So what do we think about suicide? It’s apparently legal in the US, but generally it’s not legal to aid and abet suicide, which means assisted suicides in most states is not legal. According to my 1968 edition of Britannica Encyclopedia the Koran censures suicide as worse than murder, while it is honored by some Hindus. The ancient Greeks permitted convicted criminals to take hemlock — look up Socrates’ death. In the US, suicide is more common among older ages, and more common among males; the most common method in the US is shooting. In the UK, the most common methods are drowning and hanging.
Yuck. Depressing, yes? But, I’m puzzled by the paradox that faced Bernie Madoff: his future held nothing but misery. In Bernie Madoff’s case, he was going to jail with no possibility of parole. Or Larry Nassar, the gymnastics doctor – it’s not likely he’ll ever see the light of day again, and I’m sure he is not well-liked on his cell block. If your future holds nothing but misery, why stick around? I wouldn’t.
- You’ll miss out on what happens next. Yes, but do you also feel you missed out on what happened before you were born? Get a grip. Civilization spans thousands of years, we only have direct access to 100 years, max. What difference would an extra ten or twenty years make, really?
- Your death poses a threat to things you value. This is a good argument. If you’re vitally important to your community or your family, then apparently you assumed a responsibility, right? You have to work that one out on your own.
- The experience of death frightens you. Yes, but does it frighten you more than what your likely future holds? Something brought you to the point where you’e balancing life versus death, so which is more appealing?
- If you just hang on for one more day things will be better! This is the Dax Cowart conundrum. He suffered severe injuries and thought he had a right to die, but eventually healed, went on to marry and have a successful law practice. That’s a risk, but Bernie Madoff and Larry Nassar were mistaken if they thought they were getting rescued by legal appeal or jailbreak.
- Your suicide will cause pain to those who love you. Yes, if you have friends and family who will miss you, you need to work that out. It’s your decision, but you are responsible for them understanding your decision, before or after the fact. Friends and family don’t have a veto, but deserve a chance to understand.
The Rationality of Suicide
Consider a graph, with the vertical axis representing quality of life, the horizontal axis representing time. A curve showing the typical experience of life will go up and down, but very likely once you pass a certain age the curve turns down. At what point do you expect that the future holds more misery than you want to experience? It’s your life. Suck it up. Yes or no. I feel the dilemma, but it’s your call.
If you engage a doctor about this topic, you might get a response including jargon about “current standards of practice”. Docs seem to be very wary of the issue, maybe because of what happened to Doctor Jack Kevorkian.
The Bottom Line
I assume I’ll end up with bad breath, blind, incontinent, cognitively impaired, broke and crazy. Maybe in that case I should have access to a doctor’s help to end my life? This is a civil rights issue for senior citizens. Make assisted suicide more widely available. Why is abortion widely available, when assisted suicide is not?
My libertarian instincts sometimes respond badly to boundaries. It annoys me that this is somewhat a forbidden topic.
Your life is your own, or at least it should be!