Is suicide a fundimental right?

If you live in California, especially if you read The San Francisco Chronicle you know about the on-going debate over putting up a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent people from jumping to their deaths.

What bothers me is the assumption that we must prevent people from committing suicide. I have always believed the the right to life meant that you also had the right to end that life. If people try to stop you it is in essence saying that you do not own your own life and that others can control and dictate it, no different from being forced to die if some group deems it necessary.

I can understand doing so if a person is truly demented but, even for the severely depressed, I do not like that we deny them the right of making such choices.

Why is it accepted that a person can not rationally choose to end their life?

:smack: Fundamental

I believe it should be a right, even a right afforded to the mentally ill, however it is not a decision that should be made in haste. What I envision is this: you should be allowed to register for suicide. After registering, you will be offered the services of a psychiatrist and/or psychologist, though you can refuse it if you want to. In two years’ time, if you still want to die, you can either choose to kill yourself in any way you wish (including humane drugs prescribed by a doctor) or have a death clinic do it for you, and your death would be treated like any other natural death, meaning that your heirs would still inherit your money. (This would be the process for physically healthy people; I’d speed it up for those who are terminal, in PVS, etc.) If someone doesn’t want to go through the process, it should still be legal, though you may deprive your heirs of inheritance.

Being an extreme social libertarian, I don’t see any good reason why I should be prevented from taking my own life. As you all might know, I have no compassion for the families of those who commit suicide (no, that’s not true, I just don’t think anyone deserves to control the rights of anyone else, even if they love them bunches), and I think there are plenty of logical reasons why someone might want to kill themselves. Mental illness is still incurable, and often uncontrollable; why should someone be forced to suffer with an incurable disease? But even if it was curable, or MI was not the reason they chose to do it, people should still be allowed to kill themselves because we should have control and dominion over our own bodies. I do think there should be a waiting period though, so there won’t be a rush of illegal murders covered up as legal suicides, or people doing it just to get their children out of temporary money woes.

I worked for the Coast Guard in Halifax Harbour (which has a suspension bridge across it). When ever somebody jumped we were tasked to search for the body, so in that case there was a significant cost to the tax-payer. I can’t say for sure but I have a feeling Search and Rescue in SF Bay would have a similar problem.

Toronto had a similar problem with one of their bridges, but in that case the bridge passed over a six lane highway. Jumpers from that bridge caused pretty massive traffic problems, so there was a direct cost to the people below, along with shutting down the highway.

The Toronto subway was also rumoured to have a lot of “jumpers” onto the tracks of an oncoming train. From what I heard it caused HUGE psycological problems for the drivers and also shut down the subway for several hours.

I think what you’ll find is that there is the sappy side of suicide prevention that tries to save lives. But then there are also the secondary problems that suicide causes.

But if people had access to foolproof, humane suicide methods, they might not choose to jump off bridges so much. Drowning is a terrible way to die, but you’re much more likely to succeed by jumping off a bridge than you will by taking a lot of Tylenol. I think legalizing suicide and making lethal drugs more available to those intending to die would create a lot less hassle for rescue workers. Well, they’d still have to pick up bodies at houses or death clinics, but that wouldn’t be as much of a cost and they do it for natural deaths anyway.

So, if you registered for suicide, would your family be informed? Would they be offered counselling during the two year lead-in?

Under my system? No, your life is your own business and your mental health is your own business and nothing should infringe on privacy rights. But people would certainly be encouraged to tell their families, and I think it would be immoral not to. Of course, they’d probably try to talk you out of it, but their opinion would have no legal bearing.

Let’s put things logically here…

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court essentially decided that a woman has the right to choose what happens to her own body, regardless of the life that she is jeopardizing in the process. Even if you choose to believe that a fetus is not alive, abortion does end a potential life.

If this is true, then that right should logically be extended to a person of either gender. Namely, any person should have the right to decide what happens to their own body, within the limits that nature imposes. We already accept the fact that a conscious person faced with the option of amputation or death has the right to choose not to amputate. A person can also choose not to be resuscitated in the event of near-death, through a living will. By extension, then, we should accept the fact that a person who is otherwise mentally sound should be able to choose suicide as an option. I do believe that a person with a terminal illness should have the right to choose suicide over suffering.

However, if mental illness is taken into account, we no longer have the “mentally sound” position, at least not without further definition. Medical science recognizes that depression is a condition that can be treated in many, if not most, cases. We still don’t fully recognize what causes depression, and treatment options are often hit-and-miss (speaking as someone who has suffered from depression, and who has several family members being treated for depression), but anyone who is depressed enough to consider suicide should at least try other treatment options first. In other words, saying that someone has the right to choose suicide as a way out of depression is like saying that someone has the right to choose to die of strep throat rather than going to a doctor for antibiotics.

In the long run, though, preventing people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge probably will not have a significant impact in the number of suicides. If a person truly wants to commit suicide, they will find a way to do it. If the Bridge is not an option, they will go jump off a building instead, or take a bottle of Advil, or step in front of a bus, or drive their car into oncoming traffic, or…

Shouldn’t they? To borrow a phrase, their body their choice.

In theory yes.

In practise no. They’re just not cognitively competent at the time generally, its really little different to saying people should be able to fix up their own heart attack for all the level of real control they have over thier thinking. Theres things they might have been able to do things to prevent it but once you’re there, you’re there and outside help is generally needed.

Suicide is also often a comparatively short term impulsive act rather than carefully thought out thing a person really wants to do - thats why things like bridges getting blocked off happen. The system you’re proposing would probably apply to something like 1% of suicides or less - it might be important symbolically but would have no practical significance I suspect.


I think in the case of painful terminal illness, it ought to be an option as a physician-assisted end-stage to hospice care, but that’s about where I draw the line. I tend not to think anyone diagnosed with a mental illness, especially in the absense of the aforementioned conditions, should be afforded that option.

As for those throwing themselves off of buildings, etc.: At best they’re making a bloody mess, and at worst endangering others. In the event they fail in their attempt, prosecution is an appropriate means of dealing with the problem (as well as some psychiatric evaluation, and care, if need be, of course).

Seems rather risky to make such a broadly sweeping statement without knowing anything about the particulars of the folks and circumstances you’re dismissing.

Thus, “there is no significant support for the claim that a right to suicide is so rooted in our tradition that it may be deemed fundamental' or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’” Id., at 100 (quoting Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937)).

Scalia’s concurrence in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dep’t of Health.

It appears from my very brief research, that courts have recognized a the basic right to refuse unwanted medical treatment, which, in effect, allows for the removal of life sustaining medical treatment ala Schiavo. However, they have refused to recognize a “positive” right to commit suicide.

I consider it the right of a mentally competent person to kill themselves; it’s their life. Besides, all sorts of things are worse than death; I don’t think people should be forced to suffer them.

What davenportavenger said.

I agree.

If I am suffering from a terminal illness, why should my family lose everything they own to pay doctors to tell me “there’s nothing we can do”?

Probably the only “mentally competent” people who would opt for suicide are those in a certifiably hopeless situation (e.g. painful terminal illness, as such illnesses tend to be) anyway, so my point may be moot, but I’m not comfortable extending the right to suicide to just anybody under any circumstances.

While in college I took a course and got licensed to become an EMT. During the odd minutes when we were, say, in line to use the Resusci Annie, the paramedic who was teaching the course would, er, regale us with war stories.

His worst experiences were the attempted suicides. Worse than the car accidents, so he said. I won’t gross you all out with the details, but you’d be amazed at what a guy with a shotgun can do to himself and still not die. If everyone who tried to kill himself succeeded, I doubt very much there would be a law against attempting suicide. Those who don’t succeed often wind up in very bad shape afterwards, and, again, sometimes their attempts are sufficiently reckless to endanger others besides themselves. I’d much rather suicide be controlled and done under the supervision of a licensed specialist, ideally in a hospice setting.

Maybe; IIRC anti-suicide laws originated because some Christian communities were suffering large drops in population from it. After all, if your life is miserable and heaven awaits, why wait ? A perfect suicide method would just make that worse.

In all honesty, I’m not trying to be a contrarian prick here. I’d just be fascinated if you have a cite for that.

Sorry, nope; it’s just something I read years ago. It does seem common sense to me, however.