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Considering the ethical reasons of stopping suicide: Why is it that, by default, our society would tend to reject suicidal behaviors and promote the prevention and stopping of suicide? Why can't a person have the right and freedom to choose what to do with his/her life without approval from others? If leading a lousy or good life is the choice and responsibility of the individual, why should choosing to live no life at all be an option not considerable?

February 9, 2006

Response from Nicholas D. Smith on February 10, 2006

Although I am somewhat sympathetic with your intuition that we should be free to choose to end our own lives, if we decide that they are no longer worth living, I am also cautious about removing all social interventions intended to prevent suicide, as well. My reservation comes from the (not implausible, I hope) observation that many of those who attempt suicide are not in a fit condition to make that decision, and would not make that decision under other circumstances that are actually available to them. For example, as we all know, depression can make someone suicidal--and when deeply depressed, a person can come to the decision that his or her life is no longer worth living. But depression is a treatable condition (at least in many or most cases), and if the depressed person is given effective treatment, he or she will cease to think that his or her life is not worth living. So I think society (and all of us in it) has a strong interest in intervention, precisely because so many cases of the decision to commit suicide are not made fully rationally, but under the influence of some disorder such as depression.

On the other hand, it seems plain, as well, that there can be instances where one is in a position to judge soberly that further life is undesirable--for example, in the case of those with incurable, disabling, and increasingly painful diseases. I think patients given the best information available, and who decide that they do not wish to have the only future available to them can quite reasonably decide to end their lives, and should be permitted to do so, and supported in their decision.


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