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When is Suicide Morally Permissible or Morally Required

For the purposes of this essay the assumption will be that there is no after life or god. Eliminating the concept of god in a sense dissolves the issue of sinfulness and blameworthiness. Therefore a relativist stance will be adopted and the absolutist stance rejected. The issue of cowardice also should be addressed as arguably a soldier going to certain death is not a coward and few people would be able to harm him/herself.

The taking of life can be considered under three categories, as an exercise in rational philosophical thought, as an action that has boundaries proscribed by the law, and lastly in a theological sense. It also is worthwhile and imperative to allude to the fact that suicide is only one form of extinguishing life, and that within a social context other forms of taking life are accepted and sometimes necessitated by a particular event. A social stance will be therefore taken to delineate the boundaries and supposed morality or immorality of suicide..

For instance the Augustinian view of suicide is based on the sixth commandment, ? thou shalt not kill?. However one could equally argue that Jesus committed suicide by giving up his life for others despite the fact that Augustine would accept him as the son of God and attribute to him foresight and the ability to have saved himself. The translation of the sixth commandment is ? thou shalt not kill unlawfully? and the whole moral idea is further rendered ambiguous by the fact that suicide is not condemned in the bible, most noticeably the suicide of Judas Iscariot.

The Catholic idea of double-effect, that death must have a positive outcome is open to debate, in that can we effectively differentiate between martyrdom, self-sacrifice and suicide, despite intention the agent dies. Jesus himself stated and enacted ? greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for another.? However if we adopt an epistemological stance and assume as a premise we are bereft of antecedent evidence of the implications of death, suicide is always an irrational conclusion.

As we cannot understand the super-intelligent or conceive of intelligence, due to the parameters of our own minds, that supersedes that of our world-view surely it is impossible to determine any superhuman perspective or prerogative and apply it. The deontological arguments can produce little proof that supports their premise that suicide is innately, intrinsically wrong outside the bible which is far removed from being definitive. There is also the question of other cultures.

Suicide is mainly frowned upon in the western world whereas in Japan suicide may be seen as something which is noble and required to protect honour which the continuation of life would invalidate. The passage of time has also seen the emergence and rejection of different attitudes. During the persecution of Christians in Rome it was perceived as acceptable that a Christian virgin should commit suicide rather than be deflowered, raped by a Roman soldier. The Romans and Greeks both had the opinion that suicide was a responsible socially acceptable and sometimes necessary course of action, Socrates drank hemlock in the company of his friends.

In certain parts of rural India it is still permissible for the wife of a deceased man to commit suicide by throwing herself onto his funeral pyre. Murder as opposed to suicide places the victim in an involuntary position the salient difference in suicide is that the victim is the facilitator of his/her own death and therefore the transaction is a voluntary one. For the suicide there is no question of symmetry or consent. It may be a rational argument to commit suicide in the context of prolonged physical or psychological anguish. It can be a plausible course of action and an effective one for alleviating the problem.

However there are areas that bring ambiguity, for instance a temporary mental imbalance in either the sense of Durham or Naughton, when the ability to rationalise outside the constraints of the malady may lead to suicide. In such a case it would be inconceivable to suggest that in any sense the victim was immoral or sinful as the ? normal? powers of reasoning were suspended. Affective mood disorders which evoke the desire to commit suicide and its fulfilment can be treated in the same vein. The absolutist view therefore does not encompass these scenarios as it ignores the objective right of the action as implanted in a particular scenario.

The suicide debate is dominated by consequentialist arguments. Suicide is defensible given a certain context. For instance the death of one person may ensure the continuance of life for the greater body of people. For instance in bomb disposal the soldier is consciously risking his/her individual life for the collective well-being of others. If the bomb were to explode and the soldier was to be killed who would question the morality of the soldier who was in full possession of the knowledge of the risks involved. Even theologians would concede the point St.

Thomas who was vehemently opposed to suicide and considered it unlawful said it was excusable if the primary intent of the action was altruistic. An action completed in principle may be morally acceptable if an obligation of the exercise of that morality inextricably incorporates suicide. However the argument which labels suicide as an irrational act is that the supposed rationale of the agent abolishes the effectiveness of the action as the wish that initiated the need usurps the desire. If something is unbearable useless the rational course of action is to remove it, for instance to amputate an irrevocably infected limb.

The fact the amputee can continue living is the element which is absent in suicide as the purpose of the action may have been to remove something negative but the self interest the agent invested in the action is negated by the extinguishing of their life. It must also be considered if suicide is natural or if it is an unnatural response to pain. It is true that many animals that suffer pain no matter how unbearable do not actually commit suicide. Therefore what is the defining feature in man that allows such an action to transpire, it is humanities ability to argue at a hypothetical level, to reason and to logically arrive at a conclusion.

However the connecting feature between humanity and others species is the avoidance of pain and it may simply be that humanity has a greater wealth of alternatives derived from evolution and as evolution is a natural process and it determines differences between the species it could conceivably be asserted that the ability of committing suicide in humanity is simply a progression of available strategies due to the higher development of the mind and conciousness.

Kants? aim of natural love for the self is questionable because if someone maintains an innate inherent love for themselves surely they would not allow their self to suffer, love would dictate that they remove this suffering. It also may be propositioned that there is a responsibility to other people. The agents course of action, that is suicide, may be injurious to another party. What are the moral obligations if any of others to prevent the agent from committing suicide, is it morally acceptable to encourage another to suffer life if they have clearly expressed views to the contrary.

However if the postponement of suicide is simply going to prolong for example physical pain that will result in death in any event it is questionable if it is wrong to commit suicide therefore bringing death to the agent at an earlier stage and by implication arresting the suffering which may be tremendous now. Grief will come to those concerned simply at an earlier stage. This however presupposes that the agent has examined all the possibilities. In order to make a proper decision the agent must consider the future to the same extent as the present.

The problem arises that in the event of an affective mood disorder the persons rationale will only operate within the definition of that illness therefore obfuscating a true representation of the possibilities offered by tomorrow. Selectivity may be apparent simply concentrating on the pessimistic aspects that the illness dictates. The best alternatives to suicide will simply be overlooked due to the deficiency to engage in a rational argument devoid of internal bias. At a basic level objectivity is impaired and all variables including the future must be appraised in the process of rationale.

This may be the type of scenario when another person should intervene and attempt to discourage the agent from contemplating suicide as it is abundantly clear that a temporary illness has proved detrimental to the agents powers of judgement. Then again this incurs a problem, the new uncharacteristic state of mind of the agent may be borne out of new circumstances and by what authority does another place worth on the individual when the individual has determined and projected their own worth.

It is all to easy to attribute a mental illness to something that contravenes the norm but has been logically arrived at by the individual. However one can always wait until tomorrow and never actually take affirmative action. There is also the raging ethical and moral question of euthanasia, assisted death. Again the principles of suicide apply. It is morally questionable to sustain life by extraordinary means and channelling vast amounts of money to keep the patient technically alive, when the same amount of money could be used profitably for an operation on a person with a better chance of recovery.

To take a passive approach is to withhold treatment but to not intervene in any other way, the doctor may facilitate death rather than actively encourage it through a lethal injection. However is there a distinction between active and intervention and a passive approach if the final outcome remains unaltered. It could be simply that a passive mode is perceived as less reprehensible than an active approach.

A person may be physically incapacitated and therefore not have the ability to kill himself/herself and employ another to complete the act. This is a voluntary request, and holds no self interest for the agent who is simply recognising the dignity of the persons decision. However if the person due to the illness is not sufficiently lucid but has expressed a desire earlier that if in a powerless position they would sanction euthanasia how can we be positively certain that the earlier request is still the perspective of the ill person.

A person may never have expressed a view specifically addressing euthanasia but has fallen terminally ill and no longer has the capability of translating intent into action. Is it the right, the moral thing to act in perceived accordance with the interpretation of the patients lifestyle and ethos if that appears to include euthanasia in such circumstances. If a person has always been mentally incapable of reasoning is it the responsibility of others to assume authority on the behalf of the patient.

In another scenario we may convert a patient opposed to euthanasia to take that course but after the action of the death there is not any position granted for repeal, reconsideration or revaluation. Consent is a problem when it comes to children, babies, as they have no power to make a decision either way, to continue living or succumb to assisted death. It becomes a problem if we consider the case of someone brain damaged who previously opposed euthanasia, do we treat them on the basis of what they were and upheld or on the basis of what they have become.

There is a further problem with the notion of euthanasia. The object presumably of a person who voluntarily asks that they be afforded the right to die has articulated this desire to escape pain as soon as possible. The withholding of treatment could be considered inhumane as the agent may be left in extreme pain until the point of their death. However the medical profession have access to means which can accelerate the process of dying, for example lethal injection and diminish the acuteness of pain experienced.

By intervening proactively on the request of the patient with such an administration it could be argued this would be in greater accordance with the will of the patient as the motives of the patient were to die so as the pain would cease and yet the belief persists that allowing someone to die from dehydration or starvation is morally more acceptable than killing someone. This in itself make a moral difference. If the person in other circumstances when the illness is terminal but the patient can still act, thought suicide was the best solution to pain it is highly unlikely they would chose a method that would ensure an augmentation of pain.

One of the main problems is that most people are not medical experts and do not have the knowledge that would bolster their decision, they can embark on an irreversible course of action which may carry unforeseen suffering. Throughout this essay morality has been secondary to rational reasoning. It could be stated that morality is a term which is not concrete. It is answerable to the permutations of a situation and the consequences that have compelled the agent into the very consideration of suicide.

In effect it could be argued that morality is a developing concept that metamorphosis? s through time and society, it is not finite. In the past certain aspects of behaviour have been deemed inexcusable that now are to an extent sanctioned by society, for example homosexuality. This was and is a moral question but the variables that either reject or endorse the preference of an individual are often contradictory. We may also question the divergence of action and doctrine those who maintain a moral code derived from the bible maintained.

The unsuccessful candidate for suicide could be hanged for attempting the act, surely this was patently illogical and divested that type of morality from any credibility. Aristotle? s claim that suicide was injurious to the state is also improbable, for the vast amount of suicides received scant recognition except in an insular sense which involved the grief of relatives, but realistically the death of one person by their own hand is immaterial to the state or the machinery it operates by.

Morality therefore in the sense of government shows a complicity with popular opinion and seeks to express this through the law and is open to transmutate and revise its definitions as society demands. Suicide is either required or permissible on the basis of the individual agents perspective of what morality is or any other rational argument they propound.

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