Difficulties with assisted suicide.

-Any person’s suffering is a question addressed only to them. It is not just bad taste but impossible to tell someone what their suffering means or fails to mean. This does not mean that there is no fact of the matter or that all answers to the question are correct, only that a person’s own suffering demands a unique sort of silence from the gallery. Remember Job’s friends.

– Abstracting from any one person’s story, however, it’s odd that one widespread response to suffering is a call for assisted suicide. First of all, if any activity could be safely assumed to require no assistance, suicide is it. Moreover, our clamoring for assistance can’t be out of a widespread fear that we’ll botch the act. Guns are remarkably accurate at suicide-range; and no one doubts his access to heights, drugs, gasses or blades that are more than equal to the task. Again, it’s hard to see how one could make the act any more quick and painless than by the use of means anyone has access to without assistance. True, these means are a good deal more messy than phenobarbital, but this can’t be what people are lobbying for. The call for assisted suicide is not answered by someone saying “There’s no reason to make it so complicated: for under twenty dollars you can buy X, Y, and Z at Home Depot and a camping store and kill yourself painlessly without leaving a mess”.

– So assisted suicide can’t be merely a call for a painless, effective means or one that avoids making a mess. It is rather the more interesting and controversial claim that death is medicine, i.e. we want some terminations of human life to enter into the sphere of therapy and to be seen as proper applications of the medical practice. What was once taken always and only as a definitive sign that a therapy didn’t work is now a therapeutic goal.

-But for all that, we still need a criteria for what is therapeutic and what isn’t since without this no doctor would do one thing rather than its opposite. If avoiding death is no longer such a criteria, we are left only with personal choice, i.e. if I want X and medicine gives me X, then the medicine is effective. But there has to be more to it than this, since persons can be mistaken about what they want, or otherwise incapable of seeing it.

-But if one can be mistaken about whether he should die, he can be mistaken about whether he should live. But we believe we can deal with those in the first group by sedation, restraints, committing the person to a mental hospital, suicide watches, etc. If life and death are two possible therapies, then our power to administer one against the will of another argues for our ability to forcibly administer the other.

-If death were therapy, the presumption would be that the decision to use the therapy could be made by parents for minors, by spouses for an incapacitated partner, by the state for its wards, or by any caregiver for someone ruled incapacitated.

-All this is after the conceptual problems with death therapy, which seems like a straightforward contradictio in adjecto. 



  1. thenyssan said,

    November 7, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Really, really good.

    Part of the contradiction to death as therapy seems to be that we DON’T want it. That’s what I take the “assisted” part to mean: Sure, I could go to a sporting goods store or the top of a tall building, but I’m sure I’ll chicken out and/or botch the job. I think “assisted” is misleading because it’s really asking someone to take the choice out of my hands because I will make the “wrong” one–I’ll put the gun down.

    In what other context would we consider it ok to get someone to help us follow through on a choice that we no longer will?

    • November 7, 2014 at 6:54 am

      This touches on something I couldn’t figure out how to say in the post: part of what we want is the sense that out suicide is scientific or medical as opposed to just, well, just something we just want. There is a deep psychological tension here: OTOH we want the suicide to be nothing but our own will, OTOH we want it to be the dispassionate and objective finding of a medical professional, which should be made whether we will it or not.

      • thenyssan said,

        November 7, 2014 at 11:21 am

        Assisted Suicide–the imposition of a ratio to Death. Maybe this is the natural alternative ratio once we toss out the supernatural ones. Because we just can’t live with Death having no ratio whatsoever.

        But that sounds much more banal than this conversation started. I feel like I took a wrong turn somewhere.

  2. November 10, 2014 at 6:46 am

    But do you have any thoughts about people that’s entered a state where they are actually incapable of doing the job themselves? Does the same thing really apply to them?

    I’m thinking of both elderly or cancer pasients who would never retrieve the energy, or a person lying in bed with severe disabilities. Perhaps (s)he is paralyzed from the neck down.

    Could that be even…justified?

    • November 10, 2014 at 10:06 am

      My main difficulty is with the attempt to see suicide as medicinal or therapeutic, and I think that still does OK even in light of the disabled. It’s at least logically possible to have suicide assistants that aren’t medical professionals.

      This leaves untouched the broader question of suicide itself, but if we really can see why death is not medicinal it might gives us a light forward in addressing the question of suicide as such.

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