotypicals, the difference is that the world was built for them. They don’t notice the accommodations for them because they are so common place (stairs are the right height, roads exist for travel that wouldn’t be possible by foot, etc.).”1 Indeed, for people considered neurotypical, society itself is a giant accommodation, in the absence of which they would promptly perish. But somehow, if you are a neurological (or sexual, or racial, or any other) minority, suddenly you aren’t entitled to acceptance and accommodation, only ostracism and coercion. It’s not at all surprising that such institutionalized bullying drives people to seek death — often a better alternative than “treatment;” just ask Alan Turing. If you want to prevent people from dying, fight against this mistreatment and cruelty, not their rights!
Another objection I commonly hear is that if voluntary death is normalized and becomes part of the social discourse, impressionable minors will think it’s “cool” and make rash decisions that they don’t fully understand. The very same objection was raised against sex education decades ago. Statistics show, however, that the STD and teen pregnancy rates are lower in areas where proper sex education is given to students. Knowing about something doesn’t mean a teen will automatically try it. In fact, the more factual information is available for teens, the less likely it is that they will learn the consequences the hard way. Scaremongering simply does not work.
Regardless of what one’s moral stance is on the value of life, or the meaning of death, it is time to recognize that there are people whose views differ from ours, and that we do not have the right to force them to live (and die) the way we want to. This is why I prefer the phrase “voluntary death” rather than suicide — it hopefully makes the most crucial point clear: that it should be an individual’s own decision. We all die; it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. But each journey is different, and it should be up to each of us how long it is, and how we get to the end of it.
- Acting NT – http://actingnt.tumblr.com ↩
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
The reason that Christianity came out with a prohibition against a person taking their own life was due to the popularity that developed around martyrdom in the early years of the Church. Martyrdom was seen to be a good thing because it expressed the strength of your belief in this new religion. But then people began taking their own lives in an attempt to be proclaimed martyrs and the Church stepped in. They were afraid that if this idea continued that the numbers of Christians would dwindle and they’d never become the world power that the Church wanted to be. So the Church outlawed taking your own life. I that the Church had no business making such a proclamation, especially since it’s carried down to what we’re dealing with today.
I believe that I have the absolute right to take my own life if I see fit to do so, when and how I want to accomplish this. I don’t preach this to anyone else but it’s a firm personal belief that I hold.
Wow, Stephen, I never knew that their prohibition of suicide was to prevent people trying to prove their devotion by martyrdom! You learn something new every day. Thanks for sharing that!
I’m just full of mostly useless information. In another life I taught Religion and Church History was one of the subjects that I taught to high school students. So much of what people take for dogma in the Church developed not so much from a theological standpoint or as dogma but as practical things that Church leaders decided, often not for the greatest and best of reasons. A lot of political things were done and now are lodged in theology.
For instance, celibacy is not a theological dogmatic development but is totally historical in nature. There is no reason at all that the Roman Church couldn’t change the rule on celibacy tomorrow since it is historical. Celibacy became a requirement for ordination to the priesthood because when they had married clergy the priests were leaving Church property to their children. Well, you can imagine how much the Church liked that little development, a loss of money to their coffers. So…out came the proclamation that all priests had to be celibate and it became a requirement to ordination. Celibacy is not a proclamation from God, and all his angels, and his saints. It was a proclamation from Church rulers, plain and simple.
The founding Christians were poor people who sacrificed so that we could have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Voluntary death is just as stupid as giving someone medications for unhappiness and thoughts of death.
Everyone naturally wants to live, if you don’t want to accept the religion then accept biology. If you want to encourage voluntary death you are discouraging voluntary life. Look for ways to relieve pain, suffering, and sadness, your work would be more productive that way.
This is your opinion, plain and simple. Everyone has an opinion but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every opinion is valid and useful. I have no right to try and make others believe in my opinions of things.
I, too, have come to believe that suicide is a fundamental human right. I do not say doctor-assisted suicide; I mean suicide for any reason whatsoever, without owing any judge among men an explanation. The focus of public discussion on physician-assisted suicide is yet another example, as if we needed any more, of a power-grab from the medical-industrial complex. (As any psychiatric survivor knows, they already have unbrookable authority over life; now they are demanding death for their purview as well.)
People have a right to kill themselves, however they like, and by whatever means they choose: including drugs. Period. This has nothing to do with whether suicide is a good thing. It is only that, if one actually wished to enforce a non-right to suicide—-and the temptation will always be there—-the regime would be beyond totalitarian. Even in our supposedly free society, we grant any self-appointed guardian the right to pre-emptively coerce against suicide (professional guardians have that as an obligation). In an ideal world, I suppose this might be survivable. In our world, where coercion and abuse are dished out for the flimsiest and most self-serving reasons, from intimate family circumstances all the way to impersonal corporate offices; where narcissists and high-functioning sociopaths zoom up gold-paved highways to power—–it is a moral monstrosity.
I do not, however, think we should ever glibly dismiss the question of whether suicide is a good idea. The finality of the decision requires careful thought. The usual argument against it is that it hurts those around us. There is something to that, though I would take it more seriously if friends and family did not, under the tutelage of psychiatry, feel entitled to act as jailers. But in the final analysis, you do not owe your life to other people, even to those that gave you life: to assert otherwise is foundational to a kind of slavery.
Where I question suicide is in what the author leaves unquestioned: that it is an escape. I would want to be very sure of that before reaching for the off-switch; and unfortunately, even for a strict materialist and atheist, there are no guarantees. Atheism may guarantee that your life is finite, but it does not guarantee that your experience of it effectively is. Intensity of experience, and subjective sense of time, are tremendously malleable. There is, for instance, the commonplace description of what people experience during a car crash and other deadly situations: time stretching out.
In other words, the subjective time between pulling the trigger, and the final dissolution of consciousness as the bullet tears through the brain, may be much longer than you think: under a materialist presumption, it cannot be infinite, but it is entirely possible that it will be so long that it will dwarf your entire prior experience of life. (If this does not seem plausible, a psychedelic session may make it so.)
If that is so, how you feel during that abnormally long time-span will determine whether it really is an effective escape. The ancient wisdom that the way we live our lives and the way we die determine whatever comes next, then, is beginning to seem quite reasonable—-even for an atheist.
But as a psychiatric survivor, I also do not want to leave atheism unquestioned. I am sure there are plenty of people here who have been hospitalized after intense spiritual experiences, and to whom the thought has occurred that atheism and materialism are, in our day, maintained by the oldest fallacy in the book: shoot the messenger. The only reason that broader society is unaware of the prophetic and the miraculous, is that the prophets have all been summarily imprisoned….
I object to atheism, then, as a presumed reality with an enforcement wing (all ideologies eventually become militant, do they not?). Anyone who presumes atheism on themselves should be fully aware of what they are signing up for. Now, as a purely intellectual presumption, it is delightful. The best kind of play requires a playground: science, engineering, and industry have blossomed in the duck-pond of materialism. But it should not escape our notice that the Inquisition, and the subsequent emergence of madhouses, immediately preceded the scientific revolution. If madmen had to be locked up so that mankind could eventually learn to fly—–so be it? But surely, this has gone on long enough!
I would never, never volunteer for death before undertaking a thorough investigation of spirituality. Though materialism has served science well, it has not done well for either the planet or for mankind. All civilizations and cultures other than our own have taken the larger, mostly invisible world very seriously.
After my own experience, I have disallowed suicide for myself—-except, perhaps, in the case of imminent and permanent enslavement (which psychiatry, quite conveniently, is more than willing to provide). So I would urge anyone facing the choice to look into spirituality. What does this practically mean?
The conventional Western wisdom would be to study sacred texts (preferably from the Western tradition only). When I was an undergraduate in physics, I used to spend all my time reading the textbooks; I never got around to doing the exercises. This is a poor way to learn physics; it is also a poor way to learn about God. I wouldn’t throw away the “textbooks” just yet, but they must be backed up by one’s own exercises: which may be as arduous and lifelong as a meditation practice, or as arduous and short-term as a psychedelic session.
” would want to be very sure of that before reaching for the off-switch; and unfortunately, even for a strict materialist and atheist, there are no guarantees. ” – That is you. Not me.
Notice how I phrased it: *I*. But I am pointing out a logical-philosophical problem that could apply to *anyone*.
Once we post public comments like this one or your article, it becomes about much more than you. Or me. I support (and salute) your personal right to do as you wish, but I do not want to pass up the opportunity to mention a difficulty that people reading this may not all have thought through.
Well, fair enough. I just don’t see it as that much of a problem. And at least you didn’t express explicit hatred like the dragonslayer guy below.
I don’t read his comments as hateful; I just see him expressing strong disagreement, which is far from the same thing.
Have you read any of the near death experiences literature, e.g. Raymond Moody’s Life after Life? I’m not trying to “convert” you or anyone else; I’m just curious about your take on it. Also curious if you have any feelings about psychedelic experience (which in some cases can give people a profound experience of “dying before death”.)
Sigh. No, I don’t deal with that stuff. I know about NDEs and how it can be induced with drugs, but that is far from evidence that consciousness survives the brain (i mean, look at Phineas Gage, dammit).
The reason I would consider “dealing with” that stuff is that it can give people a completely new type of experience, which often results in insights about self or the nature of reality. Is it just “the drugs”? That’s the big question: if it is just a random drug effect, maybe it can be ignored. But the way I understand it is that psychedelics dissolve how we “put together” experience in the ordinary manner, and force us to reach deeper into our psyche and survival instinct. Sidestepping issues of consciousness surviving death, and using my prior example, a bullet tearing through the brain coupled with the certain knowledge of impending death, might do something (very) roughly similar. So a psychedelic in that surface analysis is a rough way to “rehearse” death in a way that is (mostly) reversible. I say *mostly* because it could leave you with a changed mind!
The number of people who have changed their minds during suicide attempts gives me pause. Clearly they are faced with a type of experience they did not anticipate. I can only speculate, and not know, what that might be. I’ll mention some stories that come to mind. Ken Kesey spoke of a friend who tried to kill herself using a rag soaked with carbon tetrachloride. At the last moment she heard an overwhelming clamor: “What about the *rest* of us?” Her ego had decided to kill herself, but there were whole parts of her personality that she simply wasn’t aware of, and that wanted to live.
(When I had suicidal thoughts myself, I eventually realized that what I was trying to eliminate was *the life I currently have*, not the possibility of life itself. I needed a plane ticket *out*, not a gun.)
It was lucky for her that she still had the strength to snatch the rag off her face. Other people will not be so lucky. I read about a girl who burned herself to death (it can be found in “Confessions of an Rx drug pusher”), and only when her body was completely on fire decided to call 911—-surely with the knowledge that she would have to live with full-body burns and profound pain, if she survived (which she did not).
Still others relate jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, seeing their hands leave the railing…..and realizing they made a horrible mistake. They fall into the water, break multiple bones, and crawl out to begin life anew profoundly crippled.
The bottom line is that suicide is an extreme experience: and extreme experiences often completely change one’s perspective on life. Suddenly whole new reasons for living appear out of the blue, but there is often no way to act on this insight without having tremendous injuries, if it is possible to act at all. I am not advocating that anyone do psychedelics *in particular*, but I am advocating a no-stone-left-unturned “due diligence” before making a final decision to die—-and that would involve, necessarily, seeking extreme experiences that are reversible. There are plenty of ways to do this that don’t involve drugs (I’d mention Holotropic Breathwork; also more obvious things like adventure travel, sky diving….).
I wonder if you have also considered death by fasting. Ancient spiritual traditions have advocated this as a way to die (it is a spiritual technique in itself); after the first couple of days people are said to lose the desire for food altogether. It is a process that not only may grant insights, but presents plenty of opportunities to reverse course.
BTW, Phineas Gage is certainly a challenge to the naive conception of a personality surviving death. But consciousness surviving death does not imply that our consciousness cannot be affected by our brains and even our bodies. If you cut off my hands, and branded my tongue, and put out my eyes, I might be left with a profoundly changed personality, but I could not argue that you did anything to my brain (and surely you are not going to argue that consciousness resides in the hands and the tongue, or even the eyes!). The case of Phineas Gage requires us to regard any post-death consciousness as something that was at a minimum symbiotic with the brain during life. But that is far from a knock-down argument against there being any chance of independent survival. What people find on continued spiritual practice is a kind of essence that is quite different from an ordinary personality.
Putting together my own direct experience with readings about NDE’s and other unusual experiences, I personally do not have any doubts.
Concerning NDEs that have already been mentioned, you knowledge about them seems to be very limited and largely misguided – for example, they cannot be induced by drugs; partially NDE-like experiences sometimes can, but they are a far cry from an actual deep NDE.
If you want to learn more about this topic, the best recommendation is not the old (and relatively superficial) Moody’s book, but much more recent, detailed and scientific (in the strictest sense of the word) Pim van Lommel’s “Consciousness Beyond Life”, which is still one of the very best works written about NDEs:
Jeffery Long’s and Paul Perry’s “Evidence of the Afterlife” is also recommended:
But my specific recommendation is one of the newest books on the subject, which examines in detail the evidence for one of the most important arguments for survival of consciousness beyond brain and body – verifiable extra-sensory perceptions by the clinical-death-undergoing experiencers (as well as other verifiable phenomena accompanying clinical death and the NDEs initiated by it). This is “The Self Does Not Die” by Titus Rivas, Rudolf Smit and Anny Dirven:
If you (or anyone else here) wants to learn more about this book, I recommend to read the interview with Rivas and Smit (Dirven has recently deceased, unfortunately…), with myself being an interviewer. It is published on a parapsychological forum “Psience Quest” (in the form of 5 forum posts, since it was quite lengthy):
Whether you agree with it or not (you almost certainly will not… yet others may agree!), I think that work of Rivas, Smith and Dirven deserves to be learned about. Especially given that Titus Rivas is supporter of the critical psychiatry / anti-psychiatry cause as well – he supports voice-hearing people (not being one himself), participates in their communities and wrote a book in their defence:
And, most importantly – I do support your position that each and every person possesses an intrinsic freedom (and should be granted an inalienable and fundamental right in the current legal framework) to end their own life voluntarily, without interference or persecution from anyone, especially from coercive psychiatry.
And no, death by fasting would be noticed. I won’t use drugs either. And you can’t force me into this spiritual stuff nor scare me with it into changing my mind. There is no “rest of us” in my case.
I don’t seek an “extreme experience”. I seek a relatively gentle end to experience. The methods you mention are painful and uncertain, clearly the people employing them had not done their research to the extent I have, and/or had no other, quicker and less painful ways available. Which btw wouldn’t be an issue if the right to die was universally recognized.
Not trying to force or scare you into anything. As I should reiterate again I think you have an absolute right to do as you wish. I am only putting out food for thought. When faced with an irreversible decision, keeping an open mind would seem to be even more important than it usually is. I don’t care about *changing* people’s minds, but for many more reasons than I can enumerate I care about \open minds. Psychiatry—-now there’s the opposite of an open mind. The best way I can fight closed-mindedness like psychiatry is to keep an open mind myself.
I didn’t want to believe in all this spiritual stuff either—-especially not anything that could be branded as “New Age”. But in the end I was faced with the choice between admitting to myself there might be “something to it”, and keeping a closed mind. And a closed mind isn’t worth it.
How can you tell whether you have a closed mind? One never wants to admit it. One way around it might be to ask, “how do I know?” For instance, how do you know there is no “rest of us” in your case? What have you done to give the “rest of us” a chance to speak? How can you prove the negative? I don’t ask you to answer these questions for \me, but for \yourself.
And if you could spend a few days, or a week, or even a month, trying something you have never tried before, that large numbers of people have historically believed to be helpful—-to give that “rest of us” a chance to speak—-my question is: why \not? What’s the rush? What’s the harm in trying?
Why not? Because you do not dictate to me what I do. I don’t want to “prove” you wrong or change your mind. Your journey is yours. However, we are looking for different things. My mind might as well be closed, but that is none of your business.
Also, I already tried “spiritual” experiences, years ago. So yeah, I already did that. Also had an attempt and it was not my fault that it failed, I got intervened on. That’s when I decided I’m not trying again until I’m pretty certain it’ll work.
So there is no “harm in trying”. But there is in your threats. I already have my answer.
Btw on the “open mind” thing:
I know that claims of consciousness surviving death haven’t been proven in the laboratory, but I don’t see how reports of Phineas Gage’s personality changes following his accident prove consciousness can’t survive death. He had a three foot iron rod blasted through his skull. That ought to be enough to make just anybody cranky.
Here’s food for thought. People already think those with SMI labels are unworthy of making any medical decisions for themselves–including the right to refuse cruel and pointless “treatments.” What if relatives and other “care providers” start euthanizing the “mentally ill” without their consent?
Of course Aunt Betty SAYS she doesn’t want to die. She’s crazy and doesn’t know how meaningless her life is. How fortunate for her that we–her sane providers–do.
Good point. The German psychiatrists used the same mode of thinking when they began the mass extermination of the “mentally ill” in the 1930’s in Germany. They wanted to put them out of their “misery” so they gassed them in the first gas chambers and then burned their thousands of bodies in the ovens. This is where the Nazis got the gas chambers and ovens from in the first place. We were also referred to as “useless eaters” who were not worthy to take up space and breathe the air.
Where did I say any of that?
Stephen is replying to Zoe’s comment immediately above his, not to you, Lila.
I didn’t say what Zoe is acccusing me of, either.
You didn’t say it – but –
It’s a slippery slope.
It’s ethically ambiguous enough that interpretations (as evidenced by this thread) are quite wide ranging.
Those who hold the power and the keys to the gates make the decisions, really, as to how these issues will be decided on a social scale.
Lilla, I respect and defend your freedom to choose. I understand the arguments that you have made, and the arguments that those who oppose you have made. Respectfully, I disagree.
I don’t know if you are familiar with Thomas Szasz, but he tried to make similar arguments about a right to suicide. He was one of your fellow Hungarians, and a very smart and good man. It is unfortunate, because he understood very well the truth about psychiatry. I agree with you (and with Szasz) wholeheartedly that psychiatry has no business intervening in the lives of individuals, and that coercion and force are wrong. However, most of your arguments, on a variety of levels, do not hold up to scrutiny. It sounds like you have a lot to live for, including your father, your cats, your writing, your translating, your forklifting, your beautiful smile, and especially your opposition to psychiatry. We need as many opponents of psychiatry as possible, and we need them alive whenever possible.
First of all, the notion that suicide is a civil right is so far from being a “self-evident truth” that its hard to know where to start. This was the furthest thing from the minds of the Founding Fathers, and particularly from the minds of those who created the U.S. Constitution. (By the way, there wasn’t just one author of the Constitution. It was the work of many men, backed by the three authors who defended this work under the pseudonym “Publius.”) When Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence he originally wrote the following: “We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable.” Franklin edited this phrase to read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” What were these “self-evident truths”?
The first is that all men are created equal. The second is that they are endowed by their Creator (a problem for atheists, since the Founders clearly believed that rights do not emerge from nowhere) with certain unalienable rights. The third self-evident truth is that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The fourth is that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. The fifth is that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government. These are the self-evident truths that the Founders articulated. Nowhere was suicide even implied as a “self-evident truth” or a “right.”
Second, it is a gross misunderstanding of classical Greek philosophy, politics, and culture to claim that suicide was not frowned upon or condemned. In fact, most ancient city states criminalized self-killing. Plato’s discussion of self-killing in his dialogues Phaedo and the Laws is nuanced. Since Plato wrote in dialogue form, it is difficult to discern his own true opinion, but in these works his characters condemn suicide as an act of cowardice and laziness by those who are too weak to deal with life’s problems. He makes certain exceptions, but it is simply inaccurate to claim that suicide was even remotely considered a good thing by the ancient Greeks. Aristotle’s view on self-killing was also nuanced. From his voluminous writings, his only discussion of suicide is found in the Nicomachean Ethics, and the question he poses is whether or not it is possible to commit injustice to oneself. Aristotle’s view was that suicide was harmful to the community. But even these commentaries on self-killing (there was no specific word for our modern conception of suicide in ancient Greek or Latin) make it clear that the ancient Greek idea of self-killing had no connection whatsoever to our modern conception of “rights.”
Third, Christianity is not the only religion to condemn suicide. For good reason, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism… and many other religions also honor the sanctity of life.
Fourth, the Enlightenment was almost the exact opposite of what you describe. Many of the Enlightenment rationalists rejected classical and medieval concepts of nature and natural law as well as the tenets of Christianity.
So why isn’t suicide recognized as a right? Because thankfully there are too many people who still have common sense. I agree with you, however, that people should not be forcibly detained or “treated” against their will for talking about or even attempting suicide. Suicide prevention programs exacerbate the problem.
Another problem with your argument is that you claim that suicide is some sort of an escape, or a “way out.” This is a major problem for atheists especially. A person can only escape from something if that escape leads somewhere else. Furthermore, it is nonsensical to argue that atheists appreciate life more than religious people because they realize that there is only one life, because most religious people also recognize that we have only one life to live on earth, and that it matters very much.
And with all due respect, the argument that suicide is a celebration of individuality is the most irrational of them all. Self-annihilation is hardly a celebration of the self. Even though I’m sure that you are not a selfish person, the celebration of the self over everything else the very definition of selfishness.
Lilla, I don’t deny that you have made these arguments based on rational considerations, and not just emotional whims. The problem is that your rational considerations don’t hold up to scrutiny. I hope that you will reconsider your reasons for self-killing, not just because you are a person of value who makes the world a better place, but also because we need as many opponents of psychiatry to continue to fight the good fight against coercion and psychiatric abuse. Nevertheless, I defend your right to choose.
1. I didn’t say single author, that was the editor’s addition. Original text of this article here: https://librarian-of-hell.deviantart.com/journal/Why-should-suicide-be-a-civil-right-726515510
Also, look up the living document narrative.
“However, most of your arguments, on a variety of levels, do not hold up to scrutiny”
Or maybe you didn’t get the point. I may have “a lot to live for”, in your perspective, but you have NO right to force me to live as you see fit. Maybe you need to apply better scrutiny.
“I hope that you will reconsider your reasons for self-killing” – I won’t. Period.
Maybe you didn’t get my point either. I AGREE with you that neither I or anyone else can “force” you to live in any way. But I disagree with you that you can force people to believe that self-killing is a civil right or a self-evident truth. Clearly, they are not.
I still maintain that the right to life implies the right to die. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWXTQ0Dr6mY
Also, you agree with me? Then why the whole “you are irrational and should be beaten” shtick? Especially without any explanation as for why.
Where does SDP say, “You are irrational and should be beaten”? Maybe I missed the comment.
I want to prevent suicides–especially if the person might change his/her mind later. However, what a truly unhappy suicidal person needs is unconditional love and encouragement. Hence the need to keep my suicidal friends as far away from shrinks as possible!
If someone is determined to end their life there’s really nothing anyone can do to stop it. Being “treated” in a psych prison makes an unhappy person 10 X as likely to commit suicide in the near future. Many of these deaths occur even while in “psychiatric treatment” so hospitalization is no help at all!
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There is a big difference between “self-determination,” whatever that might mean, and self-annihilation, or killing oneself. And for the record, I am not reiterating anything about how irrational you are or how you should be beaten. That’s absurd. If anything, I reiterate the truth that you are free to choose and that I respect your freedom to choose.
Big difference? Where exactly?
Deciding WHEN and HOW to die, given that we all die anyway, is a part of self-determination, whether you like it or not.
Also, I didn’t mention the other religions because I’m not familiar with them, but hey. If you wanna talk about not holding up to scrutiny, attack people who make supernatural claims, not me.
Lilla – i’ll stay out of the debate on the rightness or wrongness. TBH, i’m not sure. i believe in Jesus – but really try to avoid all the baggage assumed by the word Christian. i know you don’t, and my trying to slap that on you would just make you angry – which makes sense. but i guess i imagine it took a tsunami of pain to get you (anyone) to the point where taking one’s own life is an option. No judgment or advice from my side. But i just want to acknowledge your pain. i hope you find peace in this life, and in the next, if there is one. If there’s anything this sad old world can do to convince you to stick around – please let me know. Anyways, take care – you are a beautiful person.
The second is that they are endowed by their Creator (a problem for atheists, since the Founders clearly believed that rights do not emerge from nowhere) with certain unalienable rights.
Nope. Not a problem since most of them were deists. Even less of a problem for those of us who don’t treat their writings as holy writ.
Another problem with your argument is that you claim that suicide is some sort of an escape, or a “way out.” This is a major problem for atheists especially. A person can only escape from something if that escape leads somewhere else.
Nope. Not a problem. You are playing word games here. A person cannot be in pain if they don’t exist. In that sense, they do escape the pain by dying.
Furthermore, it is nonsensical to argue that atheists appreciate life more than religious people because they realize that there is only one life, because most religious people also recognize that we have only one life to live on earth, and that it matters very much.
Nope. This is some twisted logic. The fact that you are using the word ‘nonsense’ here makes it even worse.
Most of the Founders were sincere Christians, many protestants, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Lutherans, and even a few Roman Catholics. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and many others were influenced by, and adopted deist perspectives, but they also held strong religious beliefs and defended the first freedom, namely freedom of religion. The founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are not holy writ, but they might as well be, since, like the Bible, no one reads them or understands them anymore.
Uprising, your word games don’t work on me. The word “escape” is derived from the vulgar Latin “excappare,” meaning “to get out of one’s cape, or to leave a pursuer with just one’s cape.” An atheist can’t tell you what the cape is, or who the one leaving the cape might be, or where the one leaving the cape goes. The claim that suicide causes a person to no longer exist makes no sense to the vast majority of people, and an atheist has no proof for that assertion. Escaping means leaving one place and going somewhere else. Where is that somewhere else? What if suicide leads to even greater suffering after death? Something to think about. In any case, atheists can’t provide any persuasive evidence one way or another.
Finally, there is nothing twisted in the plain truth that I wrote about people of religious faith who understand that we have only one life to live on earth. Nonsensical is not a strong enough term to describe the claim that atheists appreciate life more than religious people. Absurd might be more appropriate. Is it possible for an atheist to appreciate life? I suppose so. Is it possible for an atheist to articulate the purpose of life? I have yet to hear a persuasive argument for that.
Suicide should definitely be a civil right! It is the ultimate body autonomy. Whose life is it? Whose body is it? None but your own. Nobody else can know what makes anyone’s life worth living; that is entirely personal. Nobody else can know what personal values drive any personal decisions. People like to say “you only live once,” but I know that to be untrue for me. I do not just believe in reincarnation, no more that I believe in rocks or clouds- it is simply a reality, something I have experienced many times before. I remember past lives, and I remember what it is like to die. There is the sense that you are dissolving, and if you cling to this life, this ego-self, there can be fear and existential suffering. If, however, you can hold fast to the reality of universal connection, the understanding that we are each a unique expression of All-That-Is, surrendering one’s ego-self is freeing. For death is not dissolving into nothing; it is dissolving into everything. That is my truth, because that has been my experience.
My grandparents avoided doctors like the plague. They both insisted that they wanted to die naturally, at home in their own bed. I watched as their health declined, each of them in turn got coerced into a medical facility (with my grandmother it was a hospital; with my grandfather, a nursing home) and neither had what anyone would consider a “good death.” I made myself the promise that I would not travel that same road. I have my eye on my “canaries in the coal mine” that will let me know when to get out before it is too late. Of course I have my advance directives, my DNR, but I know that I can’t put much faith in them being respected, especially with the proliferation of Catholic-run hospitals (and they make it near impossible to find out whether a hospital is subject to the bishops’ directives). When my body can no longer do the things that make life worthwhile to me, I will have no qualms about ending it rather than endure the existential (and physical) suffering. Those that really know and love me know me well enough to understand this, and though my dying will cause grief, that eventuality is inescapable- everyone will die, and those left behind by them will grieve the loss. Loving me means letting go, means not wanting to let me linger in suffering when living becomes nothing but existing in suffering and misery. I never won an attendance award in school; I’m not looking to win one in life either.
This is such a discussion-clarifying comment. In my own comment I risked making the unspoken assumption that non-materialistic beliefs would inevitably argue against suicide; clearly that is not true.
There’s another interesting point you bring up: using suicide as a means to escape involuntary medicine. I’ve seen this alluded to in other discussion forums: the respondents say they will make sure they succeed at their suicide attempts next time, so they can avoid being hospitalized again. What you help us realize is that involuntary medical care is not just a psychiatric issue: in fact it applies to nearly everyone at the end of life. That might help raise majoritarian interest in this problem.
I have a good friend who spent his whole career in the medical system, as a specialist, and now approaching ninety fears “medical kidnapping”: with the result that he stays in his own home most of the time: he is afraid if he travels some “good samaritan” might call 911 on him if he happens to fall ill away from home.
All of us psychiatric survivors know exactly what he means by “medical kidnapping”. I’ve seen it in other contexts too: I met someone who was kidnapped when she injured her back, and was held against her will by a rural trauma department that was trying to force her into back surgery. She ended up reaching her own doctor on the phone, and escaping the hospital by evading guards, hobbling out the front door, and calling a taxi. All she needed was a back brace, and the hospital lost its juicy bill for surgery.
What we have is a larger issue than psychiatric hospitalization. We are all in the grips of a rapacious, profit-driven system that forces care on us with inadequate or nonexistent consent. And large fractions of this abusive care are at the end of life and do not provide any substantial benefit in length or quality of life. I’m glad that you have a “Do Not Resucitate” order, but notice what you have never been given the chance to sign: a “Do Not Hospitalize” order.
Unless it is for a broken limb or an immediate injury that I can recover from, or a highly successful elective surgery, I hope never to see the inside of a hospital again. It is a profound indictment of our system that about the only way I could guarantee this is by watching out for my “canaries in the coal mine” and killing myself before I get picked up.
Let’s push for a civi right to suicide by all means, but let’s not forget the right to opt-out of medical care we don’t want. (And have already paid for, through insurance! But that’s another story.) If more people realized that they will likely die under the power of strangers, away from home and in a stressful and ugly environment, they might be less sanguine about our medical system, and more inclined to listen to psychiatric survivors.
I agree wholeheartedly. We need to reclaim our rights of personal freedom from the ENTIRE medical establishment. I used to be a case manager for families who had a child with developmental disabilities, but I had a few adults living independently as well. One of them had high blood pressure but stopped taking the pills his doctor prescribed for it because of side effects he found intolerable. The independent living assistance agency threatened to drop him from services. He didn’t care; he knew his rights, and was quite assertive in saying so. They relented, but sent a nurse out to explain all the dire possible health consequences, documenting it to cover their liability. She did not change his mind, and they grudgingly accepted his choice. This was years ago- I have no doubt that the same situation today would result in a medical kidnapping (in the case of adults, should it be “medical abduction?”) as the law has changed making it easier for them to strip the rights of those labelled “gravely disabled.”
I am not home-bound like your elderly friend, but I share his fear/concern. My wife and I have a very clear understanding that if any life-threatening event happens to me in public, she is to whisk me away before any first responders can arrive on the scene.
I am with you about avoiding hospitals, but I went to the ER a few months ago (was losing sight, not something I could treat at home). Not only did they expect me to sign a carte blanche Consent for Treatment, they wanted me to sign it electronically before they even printed it out! No way. I do not sign those without altering them, crossing out the word “treatment” and replacing it with “diagnosis.” The whole notion of informed consent seems to have gone the way of privacy: people don’t insist on it anymore, they just sign it away without even reading the fine print. Seems people have forgotten the time-honored wisdom “never sign anything until you’ve read it twice.” They’ve also discarded the phrase “none of your business.” Those “assessments” that ask about my emotional state? None of your business. That’s the only answer they get. It’s the flipside of informed consent- informed refusal, which should also be our civil right.
Catholic-run hospital systems now own 60% of the hospital beds in the US, and it’s been in the news a lot regarding women’s reproductive health, but not much has been brought to light about how this will effect end-of-life care. With the baby boomers aging, though, it’s bound to become an issue. Everyone has a stake in this, you are right about that. I hope people wake up and realize that.
Being asked to sign something without being allowed to read what you are signing….they could not say more clearly what is going on than by putting a sign outside the ER saying “Expect fraud and coercion”….
One minor point: “not dissolving into nothing, but into everything”
Cute and all…but that sounds pretty much like the same thing to me. Because “everything” as in matter can’t be created nor destroyed; but also “nothing” as in that particular configuration of matter that leads to personal consciousness is being dismantled.
Also yep, the right to bodily autonomy does include refusing treatment (forced “care” is anything but caring).
“Cute and all” sounds pretty insulting. Do you mean to be so abrasive in your responses?
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Puppies are “cute.” Kittens are “cute.” Rainbows and unicorns are “cute.” Existential matters? Not so much.
And I agree that you should consider stepping away from the keyboard until you are no longer tired and livid. The “troll” did not personally attack you as you did him. I hope the site moderators are reading all this. Him saying “It sounds like you have a lot to live for…” is not a personal attack. You calling him “a vile and disgusting human being,” however, certainly is.
He did personally attack me. “It sounds like you have a lot to live for, including your father, your cats, your writing, your translating, your forklifting, your beautiful smile, and especially your opposition to psychiatry.” There is a personal attack right there.
And I hope they are reading it too because I reported him, as well as the one saying I should be necessarily forced to have reversible “extreme experiences”.
Please note I never said you should be *forced* to have extreme experiences: I advocated you try it for yourself under your own volition. There’s a world of difference in that.
And I already told you that I won’t.
It seems to me you also might have misread “….and that would involve, necessarily, seeking extreme experiences that are reversible”. “Necessarily” refers to “no stone left unturned”, not to legal compulsion. I hope you will forgive any infelicitous wordings: this is a fast-moving medium. Nobody’s perfect…
I didn’t misread it. I rejected it. You can’t make me “try” “extreme experiences”. Experience is not what I’m after, but the lack of it.
To return to where we started: this being a public forum, it is not simply a matter of me convincing you, or vice versa—-but communicating with anyone who reads this. I think it’s a useful discussion to have. And I don’t believe that offering reasons to back up one’s thinking to someone who is firmly convinced otherwise is a personal attack. That is campus radicalism, not reason.
Many people—-with conventional opinions—-will argue that the pitfalls of deciding to kill oneself are enough to militate for coercion. I am arguing, passionately, that there \are pitfalls, and \also that coercion is reprehensible. That distinction needs to be made.
Persuasion is a better thing than coercion every time, and there is nothing wrong with trying it.
I also want to make very clear that I do *not* believe you are making the wrong decision. It would be presumptuous of me to say this; it would even be presumptuous of your best friend to say such a thing! Nobody knows the half of it other than you. *All* I am doing is enumerating reasons you *might* be wrong. If *I* were in the process of making an irreversible decision, I would want to know and directly consider every reason I might be wrong. Such reasons can be given to a certain extent independent of direct knowledge of an individual’s situation, because some (not all) of these reasons are universals.
Yeahh…sure…I can never be right…. Okay, whatever.
” I would want to know and directly consider every reason I might be wrong” – Except I already did that. But I already know you won’t like me no matter what I say, so I won’t bother.
I’m going to step back and let you have the last word, but let me point out I have never expressed *dislike* of you. We haven’t met, and from your writing I personally find you quite likeable! And I welcome any efforts to persuade me to change \my mind. I’ve written at length, though, because persuading requires detail.
If you have considered all possible angles, that is a wonderful thing, and forgive me for appearing to presume otherwise. But again, part of this discussion is for bystanders. The reasons I have enumerated against suicide were not already present in the discussion. That is enough to make them worth mentioning: and of course I had no way of knowing that you \had considered them already.
One thing I want to highlight as a valuable contribution to this discussion: your point that one doesn’t have to be in any emotional distress to consider suicide: i.e. wishing to kill yourself cannot be taken to \imply that you are in any emotional distress. That, of course, is how peremptory psychiatric coercion is justified. You were right to attack it at the very root. And my consideration of the (possibly abstruse) question of what happens when you actually approach death and eventually die, is not to be taken as a negation of that point. It’s another department altogether.
One way you can strengthen the case that you are not being emotional is not to react in any emotional way to comments here. I shall leave it to yourself to determine whether you have done so. I’ll add that you have every right to get angry at people who do not know you raising niggling and possibly stupid objections; but you have no control, unfortunately, over how someone who is not inclined to be persuaded by your case might react to such anger. And surely you wish to persuade, and not merely preach to the choir?
And on that matter I am a half-cheerleader: I am, as I said, passionately convinced that suicide \is a civil right, but wholly \unconvinced that it is nearly so much of a good idea as those who wish to do it are inclined to think. If I were politically, and not philosophically minded, I would swallow my objection to the second part of your case to strengthen my support for the first part: because I think the \civil right to suicide is a lynchpin of human freedom and a fundamental blow against meddlesome tyranny, which always in all guises claims to be for the benefit of its victims.
(If there were a right to suicide, for instance, could there ever be such a thing as slavery? The first members of a population that had been marked for enslavement would find their way off this mortal coil, and the next wave of slavers would get the message not to bother.)
Therefore, my final sentiment is one of thanks to you, for having the courage to raise this topic here (and let us not deny that it \does take courage), and to put down some good arguments.
“One way you can strengthen the case that you are not being emotional is not to react in any emotional way to comments here. I shall leave it to yourself to determine whether you have done so. I’ll add that you have every right to get angry at people who do not know you raising niggling and possibly stupid objections; but you have no control, unfortunately, over how someone who is not inclined to be persuaded by your case might react to such anger. And surely you wish to persuade, and not merely preach to the choir?”
Got a point there. This matter needs more thorough treatment and I most certainly will get back to it. I didn’t expect this article to even be put here, it took the admins about a month to get to it. And I was told it’s gonna be a friendly environment, which it proved not to be in the slightest. The slavery thing is interesting too, I know of a story about a former slave who said that if he were to be recaptured, he’d end it all right away.
And yeah, I tend to react with anger when it is suggested that I should be subjected to meditative etc. experiences, I mean, you people are supposed to be against psychiatric treatment, and that doesn’t sound much different, from my angle. Also, the “you’ll change your mind at the last minute” jeer has also been used by a former family member, so I have an urge to prove it wrong already. Same with the “you have a pretty face so you shouldn’t have rights” kind of argument… But if I want to address the entirety of this thread, that will take a whole another article.
So I’ll do just that.
It always amazes me when I realize that most of the money that’s spent on health care for an individual is spent at the very end of that person’s life. Heroic measures are done, costing tons of money, to prolong the person’s life, no matter what. Very few doctors are able to allow their patients to die with any dignity at all.
I was a chaplain for fifteen years in medical hospitals and in a very large retirement/nursing home and saw this happen over and over again. And don’t think that family members aren’t complicit in all of this. I’ve seen family members keep loved ones on respirators for months although the person’s brain was dead and they were only inflating lungs and circulating the blood. We’ve come to a very nasty place in medicine where the end of life issues are concerned.
My one big concern is that when the my “canaries” start dying that I’ll have the courage to take my own life so that I won’t be subjected to such disrespectful “medical care”, all for my own good of course.
What you wrote here about the universal connection between all things and that death is “dissolving into everything” is part of why Hinduism, Buddhism(although it doesn’t explicitly state it since they want you to come to this awareness on your own), and the mystical groups within Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all believe that we are all God, since we all contain the One, Eternal, and Transcendent Consciousness. This is what permeates and binds everything in the Universe together. Everything is the manifestation of God that is conscious, in whatever way. I believe that this is why Hindus perform Namaste to others, since each of us contains the entire Universe within us.
Wow, Stephen, what a beautiful affirmation of my experience! Thank you very much! I always love reading your comments and replies. I wish there was a way to have MIA as a physical place, a coffee house maybe, that we could Tron (movie reference) our way into through the computers, so we could sit and have deep discussions together. Folks lonely or in pain could find soft eyes, warm hugs, hot cocoa. Really support each other, you know?
I have a friend who had done some chaplain work in prisons. I was contemplating that- what it would be like to hold sacred space and be able to connect with a person who had committed heinous crimes, how would I get past judgement, how could I possibly open my heart? And I realized that the answer was simple: they are no less a manifestation of All-That-Is than I am; there is no separation. I find comfort in the notion that we choose to embark on each human journey we take as spiritual beings, that we have informed consent, if you will, about the circumstances of our birth. I am not a victim of my life, though I have been victimized/traumatized by others. I know profoundly that some of the most awful experiences can produce growth and change that would not come about otherwise. Like my friend’s mom who is grateful for all that she discovered about herself on the healing journey she found herself on after being raped. The rape experience made her look deep within, it challenged her faith- in God, in herself, in humanity at large. She found places within herself that she had never had reason to access before: founts of strength, determination, courage to fully inhabit her own life. Her rapist had facilitated that growth experience, and in acknowledging that, she forgave him. Kinda like without Pilate’s role, there would be no resurrection story.
“But somehow, if you are a ‘neurological … minority’, you aren’t entitled to acceptance and accommodation, only ostracism and coercion. It’s not at all surprising that such institutionalized bullying drives people to seek death — often a better alternative than ‘treatment.’” This statement addresses my disagreement with your article. I do not believe that you are part of a “neurological minority;” we are all part of a common humanity that seeks acceptance. I understand “neurological minority” to be a positive spin on “mental ill” rather than an understanding that “mental illness” is a myth and that injustice (institutional bullying) naturally causes painful emotional suffering. I believe that injustice and the pseudoscience of psychiatry are to blame for your motivation to end your life; I hope you will instead choose to continue to advocate for social justice.
“I believe that injustice and the pseudoscience of psychiatry are to blame for your motivation to end your life” -That belief is wrong. I know just as well that mental illness is a myth, but I also know that different people have different abilities and talents. Some of which are rare, hence minority.
I do not experience “emotional suffering”. Only anger when I read comments like yours.
I guess that I was “projecting” about my problems in life; I am sorry for intruding.
This is my own observation and I own it, but you seem very prickly in most of your responses. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone was attacking you in their responses but you certainly seemed to come out blasting away at the slightest things.
Hence the long comment below. I just feel like I’ve been going through the exact same argument over and over and over in the past two years.
Addressing some objections to my thesis that voluntary death should be respected as a basic right for all people.
1. “This was the furthest thing from the minds of the Founding Fathers, and particularly from the minds of those who created the U.S. Constitution.” Oh, here is the “original intent” line of reasoning. On the face of it, this seems to have the most merit, citing quotes from the Founding Fathers that indicate they were not thinking of death rights when they spoke of unalienable rights. That may even be true. At the time, it wasn’t an issue on anyone’s political agenda – just like gay marriage wasn’t. It was not yet within the Overton window of public consciousness. However, when putting together the principles of the “great experiment”, they knew that if it is to be valid for another 300 years or more, it should be adapted and amended as new social and other issues are raised. As I said, no one was thinking of same-sex marriage when the laws allowing for interracial marriage were created, either – yet, these were used in the Obergefehl v. Hodges decision as a basis for extending equal marriage rights in 2015. Similarly, the argument that the right to life cannot be made into an obligation may not have been around in the 1770s, but in principle it still holds true. Bodily autonomy is the basis of all equality, and yet, pretty much all of these people we respect as the first warriors for equality were slaveholders. We no longer do that either, having recognized since then that slavery is a violation of bodily autonomy.
2. “The Creator” cited as the source of our rights is not a “problem for the atheist”. This, again, has to do with the timeframe issue. Before 1859, only Deism was a truly defensible position, because there wasn’t any alternative explanation for the origin of humanity yet. More on this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0m8e0akuMo (Emerging from nature is not “emerging from nowhere”.)
3. “I object to atheism, then, as a presumed reality with an enforcement wing (all ideologies eventually become militant, do they not?).” What is so “militant” about demanding evidence? If anything, religion has a power to enforce, we outsiders have none, so the assertion that atheism haas an “enforcement” wing is ridiculous based on demographics alone. Also, I obviously do not advocate for imprisoning people for having spiritual experiences – that was a strawman, deliberately constructed to attack my character instead of my reasoning. I even grant that some of these experiences have a basis in reality – it is by all means possible. But personal experience is by its nature – personal. What is one man’s experience is another’s hearsay. Until there is testable, repeatable, falsifiable evidence for the claim that there is any kind of spiritual realm, I cannot presume that there is one. There might be one, but neither of us truly knows that – not me, not you, not the spiritual guru, not the drug user, no one. All we have at hand is claims, supported by anecdotes. Should research be done about them? Of course. Should they be asserted based on unfalsifiable personal experience? Of course not! And are you seriously dismissing scientific standards of evidence as the mere establishment of a “playground” in an age where the same science has enabled our current way of life (including not having polio as a child, crossing previously impossible distances via aviation, having the free time and the tools – like computers – to have this very conversation, just to name a few things)? The toys from this “playground” demonstrably work. But even then, this is not enough to dismiss the right to choose one’s own time and manner of death. Even a spiritual experience can lead to opting for death, after all, so obstructing the choices of another person based on one’s own spiritual views is actually the “militant” thing to do. “I would urge anyone facing the choice to look into spirituality.” As I mentioned, I did so, albeit briefly and not fully on my own volition (it was mainly a result of sleep deprivation), but even if I didn’t – forcing people to “look into” spirituality to convince them to “disallow” suicide for themselves is just as coercive as the psychiatric practice you are so against.
4. “Her ego had decided to kill herself, but there were whole parts of her personality that she simply wasn’t aware of, and that wanted to live…It was lucky for her that she still had the strength to snatch the rag off her face. Other people will not be so lucky.” Sure, there are cases where fear and survival instinct might surface and a last-minute change of plan is initiated. This is why I advocate for equal access to better methods, including ones that don’t allow for a period of altered consciousness and panic reactions to take place; while I do agree with you that the decision should not be made without careful consideratiion (which I have already done). The stories of people who changed their minds are the ones that get public attention, used – as you have used them – as an argument to discourage suicide on the whole. This has no more merit to it as the argument that lesbians “just haven’t met the right man yet” or that childfree and antinatalist people are going through a “phase” and their primal instinct of procreation will eventually triumph. While this does happen in some cases, it’s not all of them. Many people try again, after they have been “rescued”, by the way, so this argument cuts both ways. And yes, the prospect of becoming irreversibly crippled is the main reason that keeps me from trying again until I have access to a way that is reasonably certain and/or (non-professional) assistance that ensures there is no possibility for failure.
5. “it is simply inaccurate to claim that suicide was even remotely considered a good thing by the ancient Greeks” – Good thing? Maybe not. Far less condemned and demonized than in current society? Definitely. And how about the Romans, whom you conveniently ignored? Most notably Petronius, who also chose this route for himself. As for cowardice and laziness, that is mostly personal opinion (and Epicureans would also dismiss it as such). I do agree however that our modern conception of rights did not fully exist back then. The idea of democracy does originate there, though, and it holds the beginning of the idea of rights – as an opposition to a nondemocratic system where the individual is unquestionably owned by his superiors, here we have the concept of the “consent by the governed”. Next of all, you want to prevent me from dying on the grounds that it’s “laziness”, even if we grant that me having my way might be “detrimental to the community” in some way? Dead people don’t pay taxes, eh? Do human beings only exist to serve their “community”? I think not. Also, do I need to bring up the fact that there used to be a far less fearful death culture? As evidenced by, say, numerous poets and authors expressing their comfort in mortality?
6. ” For good reason, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism… and many other religions also honor the sanctity of life.” Enforcing such “sanctity” on the basis of religion is still a #1 violation, though, no matter which religion is cited as justification for it. Also, for good reason? What exactly is that reason? You never mentioned that, other than a vague “common sense”, which holds no water in a legal discussion. (Also, quite ironically, all of those religions, and others, have fostered murder campaigns, while preaching about the sanctity of life. Murder is also a violation of the right to voluntary death, because the right to die cannot exist without the right to live. Two sides, same coin.)
7. “A person can only escape from something if that escape leads somewhere else.” False. Nonexistence by definition means that the undesirable situation is no longer being experienced.
8. “it is nonsensical to argue that atheists appreciate life more than religious people because they realize that there is only one life, because most religious people also recognize that we have only one life to live on earth, and that it matters very much” – Some religious people might. But most religions include the assertion that there is life after death. Which literally means that life on earth is only a (small) portion of the whole life experienced by the individual. You honestly don’t see how that notion cheapens earthly life at its core? If this is only a dress rehearsal for the afterlife, that makes it far less important than if it is the only life we get. Of course, religious people may actually have doubts about that, whether they acknowledge it or not. (See also here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMaK6k4oZ20 )
9. “Self-annihilation is hardly a celebration of the self.” The act of self-annihilation in itself might not be seen as such, depending on one’s reasons to do so (for example, if one’s faced with the choice of existing as a forcibly modified, stunted version of himself, vs. not existing at all). But what if someone has already fulfilled what they could in life, and they have a plan for a “crowning act”, something that will establish and reinforce their legacy as an independent individual? Again, you ignore the fact that everyone dies; voluntary death is simply making a conscious decision about how and when that happens. (I wrote some poetry to illustrate that, btw, in case anyone is interested: https://librarian-of-hell.deviantart.com/art/Azalea-Death-Song-688004321 )
10. “we need as many opponents of psychiatry to continue to fight the good fight against coercion” Says the person who wants me to be coerced into living. You know that the only way to make me “reconsider” is to torture me until I give up on the very idea of dignity and, having my will broken, simply let others dictate how long I’m staying. If you truly respected my right to choose, as you say, you wouldn’t have raised objections to it, nor called me irrational for simply stating that I have that right. (Btw, G. K. Chesterton: “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”)
11. The personal attack, calling me a “person of value”. I never understood this particular argument – if someone has “value”, that automatically means their rights need to be abrogated “for the greater good”? Also, how do you know what my value is to myself? You already have stated that I have no value to you (“your rational considerations don’t hold up to scrutiny”), and that my quality of life is of negligible value in your eyes (as long as I have my cats and whatever “to live for”, I must endure existence indefinitely, as you have argued), so what do you even mean by the “person of value” thing? You managed to contradict yourself. Speaking of which, you said “I defend your right to choose”, but then “I disagree with you that you can force people to believe that self-killing is a civil right” – first of all, I don’t want to force anyone to believe that, but it still remains a fact. I want my right to choose respected, not to be obstructed. That is what having it recognized as a civil right MEANS. You may believe that suicide is “bad” or that you would never choose it. You are completely free to believe that my choice is not one that you would make, and I have no objection for you choosing to live as long as you want. I truly respect your choice, but I damn as well demand that mine would also be treated the same way and without constant admonishment to “reconsider” or else! But this has been said before: “If you don’t like guns, don’t get one. If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t get gay married. If you don’t like drugs, don’t use them. If you don’t like abortion, don’t get one.” What I’m advocating for here is really that simple. (Also, I wrote about this before: https://librarian-of-hell.deviantart.com/journal/The-anti-choice-mindset-strikes-again-687671319 and here: https://librarian-of-hell.deviantart.com/journal/Nice-people-being-naughty-696524894 – specifically dealing with the “we need you alive” type objections in the second one.)
Also, I apologize for having been cranky last night in my initial responses. This administration is already testing my patience; Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece as #1 encroachments, and now likely there’ll be a #2 encroachment attempt coming on, and the weed thing (#10), and …just…stop this evil already! There hasn’t been a day yet in this year when I didn’t think “You are ruining the country my ethics are based on, what in the hell is wrong with you?!”
Most people who try suicide do so out of impulse. Over 90 per cent regret it. Allowing assisted suicide would be a mistake as almost everyone would take their lives impulsively.
And that is bad how exactly? Can’t regret it if you aren’t there… Just saying.
Also, where did you get that 90% from? Apparently I don’t fit that statistic…
Citation needed. Also, what about those of us who don’t regret it?
Most people regret it than not. Shouldn’t protecting the lives of a majority have priority over a extremely tiny minority who would certainly want to die?
What if they were MADE to regret it, by psychiatric treatment? Also, again, with the accusations of depression. No one asks the ones who completed it – and I would reckon that being determined makes it much likelier to be successful on the first attempt. Also, how do they know the decision was made within the last hours? Not many of us tell about having made the decision, for fear of intervention.
Also, transgender people are a “tiny minority” too; does that justify hate crimes and discrimination against them, just because it makes the majority comfortable?
Then again, if the 2A was actually respected, this wouldn’t even be a debate because we wouldn’t face the method availability problem.
And again – if it gets completed, there is no regret. So why is it a bad thing again?
Thank you for this article. I didn’t see anything that I really disagreed in your post. I certainly don’t see how anybody could say that suicide is not a civil right.
If we consult Wikipedia on the subject:
“In most Western countries, suicide is no longer a crime.”
“No country in Europe currently considers suicide or attempted suicide to be a crime.”
“In the United States, suicide is not illegal but may be associated with penalties for those who attempt it”
If taking one’s life is not a crime, if it is not illegal, and thus it is legal, it is a civil right.
This is instructive because there was a time when attempting suicide was treated as a felonious offense allowing the state to take the life of the person who attempted to take his or her life.
Now we’ve gone full circle with the state endeavoring to force people to continue living regardless of their own wishes on the matter, however, in so far as that goes, it is only failure that will illicit such efforts to save people from themselves. Anybody who has been successful at suicide has put themselves well beyond the reach of any law that we know of.
“Anybody who has been successful at suicide has put themselves well beyond the reach of any law that we know of.” – Well, of course. Hence my focus on failure prevention (harm reduction). And the fact that people can still get prosecuted for being non-intervening witnesses (which does end up being cruel in some cases for the loved ones who have accepted the decision and want to be there when it happens). So there is still a need for discussion I guess.
Lila, I totally agree with everything you said. You are a smart, intelligent woman and have great arguments. As an antinatalist myself, the act of imposition of life is the most immoral thing imaginable, yet people do it without any consideration to offspring. Still, such children who may be born to such an world which is full of suffering and are totally abandoned to their own luck (life is like a lottery) are forced to remain alive against their will. Really revolting that I had no choice about being brought into such an awful world and yet I don’t have the legitimate right to opt out of the life I couldn’t consent to have. Pathetic. Unhappily we live in such an ardently life-affirming culture that sees birth as a miracle and suicide as an awful sin. To this day these subjects are still taboos. But there’s something I’d like to say. I totally respect your right to suicide whenever you want as you want. But I think us who believe in the right to suicide should fight for this cause. Most of the rights we are thankfully able to enjoy today didn’t come easy. They were conquered with struggle, blood, sacrifice and much fight. My life hasn’t been easy and even though I’d prefer not being alive right now, I find a greatest purpose in helping people, animals and fighting for the causes I defend such as antinatalism and the right to suicide. If everyone who is believes in this right, kill themselves quickly, this movement won’t ever get anywhere. We need to grow in number, and protest for our right, so we can finally legalize it and thankfully in the future, other people won’t have to face the hardships we had to face to leave this world. I imagine a world where people don’t have to face extreme physical pain as many people agonize due to various methods they chose to suicide, and they’d have the option to leave it peacefully and decently. I’d rather sacrifice myself for a better world than giving up. I’ll keep living until we can achieve this purpose.
“But I think us who believe in the right to suicide should fight for this cause.” – That’s what I’m doing here right now, until my planned time comes. 🙂
Our Pharma/Psychiatric Overlords will soon allow us the right to die. Even if we prefer to live.
The reasons psychiatrists oppose suicide are:
1. Accusing suicidal people of mental illness brings in more “consumers”–ka-ching!
2. If more suicides were successful they would lose “consumers” thus lowering profits.
3. And–for now–opposing suicide makes them appear humane. Not like Nazis, but benevolent humanitarians. Saying, “We should euthanize all the mentally ill crazies” is still bad PR somehow.
If a condemned person has a heart attack on the way to their execution they will be given emergency medical treatment and will not be executed until they’re healthy enough. Such is the system’s concern for human rights and the sanctity of life.
and they call us “crazy!”
Reminds me of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where a death row prisoner scheduled for execution in 4 days is brought in because he was stabbed. He has a brain bleed and they do surgery, but his intercranial pressure keeps rising and they want to go back in, but he refuses. He wants them to let him die and donate his organs to the boy in the PICU dying of liver failure (he’s a perfect match). They insist on intervening as soon as he loses consciousness.
There is no law against suicide. The majority of the UK, where I live, are not religious.
There are suicide prevention strategies which have some sensible ideas like making it harder to jump in front of trains. There are suicide prevention strategies that ignore that poverty and bullying at work are big drivers of suicide.
There are laws against helping people kill themselves in most, but not all countries.
I am in the UK and I have a friend who contacted Dignitas, that Swiss assisted dying organisation. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. A few years ago they offered to kill him at a discounted rate.
He didn’t take up the offer, is slowly reducing his psyche drugs, gets therapy sometimes, and is now hopeful of a pleasant future.
He still gets letter from Dignitas, which makes money from killing people. I think he asked them to take him off their database and so far they have not. Perhaps the death business is profit driven, just like psychiatry?
Disability organisations in the UK oppose assited dying for a host of reasons. Here is an article about it https://www.scope.org.uk/media/why-we-oppose-assisted-dying-bill.
I am undecided on the issue of assisted dying.
I think offering suicide to unhappy people when thier lives could be transfromed by proper social provision, better benerfits and taxing the billionaires until the pips squeak is in most cases immoral, espcially when people make money out of it.
The most anyone can offer anyone who wants to kill themselves is to try to understand why, often that will be enough for them to change their mind, though sometimes it isn’t.
Not everyone who wants to die is unhappy.
And again, respecting death rights includes failure prevention (harm reduction). And there is the fact that people can still get prosecuted for being non-intervening witnesses (which does end up being cruel in some cases for the loved ones who have accepted the decision and want to be there when it happens).
And why would the goal be to change anyone’s mind?
Also, the Dignitas story is likely not true. I applied for Dignitas too but they rejected me and never sent me any letters since then.
I have saw the letters on two days ago.
The goal would be let the person know that you cared about them and you would miss them but to be open to listening to what they have to say. The effect is that often people change their minds. That for those who care about them is a pleasant out come as they still want their company.
I have never heard of people being persecuted for non intervening witnesses. Could you put up a link to a news story about that?
Thomas Szasz got sued when one of his clients committed suicide. His offense, his methods were not those employed in standard practice, in other words, drug people, and if one dies by his or her own hand you can’t be sued, don’t drug them and you can.
The other problem is that this then makes the doctor’s task to employ every means at his disposal to “save” the client from him or herself whether the client wants to be “saved” or not. This is not exactly supporting the client’s interests as the client sees them. It is also a major breech of client doctor confidentiality.
I’m not sure where this stands in relation to non-intervening witnesses, I just know that now these psychologists are going after Donald Trump, and saying that “duty to warn” is being downplayed because of the Goldwater rule. “Duty to warn” involves warning the public about people who are “a danger to self and others.” If “mental health” professionals now have a “duty to warn” when it comes to “danger to self”, maybe you can see the problem. The physician or professional who doesn’t “warn” can be subject to litigation.
The state could prosecute, remember the girl (Dr. Breggin here at MIA did a series on the case) who was recently convicted for not doing enough to stop her boyfriend from killing himself, and call it something like criminally negligent homicide or man slaughter.
Yeah they’re really jumping on the “diagnose Trump” bandwagon lately aren’t they? Wonder when someone here will get to plant an article supporting that.
“The goal would be let the person know that you cared about them and you would miss them but to be open to listening to what they have to say. The effect is that often people change their minds. That for those who care about them is a pleasant out come as they still want their company.”
Yes, it is pleasant in a way, but it doesn’t change minds. It just means they want to be notified, or if possible, invited to the event (which is why I have a boomeranged email for everyone who cares, a list of about a dozen people). If it’s more than that, it’s a threat. And threats most definitely do not change minds, though they can change behavior via intimidation. Nevertheless, I did lose some friends over this, having had to stop contact with anyone who wasn’t open to letting go.
The other point was answered by Frank. (Thanks, btw.)
Frank wrote about Szasz, a professional, not a friend or family member, which was your point.
Here in the UK mental, someone in my local bin set fire to themselves and the room they were in and died. There is an enquirey but I doubt anything will happen to anyone.
I can understand your concerns about professionals trying to restrain people who are suicidal but I think the answer to that is to end forced treatment. Indeed I doubt the problem you raise there will not end until forced treatment end.
Actually I think sometimes offering understanding does change minds, and sometimes it doesn’t. However I doubt that neither you are I are going to scout the internet to find evidence of our claims.
I’m still interested in news stories of those who were prosecuted for being witnesses to those who killed themselves.
I agree about not forcing treatment on people, but as psychiatrists and “mental health” professionals are now compelled by law, in the USA anyway, to lock people up for their own protection, and, in part, this is protection from their own hands, I think that it would be a mistake to over simplify.
Michelle Carter was not a professional, and her situation was enlightening in many ways, and could be reviewed, if you should choose to go there.
Maybe “changing their minds” isn’t really the right phrase here. Perhaps “helping them remember their purpose” or “helping them process their pain” are what really make the difference. I agree that we can’t “change people’s minds,” but I’ve intervened in the lives of hundreds of people who were considering suicide, and helped almost all of them by helping them take a good look at what problem they were trying to solve by dying, and helping them come up with other ways that might solve the problem in a less final fashion. Most of the people I encountered did not WANT to die, they wanted to stop suffering and saw death as a certain means to do that. Of course, I worked at a crisis line, so those calling were almost all ambivalent about their intentions. I know there are people who genuinely want to end their lives and have their reasons, and I agree it’s not society’s job to “stop them” or “make them change their minds.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t help people who are suffering through compassionate listening and support.
And that was my point.
Most though, and not all. If it was all then Dignitas would not exist.
I am still thinking this all over and am not plonking for one camp or the other as I stated above.
The thread above is closed so I will reply here.
Thanks Frank. The Michelle case was a mess. Bullying someone by text or in some other online manner, who then kills themselves, should be a crime. That was not happening here but that was what the prosecution was alleging. The whole situation was a mess and legally what happened was appaling. However I dont’ think it is the same as standing by and being a witness to someone who want to end thier life.
“that doesn’t mean we can’t help people who are suffering through compassionate listening and support.”
I don’t want your “support”. I won’t be commenting on this article anymore, as all I seem to get is hate and accusations of being in some mistaken emotional state.
What this all comes down to is a religious/spiritual/philosophical debate about the existence and meaning of “death.” The more assertive anyone is about this the less I tend to trust their opinion, as no one seems to claim they’ve actually experienced it.
I remember the “Seth” entity channeled by Jane Roberts saying that we all choose our moments of birth AND death, some less “consciously” than others, so the question of suicide is in a sense moot.
Just to complicate things even more. 🙂
Obviously, many people have experienced death. Psychiatry has accelerated that process in many cases. Many others have had near death experiences. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. All of these people have actually experienced death, and some have even told us about it. In any case, there is absolutely no evidence for the claim that death leads nowhere or to some sort of annihilation or extinction, so I would be very skeptical of anyone who attempts to make such claims.
None of them are posting here was my point.
I just like to get under the skin of people who think that disembodied consciousness is a “self-evident” delusion, as no proof or disproof of this is possible within the parameters of Aristotelian logic, the only proof would/will be direct experience.
Albert Camus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”
Good article. My family is academically of this view, although this is probably the first article I’ve read by someone with an actual plan.
I haven’t read all the comments, but I did search the page for antipsychotics, neuroleptics, antidepressants to see if they were mentioned yet. I think they bring a factor in which is somewhat relevant to this website, rather muchly.
I haven’t engaged with someone on the path of ending it for unmedicated reasons, but I am currently assisting in a care capacity with someone who is more than likely having a temporary state brought on by meds known to bring this on.
In their case it just seems unthinkable to allow a temporary chemical state to dictate the course here. I’m not suggesting it’s been suggested anywhere, by the way. This narrative is stock for me because it’s my soulmate I’m talking about here.
Once they were off the meds, if it carried on, then I can’t guarantee that I’d stop going bezerk to keep them here. That’s just me and my stuff talking. It does seem to work to some extent insofar as sticking around goes.
Because I can.
The most effective form of suicide is patience.
You say “again”, Lilla. Did someone say your were on or off meds? I haven’t read all the comments.
My reference to your original article only served to define the contrast in motive and response. You expressed your decision calmly, and it was different to my wife’s situation, which is expressed as a response to unbearable distress and loneliness which neither me nor anyone is able to alleviate.
Then I started a tangent which I thought might have value here because of the connection to this website’s primary topic: medication-induced psychosis, including suicidality.
My soulmate wants to kill herself because of a hidden snag which exists because of neoliberalism, greed, laziness, authoritarianism, an unhappy childhood insofar as she describes it, and simple misunderstandings between people which is quite tragic.
It’s been said by apologists (not Alan Frances) that the rising mental illness rates are because we live in hard times, which is simply not true when compared with times in history when one part of the population was being bombed while the other part were considered cannon fodder by the decision-making class.
I can’t help thinking that people like my soulmate are effectively regarded as the new cannon-fodder, or at the very least disregarded in a banal unnatural selection process.
Hard times become harder when the sources of unhappiness are mystified, and people are encouraged to blame themselves for the failures of the system.
I’m not sure if you’re still checking the comments to your article, but after reading through many of the other comments I feel compelled to add a one myself. I’ve published elsewhere about the mental health industry in the US, about the grave historic and persistent abuses of patients, about the fundamental scientific problems with much of psychiatry and psychology, about the threats to confident inference about what works, and about the risks (like the high rates of misdiagnoses and wrong pharmaceutical prescriptions…) mental health patients incur. After researching and writing about these sobering elements of at least the US mental health system for nearly 30 years as a medical school faculty member and research scientist, I’ve lost faith in our system to right itself. There are just too many conflicts of interest, and lobbyists for health care powers hold more and more sway over legislators.
Not that you’re asking for it or need it, but I both support your (and everyone else’s) right to decide the when and how of their/our ending and agree with you that self determination rights are critical to self ownership. Nor should our individual decisions about our own lives–whether we want to die or not–be a matter for anyone else to weigh in on. At least that’s my opinion. The individual is the only person whose opinion matters as each of us is created without consent (of course), no one else is responsible for us, and even if the community did assume responsibility for its members’ wellbeing, it’s infeasible we could guarantee everyone what each of us needs to feel content.
I’ve stopped having this discussion with others. People can slip too easily into a condescending and even threatening tone, couching their judgment in faux concern. Like you, I am certain that when my time comes, I will do what I have reasoned is right for me. I have spent the better part of a decade carefully researching means and their risks. No, I’m not certain how things will go. It’s my hope things will go swiftly and painlessly for me–and for others who might have to deal with my remains. Interestingly, the passing of people like me would be far less messy (on average) if society recognized that we do not belong to the state or to other individuals, so we should be entitled to do with our own ultimate property (ourselves) as we see fit. So long as others aren’t placed in direct harm.
No disrespect meant to any other commenters, but some (many?) of the comments to you appalled me. I’m deeply sorry these are the kinds of responses you’ve gotten. Though I’m not surprised–as I’ve received the same kinds of replies whenever I’ve written openly about my stance on the ultimate personal decision. I refuse to discuss the matter with others now. Their opinions are simply irrelevant and the “help” so many feel entitled to force on me is decidedly unhelpful.
Thanks for your bravery in writing a pro-self-determination article. They’re far, far too rare. I’m deeply sorry you didn’t get far more support. I wish I could make up for some of the unpleasantness thrown your way above. Best to you.