February 29, 2024

Reasons for sticking around

Hi there,

Rational suicide is an idea that has a long history, but it is being revived now in the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide. More and more one reads tweets and comments like “no one has the right to tell me whether I can choose to die”. In fact, the co-editor of the prestigious journal Bioethics, Udo Schuklenk, recently argued that even people suffering from depression could make a rational decision to end their lives. “What’s the point of existing if, on balance, you don’t think it’s worth it?” he asks.

Normally the opposition to this point of view is said to be Christianity. After all suicide has always been condemned by Christian churches. Not all that long ago, suicides were to be buried at night at a crossroads with a stake through their heart. The last Englishman to be given this harsh treatment was a student who had murdered his father and then killed himself – in 1823.

However, the theme of a recent best-seller by a confirmed atheist is that there are powerful secular reasons for opposing suicide. In Stay: a history of suicides and the philosophies against it, Jennifer Michael Hecht speaks from a communitarian perspective. Suicide does immense harm to the world around the person who wants to depart this world.

“No matter how much of a burden a person thinks he is, it is nothing compared to the burden of his suicide. People do wrenching damage to their communities when they kill themselves. Studies have shown that when parents of children under 18 kill themselves, their children are three times more likely to kill themselves than children who make it to 18 with both parents alive. When one person in a community kills him or herself, the suicide rate in that community spikes.”

Hecht insists that her arguments have little to do with assisted suicide or euthanasia for medical reasons. But since these are increasingly being used as ways to escape the pain of living rather than the pain of disease, her thoughts are certainly pertinent. Check out her advice for stopping the epidemic of suicide in the military and among students.

There’s lots more in this week’s BioEdge. Check out the stories below.


Michael Cook
An atheist argues that suicide does terrible harm
Udo Schuklenk