Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is Suicide an Individual Right?

CNN reports on the British couple who supported the decision of their son to commit suicide. Daniel James was paralyzed from the chest down after a Rugby training accident.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland under some circumstances, and various organizations there provide suicide services.

Here is the BBC report which contains the additional detail that the parents not only supported the idea but helped him carry it out. The former athlete felt his body had become a prison.

Does this sound right to you? Is it for us to say? How much autonomy should individuals have when it comes to suicide?

One thing that occurs to me is that suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In this case the real problem might have been not so much the paralysis as the resultant depression about it and lack of acceptance of a tough situation. Perhaps over time he would have come to adjust to his new lifestyle and channel the talent previously spent on the Rugby field in other directions. But who am I to even comment on something as personal as this in others' lives?

What's your opinion?



  1. Mike,

    I agree with you absolutely that suicide is often a long term solution to a short term problem. I've used that saying for decades now.

    I also think you are right about depression but in the long run does it make a difference why he made his choice?

    I think suicide is also a very selfish reaction to problems but I think the laws against suicide are wrong. It's a person's body, the ultimate right is how to live or not your life.

    I'm on the fence about assisted suicides because of the liability potential and the ethical dilemma for those that help.
    The first responsibility for a physician is to do no harm. Second, how can society insure that the person's choice is really his/her choice in all cases.

    Personal suicide makes that easier to determine but assisted suicide opens up the possibility of abuse to a greater degree.

    I think the current laws need to be changed to make suicide legal. I would rather have someone know they can try to commit suicide via pills then to drive their car into a head on collision or commit suicide by cop

  2. Well, if you haven't been in a situation like that it is very hard to understand and or comment on it.
    As far as i know, people dont get bumped of by greedy relatives in countries like Holland, Switzerland or the state of Oregon, hence i suppose there are appropriate measurements and checks in place to prevent that.
    I feel desperately sorry for the lad and his family. His decision must have been very hard for the family to come to terms with but i respect them for having carried out his will.And so should the law.

  3. suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem

    yes. the temporary problem being life. it never does last forever, you know.

    this particular person was a legal adult, and apparently mentally competent to decide his own business; if there is any more personal, private business a human being can have than their own life and death, i cannot imagine it. the rest of us should pull our noses the hells out of such private business.

    if somebody else can intrude into this particular matter --- the most intimately private matter any human being can ever have --- then how can we ever pretend to have any privacy, any right to decide for ourselves, on any issue whatsoever? what other matter could ever be sacrosanct from outside meddling, if this very most personal one was not?

    of course this young man had a perfect right to kill himself. if he had not that right, he would have had no rights at all. the only useful discussion we can have about it is concerning the ethics and morals of actively helping him perform the act. i can see some arguably good reason not to do that; although, since in this case his only alternative would have been to starve and thirst himself to death, i must conclude that to flatly refuse him all such help would have been inhumanly cruel.

  4. Couldn't it be argued that anyone except the really extreme cases, who wants to do suicide, is mentally incompetent?

  5. you're just bound and determined to make me chew you out far beyond any little cussing tom will ever be capable of, aren't you, mike? you stepped on a nerve there, and i'll thank you not to step on it again if you wish us to remain on a friendly basis.

    when you mention "extreme cases" here, you remind me of people who (1) insist abortion is murder, yet (2) wish to allow it in cases of rape or incest. it's self-contradictory. those "extreme cases" would by their nature be likely to drive the person involved past the boundaries of reason and sense; they can be safely assumed to not be thinking rationally about their situation, and so should be the last to be allowed suicide. us reasonably healthy people, not driven batty by pain or whatever, can be far more easily trusted to know our own good than they.

    and that's the other flaw in your reasoning, right there --- allowed suicide. you would do that, for a select few who meet your favorite criteria. that, to me, is similar to keeping all humanity enslaved and graciously allowing a select few to be free, if they meet your subjective criteria.

    that's not really hyperbole, either. self-ownership is very important to me; if i'm not even allowed to decide for myself how and when my life is to end, it really doesn't count as my life, to me. it's fundamental, in an almost literal sense. if i don't have that freedom, no other freedoms can be built on top of it --- if the foundation isn't there, the rest can never be more than illusory castles in the air.

  6. Nomen,

    Well said in both of your last posts.

    if somebody else can intrude into this particular matter --- the most intimately private matter any human being can ever have --- then how can we ever pretend to have any privacy, any right to decide for ourselves, on any issue whatsoever? what other matter could ever be sacrosanct from outside meddling, if this very most personal one was not?

    If we can't decide whether we want to live or die, then our bodies don't belong to us but the government. That can't be said often enough.

  7. Nomen, Thanks for not resorting to profanity and abuse when you feel I hit a nerve. But, are you saying that anyone, anytime should be allowed to commit suicide?

  8. any competent adult, mike, yes.

    if someone should choose to discuss their decision to kill themselves with us first, we can certainly try to convince them otherwise, talk them out of it, point out other options, and so forth --- but in the end we have to accept their decision, because it's their life and their decision to make.

    i'd make some exceptions for minor children and people we have some good reason to think are incompetent to make life-altering decisions, but that's about it. if somebody's fit to make, say, medical decisions about whether or not to undergo risky and difficult surgery, then they're fit to decide whether they should live or die.

  9. Mike,

    Does a person have a right to choose a heroic death?

    A group of bravely standing off an overwhelming number of enemy to buy time for the army to react, keep the lines from being overrun?

    How about a father fighting off a thug or two so that his wife and children won't be attacked? Giving them time to escape the rape/murder/robbery even knowing that he can't possible survive the fight?

    How about the person seeing a friend in danger pushing that friend out of the way but not able to make it out of the danger zone?

    Are those people not committing suicide?

    If those are "noble" suicides, how about the "ignoble" suicides?

    Such as the person drinking themselves to death? Doing drugs at dangerous, overdose levels to get high?

    Does a person have a right to risk their lives in dangerous sporting activities, such as free climbing or ultra-marathons?

  10. "Competent," that's the key word. I think you guys, Nomen and Bob, are too much into the individual rights and autonomy. I agree with that in theory, and I'm not talking about laws and government intervention or prevention, I'm talking about parental involvement. I think, and thank goodness I've not had experience with this, but I think if my child or spouse felt they wanted to commit suicide, I'd consider very strongly that they are not of sound mind or else they wouldn't be saying that. What I think might be motivating them is fear, depression, panic. The healthy mind would find reason to hope in the most desparate situation.

  11. Mike,

    Sorry, but I don't think I can be "too much into individual rights and autonomy".

    If we don't have this right, the right to decide how we live our life and how we end it, then we have no real rights. Might as well be a member of a hive or the Borg.

    It is from this right that all others flow; if I want to be a beach bum or mountain hermit or an expat living in a strange land, isn't that my right?

    If a lifestyle may kill me faster or sooner; are you saying that the government has a right to force me to stop?

    One of my greatest fears is paralysis; I can fully appreciate where this kid was coming from. Would I make the same decision? I don't know but I do know that it is his life.

    If we start telling people that they can't end their lives, isnt that even worse then making abortion illegal?

  12. unlike Bob, i think one can be too much into individual rights and autonomy. however, one can just as easily not be far enough into it, and needless to say, i think i'm somewhere in the middle. i think individuals need some amount of individual rights and autonomy, and i think it's a good idea to structure those rights in some logical construct or form. the right to decide over one's own life and death seems a reasonable, and to me a necessary, base for that.

    i spoke of competent adults, and you, Mike, retort by questioning competence and talking of parental involvement. are you deliberately ignoring the caveats and qualifications i carefully put upon the right to suicide, or did i accidentally phrase them in my native language without noticing?

    you automatically assume that anyone who would choose suicide must be insane, an obvious catch-22 if ever there was one. which other decisions do you dislike to the point of calling whoever would make them insane, Mike? the choice to own guns, perhaps? the --- in my case --- conscious decision to consider the notion of gods as ridiculous and meaningless? who are you to pronounce psychiatric diagnosis on those who merely disagree with you, Mike? if a healthy mind just plain does not find that hope you speak of, is it really so much easier to label it insane than to admit you might have been wrong about hope?

    very convenient, this catch-22. just throw whoever doesn't think like you, at least if it's on some sufficiently emotional subject, into a padded cell "for their own good". problem solved! no need to even ask the question of whether or not they might have had a point, much less been correct about it.

    too convenient to use, that sort of power. it fails a test i use; any power which, if i had it, would tempt me to use it to please my own dark side is a power nobody ought to have, even if only for fear i might end up with it myself. oh, if i could just institutionalize all those pesky republicans and Bush voters... the world would be a nightmare if i had such power, but it would be such a convenient one for me!

    this isn't the first time i've had this discussion, of course. somebody once asked me what i would do if it were my own mother who chose to commit suicide. i said, "grieve". and i meant it --- i might try to dissuade her, i might plead and even beg, but if i could not convince a loved one to live then i would have to remember that "my" loved ones are not my property. they're people who have righs which i cannot, must not, try to take from them, not even "for their own good", not even for the sake of my love.

    better that i go crazy myself from grief than that i should rob someone i love of their very body.

  13. Nomen, I think we're actually agreeing, but you're sometimes so argumentative that it's impossible to tell. You said, "i might try to dissuade her, i might plead and even beg," well that's exactly what I'm trying to point out. If a loved one of mine wanted to end it, I'd go to great lengths to ensure they really meant it and that they were not suffering from some form of temporary insanity like treatable depression.

    Your whole diatribe about my assigning insanity to anyone who doesn't agree with me was completely over the top. I don't do any such think and I think you know that.

  14. see, i think you would prevent somebody from exercising self-determination --- at least in this case, and perhaps in others also --- if you thought they suffered from something you would consider a "temporary insanity". i would likely not, and moreover, i think you would consider a much wider range of conditions as being "temporary insanity" than i would ever dream of.

    "treatable depression", for instance, is not something i would normally do a thing about, nor restrict the rights of the people who displayed it in the slightest. i see no reason to consider depressive people as "insane", whether temporarily or otherwise.

    the reason i'm argumentative is that, by the standards i usually hear out of folks who speak very much as you do, i've lived with "treatable depression" for most of my adult life. i refuse to have my self-determination or my individual rights abrogated one iota because of it, however.

    nor will i pop drugs or submit to incarceration because of a mental state i'm quite capable of just plain living with --- or even not living with. yet some people, people who often use words and phrases eerily similar to yours, would happily force one or both of those on me against my will. you can imagine what a gun nut like myself thinks of that.