Ethics of Suicidal Action

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Sleipner
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Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Sleipner » Sun Mar 06, 2016 3:14 am UTC

Now this discussion is almost certainly a touchy one (there's a closed thread discussing suicide as a moral and legal right http://echochamber.me/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=59298&hilit=Suicide and it is most certainly closed for a reason), but after going through this thread there were a couple of questions I wanted to discuss.

First, if someone of their own volition decides their own life is not worth living and manages to end it, should they be morally obligated to minimize the negative impact their death has on the world around them? This is one I ask because I have spent years considering whether or not my life has any value or reason to continue, but have held back since my early days struggling with suicidal ideation because there have been no points where any method of killing myself wouldn't leave a gaping emotional and financial wound in my family's life. I realize that makes this an incredibly personal discussion, but I'm going to do my best to remain impartial and simply seek everyone's opinions and reasoning here. So to reiterate: should someone intent on killing themselves do what is in their power to lessen the burden of their loss as a sentient actor in the world?

Second--and this is tangential to points about 'suicide clinics' and the concept of suicide watch in some institutions raised in the thread linked earlier--how precisely should we legally handle suicidal attempts, ideation and the cases where someone's desire to die doesn't stem from a momentary fit of passion or depression?

My take on both of these points at the moment are as follows: 1) While your suicide means you're no longer a rational actor in the world, many many people believe in some manner of afterlife and on the chance that our souls (or whatever you like to call a bodyless sapient entity) do remain aware of the goings-on of the world, someone intent on killing themselves should absolutely put things in order beforehand. Writing your will, informing others of important information you have that they will need with you gone. It's not dissimilar to being replaced in a high-level corporate position.

2) My firm belief is that as rational actors, we have the right to die as much as we have the right to continue living. What we should emphatically not have (and again, this is purely my opinion) is the ability to take that right from others without their permission without solid grounds to do so. If someone has taken the time to determine they have little left to live for, if they have a working plan and have passed on whatever information or material possessions they need to beforehand, then it should not be right to put them into mental institutions for voicing their desires (or acting on them and failing), then their well-being and place of living for the next two weeks to two months should not be decided by a pair of doctors or police officers, putting people into situations (psychiatric wards, prison in some countries) where their options as humans have been limited and they are on constant surveillance is not only morally wrong, it is counterproductive. This isn't to say these places don't have their use for those who are suffering from depression or other mental issues, but premeditated and intentional suicide without depression is no cause to throw someone into a prison or psych ward. In my opinion, there should be some process of determination, some questionairre and interview process to legally separate those who are in a state of mind to make this decision rationally and those who are not.

So. Please, allow me to hear your thoughts on these ideas and what kind of institutions and laws you all would put in place for suicide.

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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ijuin » Sun Mar 06, 2016 4:52 am UTC

If somebody believes that their life is no longer worth living, then I'm pretty sure that they at least think that they are not bringing emotional suffering to anybody whom they care about by dying, since by that point they are feeling unloved anyway. However, it definitely is irresponsible to leave dependents who will be unsupported.

It's definitely also irresponsible to force risk of death/injury/criminal liability on another person by one's own act of death-seeking, such as by deliberately attempting to be struck by their motor vehicle (even if the motorist is physically unharmed, then you've just made him/her suspect of homicide, thanks a lot!).

As for legality of suicide, I'd say that there should be no attempt to criminalize the act of suicide itself (e.g. the "forced institutionalization for people who have attempted suicide yet are still alive"). However, anybody who falls under suspicion of homicide and wants to use "it was a suicide" as a defense had better be prepared to convince the court that the suicide scenario was more likely than not. In other words, just because it's not a crime for me to kill myself, does not mean that it isn't still a crime for you to kill me even if you try to make it look like I killed myself.

As such, "assisted suicides" should remain confined to a medical setting--that is to say a licensed medical practitioner must sign off on it and it must be done via drugs, but I would remove the requirement that the suiciding person has to have a certain prognosis (a terminal condition or being permanently bedridden or in pain for example) before approval. This should help to keep the assisted suicides separate from engineered homicides.

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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 06, 2016 5:19 am UTC

Sleipner wrote:...I have spent years considering whether or not my life has any value [...but...] there have been no points where any method of killing myself wouldn't leave a gaping emotional and financial wound in my family's life...
Isn't there an inherent contradiction here?

If your death would leave a gaping wound in your family's life, then your family values you. Ditto friends, colleagues, and such. Although you may imagine that the impact on friends and colleagues would be less, I have seen (and experienced) cases where one person is incredibly important to another, and the other never finds out, or finds out umpty years later.

Leaving out certain edge cases (terminal painful illnesses, pathological killers, and the like), there is a difference between "life is no fun anymore" and "I'm not worth anything". The first is curable, the second is almost certainly not true.

To your first question ("Should someone intent on killing themselves do what is in their power to lessen the burden of their loss as a sentient actor in the world?"), the answer is contradictory and therefore wrong. Doing so acts as an attempt at lessening one's value to other people. It makes the initial problem (which would drive one to suicide) worse. However, not doing so is itself a hostile act against the very people who do care about you.

Not to be flip, but the question is similar in form to "I have a contagious disease; should I kill myself to save other people from misery?". No. You should see a doctor and get cured.

You ask about legal aspects - I believe that for certain edge cases assisted (or unassisted) suicide should be available. However, I don't think you're really asking about those edge cases, and one of the reasons there is resistance even for those edge cases is that it becomes easy to commit murder through suicide. (With all the data being gathered about us through our cellphones, internet, credit card, and other networked interactions, this is becoming downright scary, tin hat or not.)

Sleipner wrote:...premeditated and intentional suicide without depression is no cause to throw someone into a prison or psych ward...

In general, people have a will to live. When that is disrupted, absent obvious cause (i.e. the edge cases I refer to), this suggests that something is wrong, and that is what should be addressed. Yes, there may be cases where suicide isn't a bad idea, but I think those cases are rare; in the vast majority of cases I suspect people are ultimately glad to have not followed through.

Jose
(not a health professional of any sort, and is just speaking off the top of his head about something he has given thought to)
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Sleipner » Sun Mar 06, 2016 5:35 am UTC

ucim wrote:If your death would leave a gaping wound in your family's life, then your family values you. Ditto friends, colleagues, and such. Although you may imagine that the impact on friends and colleagues would be less, I have seen (and experienced) cases where one person is incredibly important to another, and the other never finds out, or finds out umpty years later.

You're right, and the entire problem here is that I misspoke. What I meant to say is that I've spent years looking for a reason to value my life, a reason to want to live and have yet to find any. All I have found are reasons to not die yet, those being my responsibilities to friends and family and the knowledge they will experience temporary sadness at my loss.

As for your interpretation that the core problems are 'life is no fun anymore' and 'I'm not worth anything', I believe you're right to look at those, but I think you're wrong about the latter; it's entirely possible that you could be worth nothing to yourself, that your continued existence is from your own perspective nothing but allowing more misery into your conscious memory.

ucim wrote: In general, people have a will to live. When that is disrupted, absent obvious cause (i.e. the edge cases I refer to), this suggests that something is wrong, and that is what should be addressed. Yes, there may be cases where suicide isn't a bad idea, but I think those cases are rare; in the vast majority of cases I suspect people are ultimately glad to have not followed through.


What about the cases where people have attempted to follow through, failed and not regretted their attempts but rather their failure at actually removing themselves from the world (as a conscious agent, at least. I mean, your body is still kinda there, however you left it with your method of suicide)? And when those same people seek treatment for years without ever finding an answer to that core question, 'Is there any reason I want to be alive right now?' I realize I'm speaking purely from my point of view, but this is a vast world with an incredible amount of people living or having lived on it, so I posit that any person's experiences are not entirely unique and certainly not invalid.

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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 06, 2016 4:27 pm UTC

Sleipner wrote:What I meant to say is that I've spent years looking for a reason to value my life...
What does this mean? In the end, entropy is going to win anyway; "value" has to be somewhat localized for it to have significance, and different ways of making it local will yield different answers. I suspect if you are looking for an objective measure of the value of (anybody's) life, you will not find it. Life is valuable for subjective reasons. Granted those reasons can be held by you as well as by others, but they are inherently subjective. In simplistic terms:

"I value my life because I have fun."

"Others value my life because I help them have fun."

The latter may seem a bit more objective, but it is still rooted in the subjective sense of having fun (whatever that it taken to mean). And the statement "I'm not worth anything" sounds like an objective statement, but that objectivity also falls apart when pursued. "Why are you not worth anything?" "What is it that brings 'worth' to life in the first place?" It all comes down to enjoyment, whether it be yours or someone else's, and "enjoyment" is a subjective thing.

Sleipner wrote:...All I have found are reasons to not die yet...
This sounds (to my totally nonprofessional off-the-cuff mind, and using my overly simplistic model upthread) as if you "aren't having any fun". I also suspect that this is not due to oppresive circumstances, otherwise you would have probably hinted at them.

"Fun" is an emotional response. Some people may be less emotionally responsive than others; whether that's inherent in the wiring or a learned hardness from their environment is an interesting academic question, but is also in many ways irrelevant, as our "wiring" is partially a result of our experience anyway. The thing here is to learn how to feel "fun", because that is what will make life worthwhile to you. (...if that is indeed the issue in your case, which I won't presume to conclude).

Sleipner wrote:What about the cases where people have attempted to follow through, failed and not regretted their attempts but rather their failure at actually removing themselves from the world...
Failing at suicide is not itself a cure for suicidal feelings. It merely gives an opportunity for new perspective to happen. This doesn't always happen of its own accord.

Suicide is killing, and while it's not always wrong to kill, it needs a pretty damn good reason and no other alternatives before it becomes an acceptable course of action.

Jose
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Trebla » Mon Mar 07, 2016 3:04 pm UTC

ucim wrote:"I value my life because I have fun."

"Others value my life because I help them have fun."

The latter may seem a bit more objective, but it is still rooted in the subjective sense of having fun (whatever that it taken to mean). And the statement "I'm not worth anything" sounds like an objective statement, but that objectivity also falls apart when pursued. "Why are you not worth anything?" "What is it that brings 'worth' to life in the first place?" It all comes down to enjoyment, whether it be yours or someone else's, and "enjoyment" is a subjective thing.


Replace "have fun" with "be happy" or "make them happy" and I think you're covering a more understandable case.

The conversation becomes difficult because some people (possibly the OP, I won't presume... but this was long the case for me, though I never actively contemplated suicide) simply don't understand/internalize the concept of happiness. And for people who DO understand this, it is very difficult to get the point across that there are ways you can find to make yourself happy.

For such a person, there is no path that leads to happiness, because the concept of happiness is no different than contentment or indifference.

I don't have any answers, but I do see two sides of the conversation here that seem to be fundamentally missing something about each other (whether it's as I describe or something else). But as with Jose, this is just personal experience and I don't have any training in psychology.

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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Mon Mar 07, 2016 4:28 pm UTC

Trebla wrote:Replace "have fun" with "be happy" or "make them happy" and I think you're covering a more understandable case.
Yes. Distilling Big Topics into two or three words means there is a... "loss of precision". :) It's kind of like talking in emoji (OT: what's with that??)

But this is the general idea I'm trying to get across... that "happiness" or "enjoyment" or "fun" is a subjective emotion, not an objective measure-of-value.

Trebla wrote:For such a person, there is no path that leads to happiness, because the concept of happiness is no different than contentment or indifference.
I would not go that far. I would say that the path that leads to happiness requires that happiness be "constructed" first. People fail to feel emotions for a
variety of reasons. That would be the first step. It is possible to do in some people. I don't think it's impossible to do in all people. It is worth pursuing.

Jose
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Cradarc » Mon Mar 07, 2016 8:25 pm UTC

At the end of the day morality pretty much goes out the window when it comes to suicide. For many people, at least on this forum, death means oblivion. Why would someone care about the morality of suicide if they are seeking to leave every aspect of humanity behind? It's like saying "should escaping the authority of the law be against the law"? From a purely secular point of view, there is no logical reason suicide is wrong given the person truly wants it. We should never try to dissuade someone from suicide. Rather, we just need to make sure they understand the finality that comes with such a decision.

Ethics, on the other hand, has to do with society's consensus. I think the fact that there are billions of people on this planet means we generally see suicide as a bad thing. As for why, just ask yourself: Why don't you want someone to commit suicide? If someone is a hermit in the mountains with no living social connection of any sort, is it ethical for them to commit suicide? It comes down to how comfortable you, as a receiver of that information, is with the idea that a fellow human being took their own life.

I think suicide is wrong because people are bound by God's law to not commit suicide. Dying does not let you escape God's law.
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Thu Mar 10, 2016 5:08 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Why would someone care about the morality of suicide if they are seeking to leave every aspect of humanity behind?
For the same reason they care about things knowing that they will die one day anyway. Nihilism (as a personal philosophy) is not a natural and inevitable consequence of a finite lifespan, nor of the heat death of the universe.

Cradarc wrote:We should never try to dissuade someone from suicide. Rather, we just need to make sure they understand the finality that comes with such a decision.
I think that's backwards. I'm sure those who are suicidal do understand the finality that comes with it. That's the whole point. As for dissuading someone from suicide, you do it (or not) for the same reason that you do anything for someone - because you care about them in some form or another, whether it be directly personally, in a general "humanity" sense, or even perhaps for selfish reasons. In rare cases there really is no better alternative, but in most cases (this is my suspicion based on many years of living, not a peer-reviewed scientific study) the better alternative simply has not been found or recognized. Some people have gotten so hardened by life, circumstances, whatever, that they cannot feel joy... at the moment. Even for a very long moment. But the better alternative (in that case) would be to work through these issues.

Cradarc wrote:Ethics, on the other hand, has to do with society's consensus. [...] If someone is a hermit in the mountains...
...then they aren't part of society, and "ethics" does not apply. Ethics is about how we relate to others. If there are no "others", there is no ethics.

Cradarc wrote:I think suicide is wrong because people are bound by God's law to not commit suicide. Dying does not let you escape God's law.
I don't think God exists - in fact I'm pretty certain that there is no such thing, and there is no thing even vaguely resembling such a thing, let alone the {choose one} touted in the {choose holy book}. Yet this doesn't rob me of ethics or of morals.

Jose
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Cradarc » Thu Mar 10, 2016 8:37 pm UTC

ucim wrote:For the same reason they care about things knowing that they will die one day anyway. Nihilism (as a personal philosophy) is not a natural and inevitable consequence of a finite lifespan, nor of the heat death of the universe.

Sure, but that's not logical. It's based on personal preference. So in the case of suicide, the person no longer feels that way. My point is there is no logical argument against committing suicide.

ucim wrote:That's the whole point. As for dissuading someone from suicide, you do it (or not) for the same reason that you do anything for someone - because you care about them in some form or another, whether it be directly personally, in a general "humanity" sense, or even perhaps for selfish reasons. [...]But the better alternative (in that case) would be to work through these issues.

That doesn't seem any different than persuading someone to accept some religious belief. You claim the "better" alternative is to work through the issues, but they could just as easily think otherwise. What business do you have telling them what is better and what is worse? If I argue the "better" alternative to gay sex is abstinence, would you direct gay people my way? Yet, you feel obligated to direct people contemplating suicide to "better" alternatives.

ucim wrote:...then they aren't part of society, and "ethics" does not apply. Ethics is about how we relate to others. If there are no "others", there is no ethics.

Yup. So does that mean you are okay with the hermit committing suicide?

ucim wrote:I don't think God exists - in fact I'm pretty certain that there is no such thing, and there is no thing even vaguely resembling such a thing, let alone the {choose one} touted in the {choose holy book}. Yet this doesn't rob me of ethics or of morals.

I never said atheists are deprived of morals. I merely stated my own beliefs to qualify what I was saying since I am playing devil's advocate of a sort. Few people, if anyone, believe themselves to be amoral. More interesting is what people base their morality on.
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:20 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Sure, but that's not logical.
Logic requires premises in order to be useful. Logic can get you from "here" to "there", but if there's disagreement on what "here" is, or why, then logic is irrelevant.

Cradarc wrote:That doesn't seem any different than persuading someone to accept some religious belief.
Correct. If they were already in agreement with you, persuasion would be unnecessary. What's the point?

Cradarc wrote:Yet, you feel obligated to direct people contemplating suicide to "better" alternatives.
I don't "feel obligated", I'm merely responding to your comments. To trivialize it, if somebody wanted to commit suicide because they lost their tamaguchi, would you advocate a hands-off approach? It's all a matter of degree, and stating it as an absolute is... well... mis-stating it.

Cradarc wrote:So does that mean you are okay with the hermit committing suicide?
It would probably make me sad, but there isn't an ethical issue involved.

Cradarc wrote:More interesting is what people base their morality on.
Even more interesting is why they do so. "God said so" is pretty much a conversation stopper.

Jose
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby Cradarc » Fri Mar 11, 2016 4:06 am UTC

I would argue any discussion of this subject will either result in something equivalent to "God says so" or something to do with emotional attachment. You know I take the former opinion, and you obviously take the latter.

ucim wrote:It would probably make me sad, but there isn't an ethical issue involved.

That is secular ethics in a nutshell. Something that makes a lot of people "sad" is deemed unethical. Of course you can argue about whether "sad" is an apt word choice, but it ultimately boils down to some emotional response. There is no logic at the foundation of ethics. Logic only comes in when we try to turn ethical values into pragmatic systems.

ucim wrote:Even more interesting is why they do so. "God said so" is pretty much a conversation stopper.

There's no point in asking "why" to illogical decisions. Why do we like being happy? Why is the color pink more pleasing to you than the color blue? The conversation doesn't stop because we shut it down. It stops because we can't continue.
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Re: Ethics of Suicidal Action

Postby ucim » Fri Mar 11, 2016 5:58 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:That is secular ethics in a nutshell. Something that makes a lot of people "sad" is deemed unethical.
I think that's overly simplistic (notwithstanding the aptness or un- of the word "sad"). Taken at face value, it would that we have an obligation to make people "happy". I don't buy into that; I think things are a lot more nuanced.

Cradarc wrote:There's no point in asking "why" to illogical decisions.
Sure there is. The answer won't be a syllogism, but it could be enlightening. It could even be life-changing. And the examples you follow up with are actually very good scientific questions that probably have answers in behavioral dynamics that would open new doors to understanding us as people, as organisms, and as products of natural selection.

Jose
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