Why Should Suicide (Or Voluntary Death) Be a Civil Right?

Lilla Bertalan
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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.

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  1. Acting NT – http://actingnt.tumblr.com

99 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

      • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

    • Lavender Sage

      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.

  6. “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.

  7. 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”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide

    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.

    https://unrealfacts.com/attempted-suicide-punishable-hanging-great-britain-1961/

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

        • 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.”

  13. 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.

  14. 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.