Saturday, November 07, 2015

Hurry up and die!

I will comment on this article:

I don’t buy the argument that suicide is a selfish act. 

i) The implication is that suicide would be wrong if it were a selfish act. That suggests proponents like Tod Robberson are conflicted about suicide. To justify suicide, he must deny that suicide is a selfish act. That would be an impure motive. 

But why not defend suicide by admitting that even if it were a selfish act, people have a right to be selfish? Wouldn't that be more consistent? Surely some proponents defend a right to suicide on grounds of personal autonomy. That's how some secular ethicists argue. 

ii) Since different people have different motivations for suicide, it would be a hasty generalization to claim that suicide is a selfish act. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

There are people who commit suicide because no one will miss them. They leave no loved ones behind. That's why they are so depressed. So there's a sense in which suicide is not a selfish act in their case. A lonely act of lonely people. 

That's not a moral characterization but a descriptive characterization. Of course, one might still object to suicide on other grounds–even if it's not invariably selfish. 

Especially when the person committing suicide is considering all of the variables regarding rapidly declining health and the burdens that prolonging life will place on loved ones. Sometimes, suicide is an act of courage and self-sacrifice.

Is suicide courageous? To the degree that you must overcome a natural fear of death to commit suicide, there's a sense in which that can be courageous. However, "courage" has virtuous connotations. Suicide may not be courageous in that sense. Indeed, it may rarely be courageous in that sense (e.g. a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades). 

I hold Robin Williams as the primary exhibit. He killed himself at by hanging on Aug. 11, 2014. I recall reading critiques from conservative writers calling him a liberal coward.

He doesn't name names. the only person I'm aware of who said that was Shepard Smith, and he's hardly a conservative. If anything, he's a flaming liberal–in more ways that one. 

Other armchair psychiatrists…

Tod's entire article is premised on his armchair diagnosis of Robin's motivation. 

…labeled his death the act of a depression-addled Parkinson’s victim who couldn’t handle the challenges he faced ahead.

Surely there's nothing antecedently implausible in the suggestion that when confronted with a devastating prognosis, Robin couldn't face the prospect of incapacitation or losing his mind. That's a terrifying scenario. It's not a putdown to suggest that he killed himself to head off that eventuality because he was unable to cope with such a grim future. 

There's a distinction between the ethics of suicide and honestly stating why some people take their own lives. Even if you think suicide is intrinsically wrong, it isn't derogatory to point out that many people commit suicide out of fear or despair. Indeed, recognizing the causes of suicide can facilitate intervention. 

The reason Tod labors to discredit that motive is because it conflicts with his own social agenda. 

Is it possible that he didn’t take the selfish way out, as some describe suicide? Is it possible that he acted rationally…

Indeed, you don't have to be out of your mind to commit suicide. Take Nazi officials who killed themselves to avoid capture, trial, and punishment. That was a rational, calculated act. To say they were in their right minds doesn't mean they acted rightly. 

(And I'm not drawing a moral comparison with Robin Williams.) 

…and decided that he simply didn’t want to put his family through the agony of watching his mental capacities steadily decline to the point that he would become an overwhelming burden on them?

Robin was a very wealthy man. If he became incapacitated, he could well afford professional round-the-clock homecare. In that respect, his condition was nothing like the "burden" it would be to the average family. So that's one less reason he had to end his life. 

Rather than impose that awful experience on others, Williams decided to cut his losses and end it quickly. 

That's pure speculation. Tod presents no evidence that this is what prompted Robin to end his life. And other motivations are readily available–not to mention more likely.

Since we don't know for sure why Robin killed himself, it's improper to use his case to illustrate a larger point. Moreover, the example itself doesn't make something morally licit or illicit. Rather, examples are used to illustrate or explicate moral principles. 

Yes, there would be pain and anger and tears. But those feelings would be relatively short lived. 

How the hell does Tod know that? He doesn't. He's not a hospice nurse. He doesn't work with the sick and dying, or see family members at their bedside. As one bioethicist has noted:

But the exact opposite is often true. I know so many people who deeply treasure [the] experience of caring for those they loved through physical decline and death. Suicide, rather than receiving care, would rob them of an essential part of an intimate human relationship.

It is unethical for Tod to propound ignorant, dangerous generalities. 

The suffering of family and friends as they watched him waste away promised to be prolonged and agonizing. Plus, when he eventually would die, there would be all the normal pain and tears of death anyway. Williams simply saved everyone else the trouble of watching it play out over months or years.

What this overlooks is that we have a duty to care for ailing, failing friends and family members. That's not something we are entitled to be spared. 

Moreover, that experience develops soul-building virtues. But, of course, this reflects a profound difference between secularism and Christianity. It was Christians who founded hospitals and orphanages. 

Problem is, ethical reasoning depends on our ability to appeal to someone's conscience. But in the case of people like Tod, there's nothing to work with. They are too corrupt. 

His experience adds a lot of weight to those who argue for legalization of assisted suicide, at least in cases where the prognosis is similar to his. It takes a lot of courage to make this decision and go out on your own terms. It is the exact opposite of selfishness.

And there you have Tod's ulterior agenda. The entire article was structured to arrive at that foregone conclusion. 

Once again, this goes to a fundamental difference between secularism and Christianity. I remember that nursing home in New Orleans. When Katrina was forecast to hit New Orleans, where were the family members? Why didn't they come back for their stranded mothers and fathers, to rescue them ahead of the storm? They just left them behind. Left them there to take their chances. Left them there to die. 

The consistent alternative to Christian ethics is Nietzschean nihilism. And many people will get a dose of their own medicine. Having supported abortion, they will be abandoned by their fair-weather friends when they become weak in mind or body. Poetic justice. 


  1. Selfishness is practically synonymous with sin. Although there are plausible counter-examples such as self-sacrifice, self-murder is a gratuitously selfish act.

    1. Christians should make an effort to sift good arguments against suicide from bad arguments against suicide. To assert that suicide (=self-murder) is always "selfish" is a hasty generalization–for reasons I gave in my post.

      Likewise, equating suicide with "self-murder" is a facile but fallacious inference–as I've discussed before. If taking one's own life is self-murder, is spending one's own money self-theft?

      Perhaps someone would counter that my life is not my own: God is the source of life. If so, I'd parry that my money is not my own: God is the source of wealth. So the comparison either proves too much or too little.

      The "self-murder" classification is a popular intellectual shortcut, but it's not logically parallel. Christians need to retire that particular argument. It gets in the way of better arguments against suicide.

    2. I suppose someone could accidentally kill himself, such that the suicide wasn't a premeditated intentional act of self-murder.

    3. That's a red herring.

    4. CR

      "self-murder is a gratuitously selfish act"

      If someone commits suicide because they're in deep despair through understandably very difficult circumstances in their life, or because they're severely mentally ill, then I would think this could be an extenuating factor even if I could likewise agree (ad arguendo) that suicide is a "selfish act." As such, it wouldn't necessarily be "a gratuitously selfish act" (emphasis mine).

      Of course, I don't agree committing suicide is always tantamount to "self-murder."

    5. I conceded plausible counter-examples in my initial reply. It's difficult to envision killing oneself to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

      If I plan out and execute my own self-execution, then I've murdered myself. It seems that the OP starts with man and not God, which is exactly backwards. The replies seem to flow in the same vein.

    6. CR

      "I conceded plausible counter-examples in my initial reply."

      To be fair, your "initial reply" gave only one "counter-example" (singular, not plural): self-sacrifice.

      "It's difficult to envision killing oneself to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)."

      Of course, you yourself conceded the example of "self-sacrifice." Say, as Steve pointed out in the post, a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades. That's "killing oneself" but in a laudable manner. Indeed, 1 Cor 10:31 should be read in light of the entire passage including 1 Cor 10:24: "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."

      "If I plan out and execute my own self-execution, then I've murdered myself."

      This begs the question.

      "It seems that the OP starts with man and not God, which is exactly backwards. The replies seem to flow in the same vein."

      Ok, but anyone can say the same or similar. For example, I could say that you "start with man and not God." But of course there's a difference between saying something and showing it to be the case.

    7. The OP was about Robin Williams taking his own life. I consider his situation, as I understand it, self-murder.

    8. CR

      "The OP was about Robin Williams taking his own life. I consider his situation, as I understand it, self-murder."

      Sure, that may well be the case. But what you say doesn't address what I've said.

    9. CR, you keep repeating yourself without justifying your statement. The question at issue is why classify suicide as self-murder? Why not simply classify suicide as a grave sin–or something like that?

    10. "It's difficult to envision killing oneself to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)."

      Assuming it's not to the glory of God, how does that make it self-murder? Your inference is fallacious. Fornication is not to the glory of God. Is fornication self-murder?

      "If I plan out and execute my own self-execution, then I've murdered myself."

      That's paraphrasing your original assertion without engaging the counterargument. You've drawn a specious parallel. Is using my own money self-theft?

      "It seems that the OP starts with man and not God, which is exactly backwards. The replies seem to flow in the same vein."

      That's irrelevant to whether your comments are logically fallacious.

    11. I've discussed this before: