SUICIDE: An ethical analysis
I have heard that humans are the only living being on earth who commit suicide. Why is it so? Is suicide an indication of intelligence? Many consider suicide as a permanent solution for a temporary problem. In animal world some kind of animals dies due to their (suicidal) instinctive trait, like the Alaskan Salmons. However, they are not trying to kill themselves.
I had come across with three suicidal incidents in my life. The first one was when I was eighteen, in my pre- university time. He was my neighbor and friend, around three years older than me. He had been living with his elder brother’s wife and kid. His elder brother had a love marriage without the consent of the parents and hence he had to live in a separate rented house. But, since the elder brother was working in a foreign country, he asked his younger brother, my friend in the (true) story, to stay with her as a protector and savior.
One morning we woke up hearing the kid crying aloud for milk. Quite surprisingly seeing no response from her mother or her uncle for a long time we, the neighbors, called them aloud and then finally broke in. We saw them dead on the same bed, with dirty white and red frothing at the mouth. Later post mortem examination reported that she was pregnant at the time of death.
In the second incident I have no direct information. That was my college mate. She tried to commit suicide more than five times and could ‘win’ at the sixth time. I just heard this story from my old college friends but have no detailed idea for why she did it.
The third suicide incident was of my distant coworker’s. He had been working in our company for around four years and within this time he borrowed a great sum of money from different persons. But he could not repay it on time- even a fraction of it. When the money lenders threatened him and called him names, he promised “tomorrow 10 O’ clock in the morning I will pay back all your money.”
Nobody could believe it. But they thought at least they might get a piece of it. The next day around 10 O’ clock in morning one laborer rushed into the office to report that someone is dying in the empty sea container, which was lying in the remote corner of the company premise. He gulped some kind of pesticide in whiskey.
Ever since my first encounter with suicidal incident, the morality of suicide has been disturbing my mind like an unwanted guest. Is it right or wrong to commit suicide? Does one have the right to end his own life by himself?
Let us examine some facts and figures before analyzing the morality of suicide.
Suicide is an intentional, rather than consequential, killing of one’s self. According to WHO statistics, the yearly count of suicide world wide is one million per year and non- fatal suicide attempts are 10 – 20 million per year. The act of suicide is considered to be a crime in many countries.
Religion, geography and culture influence the views on suicide and its morality. All major religions reject suicide especially, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Abrahamic religions consider suicide as a sin, since they consider life as a gift of God and suicide disturb the balance of God’s master plan for the world.
“Anumarana” (co- death) was recorded from ancient India, by which anyone (close relative, friend, lover or servant) with loyalty to the dead person could commit suicide during the funeral. Similar practices were reported from ancient Japan where it is called oibara or tsuifuku. “Sati” was practiced in India, in which the widow would burn to death by ‘voluntarily’ entering into her husband’s funeral pyre. The practice of Sati is banned in modern India by the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987.
A new practice of using suicide as a form of protest has been found in the 20th century, especially terrorists using suicide bombings.
Even when while many thinkers argue that suicide is immoral and unethical, you can find dozens of other intellectuals debate in favor of suicide.
Albert Camus suggested, “Death is not the way out from the absurdity of life. Life is irrational and meaningless but we should not run away, instead we should embrace life passionately.” Plato, Aristotle, Immanual Kant, all was against the suicidal act. The prime personalities among the intellectuals who supported suicide were David Hume, Jean Paul Sartre and Thomas Szasz.
While analyzing the morality of suicide we should not forget to unearth the causes of suicide, without which the analysis would not be complete.
Why should one commit suicide?
Dozens of reasons have been put forward by scholars of different field of science like sociology, anthropology, psychology and psychiatry to mention some. The major two causes are psychiatric and psychological. Psychiatry identifies the cause as mental illness under which a lot of mental diseases line up. Psychology singles out the reason as inability of a person to cope with the particular situation.
I do not like to dissect the morality of yet another type of suicide called Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) or euthanasia in this article. Also wrongful self killing is not considered here.
Is committing suicide a cowardly act or courageous act? In fact, both. The reason why a person commits suicide is because he is unable to cope with the situation. But the act of killing himself is courageous.
It is true that we had no choice in our birth. Nobody asked us when and where we want to be born, who want to be our parents, what type of family we want to be in. Absolutely we had no choice at all. Everything happened beyond our control.
After all, do we have any choice on what is happening to us in life? We are chained and entangled in the warps and wefts of cause and effect. We do not know where we started our deliberate actions, the consequences of which (effect) became the causes of our new actions. Causes and effects, they are endlessly inter woven. One day we realized that our actions and consequences molded our personality.
Do we own our life? Do we own our body?
If not, what we have in this world as our own? Everyone’s life shall be his own. Once a person reaches to an age at which he can think, plan and execute independently with out the help of parents, elders or others, he shall be considered as grown up to own his own life and body. He shall have complete authority on his body and life.
If one owns his own life and body, he shall have the right to end that life. If a person has a miserable life he shall have the authority to put an end to that life anytime he wants to. Nobody can ask the other to lead a life even if it is miserable to that person.
Similarly, if a person’s action puts him to face shameful consequences, he shall have the right to select dying with dignity. When a person commits suicide because of extreme poverty, there will be public to accuse him, even on his death. But nobody would have cared to ask whether he had food for at least one time, while he was alive.
When the life itself or the situations are found unbearable and miserable, and when the life proves to be absolutely meaningless and useless, the person shall have the right to end his life. There is nothing wrong in that.
I believe in God, but not in religion. As a true believer, I believe that the life of each and every living being on this earth is pre- written by the God. But the pre- written life can be modified with sincere devotion and continuous prayer. Without God’s knowledge nothing happens in the universe. Not even a candle flame flicker without God’s knowledge. So, if any one commits suicide, it is not against the will and knowledge of God. In fact, that is God’s plan for that particular person. Nobody can die against God’s will.
However, if a person escapes from life by suicide while putting others in danger and difficulty can not be justified. No one shall hurt or harm other living beings physically or mentally. All living beings are God’s own creations. No one is allowed to hurt or harm others by his word or action. So if a suicider creates a lot of harmful psychological, economic, and social effects to his family or others, the act shall be condemned. The act of suicide can not be justified if the person harms his family and loved ones and leaving them behind unable to support themselves financially and socially. Everyone shall have the right to die without hurting others.
As David Hume said, “Suicide may be free of imputation of guilt and blame” and the Roman Stoic Seneca believed, “It is the quality, not the quantity, of one’s life that matters.”
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