Death is Not Bad For You: Refuting the Deprivation Account

Working backwards from an a priori conclusion: the convoluted logic of the deprivation account for the badness of death

The Evolutionary Roots of the Perceived Harm of Death

As highly evolved survival machines, human beings have inbuilt mechanisms that have aided us, throughout our evolution, to avoid death and to propagate our genetic material, as all successful life forms must. These mechanisms exist as a necessity, for if we lacked them, we would have been indifferent towards the survival of our genes, which would have put us at a profound competitive disadvantage in comparison to other life forms that were strongly motivated to survive and propagate their genetic material. Therefore, if all of our ancestors lacked any kind of compulsion to steer clear of existential dangers, it is highly improbable that any of us would exist today in order to have this discussion. Homo sapiens (or any of our earlier ancestors) without a survival instinct would have been an evolutionary dead end.

Principal amongst these mechanisms is our survival instinct, which induces us to fear death above all else, and even though none of us have ever experienced being dead and therefore we lack any witness testimony to attest to the badness of being dead, we nevertheless perceive it to be the greatest of all harms. This survival instinct is buttressed by the adaptation of suffering, which has evolved to serve as a crude warning signal to alert us to existential danger. We experience pain because something that causes us pain is likely to be a threat to our survival, which means that we are less likely to be successful at propagating our genetic material. This is coupled with the sensation of fear, which is a psychological form of suffering that also serves to warn us against existential threats in our environment.

Whilst non-sentient life forms may also evolved certain survival mechanisms; these survival mechanisms could be conceived of as more akin to a series of logic gates, or lines of computer code, which have developed to direct the behaviour of the organism towards life-sustaining ends. Such life forms behave in ways that ensure their survival, but their actions are not informed by preferences, as an organism without consciousness is incapable of harbouring preferences.

Human beings do have preferences, and this is because our experience of life is enriched with the subjective experience of value. “Value” can be defined by the vast qualitative gulf of experience between experiencing the greatest possible suffering and the highest possible pleasure. Thus, experiences which are likely to harm our prospects of survival are closely associated with negative qualia, which will negatively reinforces us in order to ensure that we avoid those experiences in the future; and those which are beneficial to our fitness will reward us with positive qualia in order to positively reinforce that behaviour to ensure that it is repeated in the future.

From Evolution To Epicureanism – What I Don’t Experience Can’t Hurt Me

Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And once it does come, we no longer exist.


Based on our understanding of the evolutionary antecedents of the apparent badness of death, we may conclude that although the process of dying tends to be bad for us due to the fact that it tends to involve a tremendous amount of suffering, death itself is not bad for us, because it releases us from the risk of experiencing negative qualia, and obviates the need to pursue positive qualia. It could be argued that positive experiences are only valuable because they fulfil the desires of an existing being. Once the being themselves dies, then it can no longer be bad for their desires to go unfulfilled. To say that it is bad for this dead being to not be enjoying fulfilment of their needs and desires would seem to impute desires and needs either onto the universe itself, or onto the decaying corpse of the deceased.

The Epicurean account of death’s harmlessness is not broadly accepted within mainstream philosophy, which still takes our survival instinct at face value and contrives to manipulate language in ingenious ways in order to “account” for the badness of death, but do so without making any kind of controversial metaphysical claims about what actually happens to our minds after death.

If our primal brain tells us that death is bad, then many philosophers will start out by enshrining this in their work as a firmly established conclusion, and then work backwards from that conclusion to try to arrive at an explanation of exactly why death is bad for us. This essay tends to demonstrate that such attempts to account for the badness of death consist of nothing more than exercises in semantical obfuscation, cobbled together in order to affirm an axiom close to the heart of the authors – namely, the belief that life is good.

To be sure, we can be sure of the fact that death seems to be bad for us, because a potent psychological aversion to death is an integral part of the human condition. However, we cannot be sure that death is in fact bad for us, because we lack any eyewitness testimony from those who are dead, and no scientist has ever been able to ascertain that consciousness survives and continues to produce negative qualia for the deceased subject post mortem.

Opportunity Cost – Death as an Instrumental Harm

Most philosophical explanations for the badness of death attempt to evade the lack of first hand phenomenological evidence of death’s badness by inventing abstract concepts of harm. ‘Secular’ philosophers who argue that death is bad are not making any controversial metaphysical claims about what happens to our mind after death. They aren’t claiming that our consciousness is banished post mortem to a Stygian abyss where we will be tormented with regrets for the pleasures that we have missed out on in life.

The example that I am going to analyse here is the concept of opportunity cost; which states that when one dies, one is deprived of the experiences that one might have enjoyed had one continued to live.

Opportunity cost is undoubtedly a valid form of harm, and one that will be familiar to most readers. To consider an example of such, let’s imagine that your friend wins a free holiday to an exotic location abroad, and invites you to accompany them. Let’s suppose that this is an opportunity for you that is unlikely to arise again due to financial constraints, and is only available to you at present due to an unexpected stroke of luck on the part of your friend. You decide to decline the offer because it’s a 12 hour flight and you abhor flying, and your friend chooses someone else to accompany them instead. You later come to regret this choice, and realise in retrospect that the inconvenience and discomfort of flying would have been greatly outweighed by the chance to spend good quality time travelling with your friend through beautiful scenery with great weather and seeing interesting historical sites.

Thus, in the above scenario, the “opportunity cost” you pay consists of the regret that you experience, coupled with any other negative consequences that arise as a result of having declined the offer. Such examples may include failing to strengthen the bond between yourself and your friend, which leads to a weaker relationship than you may have enjoyed had you accepted the offer.

Can this concept of “opportunity cost” be applied to death? Our intuitions seem to tell us so, and this is supported by many philosophers as well. If one chooses to commit suicide tonight, then it would be argued that the “opportunity cost” that you pay for suicide constitutes the experiences of pleasure that you would have had in the future, but which you have now foreclosed upon by opting for the ‘permanent solution’ of death.

However, if we compare this scenario to the holiday scenario, we observe that the concept of opportunity cost doesn’t transfer across to a scenario in which one dies as a consequence of the choice being made. It’s true that suicide precludes future happiness; however now that you are dead, you are no longer an entity that desires and needs happiness, and therefore you are no longer capable of regretting any choice that you have made that results in failing to obtain happiness. The happiness doesn’t exist, but the absence of the happiness does not constitute a deficiency in happiness, because the body that once housed your mind is now a human-shaped clump of rapidly decaying organic matter. It doesn’t need or desire happiness, and the mind that once did need and desire happiness is no longer extant. Therefore, one would be committing a category error to say that you are paying an opportunity cost for your choice, when you (as in your mind) no longer exists and therefore cannot perceive any value discrepancy between the two parallel worlds in which a) you chose to commit suicide, and b) you chose to continue living, and went on to experience great joys. Can one say that a chair is suffering a deprivation of joy? Nobody would claim this, because we all understand that a chair is an inanimate object that has no desire or need for experiences of happiness.

If we would reject the claim that a chair is deprived of happiness, then why would we accept the claim that a dead human is deprived of happiness? Whilst it seems difficult to find an answer to this; it has not deterred academic philosophers from attempting.

The Timing Problem

In this section of my essay, I will be responding largely to Travis Timmerman’s 2020 paper Dissolving Death’s Time of Harm Problem. You can hear more from Travis regarding death’s putative “badness” on the Brain in a Vat podcast on YouTube. This paper has been recommended to me by a learned interlocutor on Reddit as the best possible representations of deprivationist account, and my interlocutor’s (Reddit user u/__ABSTRACTA__argument) borrowed heavily from these sources. If you would like to read one of the debates with my interlocutor (there have been several very long-winded discussions on this topic with the same individual), please see the below Reddit thread, which was sparked by my earlier post on Negative Utilitarianism:

Congratulations to anyone who has had the patience to read through this entire argument!

In his paper, Timmerman notes that the timing problem of death’s badness only appears to be a stumbling block for deprivationists due to the lack of precision in the formulation of the questioning, and that by “precisifying” the question that is posed to the deprivationist, then the timing problem will dissipate as easily as early morning sea mist on a warm spring morning, without any need to appeal to commit to “spooky metaphysical claims”.

Timmerman’s paper goes on to name and describe each of the schools of thought on the subject, and their particular answer to the timing problem.

To summarise, there are the “priorists” who believe that death is bad for you before you die. There are the “concurrentists” who believe that the badness of death coincides with the time that it occurs. “Subsequentists” argue that death is bad after it happens. “Atemporalists” argue that death is bad for a person, but not at any time, and finally, “indefinitists” argue that death’s badness can be temporally located, but not pinned down to any determinate point in time. Timmerman briefly explains why each of these possible accounts of badness may engender “metaphysically spooky” claims in order to be defended, before going on to provide his solution.

Timmerman’s proposed solutions purport to be “unproblematic” even to the Epicurean. To put it simply, he asserts that we can answer the question of “when is death bad for the person who dies” by comparing the actual timeline in which the person remains alive to the counterfactual timeline that would have obtained, had the individual remained alive. Would the individual have continued to accrue “wellbeing” had they continued to remain alive? If so, then their death is bad for them during the period at which it could reasonably have been expected that they would continue to have enjoyed positive wellbeing. Conversely, continuing to live may be considered to be bad for them if their wellbeing levels would be reasonably expected to deplete after a specified point. This may be true in the case of those who are terminally ill and experiencing intense suffering that, based on their prognosis, can only be expected to get worse. Thus, Timmerman’s answer to the timing problem dovetails fairly well with mainstream attitudes to assisted suicide, and the explanation for why assisted suicide is widely supported for the terminally ill, generally with the added stipulation that the individual must be within months of their expected death.

My objection to this is that it doesn’t matter what levels of wellbeing the individual would have enjoyed had they continued to live. At the moment of brain death, the individual ceases to have a welfare state at all, and therefore ceases to have the need or desire to improve upon their welfare state. Once I am dead, it does not matter that I potentially missed an opportunity to maximise the total number of wellbeing units that my life contained. Say for example, I killed myself after buying the winning lottery ticket and missed out on the millions of pounds that could have been used to greatly enhance my wellbeing. The money would have been of great use to me had I remained alive, but dying does not deprive me of the opportunity to benefit my wellbeing levels, because as soon as I am dead, I no longer need the money to mitigate against the liability that attends the burden of needing to maintain and preserve high wellbeing levels. I assert that, in fact, one is committing a category error when one claims that a dead person is worse off for not being able to maximise their wellbeing, because the concept of wellbeing can only be applied to sentient minds. The concepts of “good” and “bad” exists only for sentient beings inhabiting the material world. And yet Timmerman seems determined to apply this concept to hypothetical future versions of beings that will never actually exist.

To illustrate this; if one imagines wellbeing to be a spectrum where the worst imaginable torture is at one end of the spectrum, and the most blissful state of pleasure at the opposite end; we cannot imagine death to be a “neutral” state in the middle of the spectrum. Rather, it is not on the spectrum at all. Therefore, it can no more be bad for a corpse to be lacking in wellbeing than it can be for my chair to be lacking in wellbeing. A person may foreclose on “goodness” that they may have experienced in the future by choosing death (such as, for example, if I commit suicide the day before I was going to land a great well paying job), but this loss will not come as an opportunity cost to me, because I will not be floating around in a ghostly realm imagining the counterfactual scenario in which I’d stayed alive and enjoyed a higher standard of living than that to which I’d become accustomed at the time of my death. I would need to be capable of making the comparison whilst I was dead in order for that to constitute a deprivation.

Some may try to manoeuvre around this rebuttal by saying that one need not be aware of a deprivation in order for it to be a bad thing. Consider, for example, if someone had left a gift of money on your doorstep, which was then stolen. You wouldn’t be aware that you had lost out on the utility of that money, but it would still be a bad thing. However, the reason that it would be a bad thing for you to have lost the money is that you’d still have needs and desires needing to be satisfied, and money is always an effective way of doing so. Therefore, there is still an alternative reality that you are capable of perceiving in which you were wealthier, and thus in a better position to satisfy your needs and desires than in your present state. However, the deprivation would not manifest as an acute awareness, because you would be innocent of the fact of how close you were to being in that more advantageous position, and the fact that this was denied to you by the wrongful act of theft. In this case, it would therefore be better for you to remain ignorant of the theft in order to reduce the magnitude of the harm, but nevertheless your wellbeing levels are likely to be vitiated to some level by the act of theft, in comparison to the alternative scenario in which the theft did not occur.

Working Backwards -Accounting For the Badness of Death and Suicide Prevention

Within philosophical discourse on the subject of death’s alleged ‘badness’, there is a noticeable tendency for the author to start out with the stated premise that death is bad (or alternatively, that killing is wrong), and then the argumentation itself seems to be cobbled together post hoc in such a way as to buttress this premise. This is evident in suicide prevention advocacy as much as it is within academic philosophical discourse. If pressed to provide evidence to support the assertion that suicide is an irrational choice, suicide prevention advocates will generally point to studies which indicate that those who have attempted suicide do not reattempt in the majority of cases, with many suicide survivors reporting that they regret their attempt, or that they are happy to have survived. A case in point being the internationally renowned evangelist for suicide prevention and Golden Gate Bridge jump survivor, Kevin Hines. The validity of this evidence can certainly be disputed, given the risky nature of attempting suicide without a fully safe and guaranteed method, and also the high social costs of being seen to double down on one’s insistence that life isn’t worth living (which can, after all, include involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward, in addition to being subject to increased surveillance and concern from one’s friends, family and community).

What is conspicuously absent from the body of evidence, however, is the testimonies of actual deceased individuals. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no study so far which has contracted the services of a professional medium such as Sylvia Browne or Derek Acorah in order to garner the testimonies of those who have been successful in their suicide attempts, in order to find out whether they regret the decision and whether death is indeed worse than life.

I’m being facetious here of course, but the point is valid: those who are alive and whom have never experienced death, or directly observed what happens to a mind (if anything) after death are not qualified to pass judgement on the badness of death. This very much includes the likes of Kevin Hines, and also includes anyone who was suicidal at an earlier point in their life and is now glad that they did not go through with it. Kevin Hines may have experienced the badness of dying as he fought for life in the icy waters of San Francisco Bay; but he didn’t experience the badness of death itself. Observing the psychological effect of your survival instinct kicking in to high gear, or even observing your own renewed gratitude for the small, everyday joys of being alive, is not the same as observing the deficiencies of these goods post-mortem. And yet, time and again, the media trots out the likes of Hines to testify that suicide is never the answer, and the voices of those who survive suicide and do in fact wish that their attempt has been successful, are muted altogether, due to being inconvenient to the life-affirming narrative that the media wishes to promulgate and due to the paternalistic perceived need to protect and cosset ‘vulnerable’ suicidal people from any kind of perspective which may validate suicide as a viable and rational option in order to address their suffering.

Even the renowned antinatalist philosopher David Benatar takes pains to distance himself from promortalism by excluding death from inclusion within his axiological asymmetry. Whilst Benatar argues that preventing birth is a good thing because it prevents future suffering, he denies that the future suffering that is foreclosed upon by death is good. This is because, in Benatar’s view, once we come into existence, we have an interest in remaining alive, and death frustrates this interest and is therefore bad. Thus, Benatar differentiates between a life worth starting (which would be no life, according to Benatar), and a life worth continuing (which could potentially include the lives of many who have already been born). The violation of the interest is considered by Benatar to be bad even when there is no awareness of the interest being violated (such as if a person was killed by deliberate Carbon Monoxide poisoning in their sleep, for example, or a newborn baby who was killed by their parent before).

Unfortunately for Benatar, it seems that he has arrived at this position based on the process of working backwards from a conclusion that has already been pre-determined (namely that death is bad) and by trying to cobble together a post-hoc rationalisation in order to buttress this conclusion. Instead of following his arrow-straight logic through to its ineluctable logical conclusion, he instead veers away from this destination, in order to appease either his own existential fears, or the moral axioms of a society that imbibes moral panic surrounding the subject of suicide with their mother’s milk.

The flaws in Benatar’s reasoning become starkly apparent in his discussion with Sam Harris on the latter’s podcast Waking Up. You can listen to the relevant time-stamped section of the discussion here. After performing well in the discussion up until this point, it is my assessment that Benatar struggles to justify his exclusion of death from his axiological asymmetry, and the structural integrity and consistency of his argument begins to unravel under the pressure expertly applied by Harris.

This is a problem that ‘moderate’ antinatalists tend to face when trying to distance themselves from those who start to veer off into more radical versions of the philosophy such as ‘efilism‘ (an outright rejection not just of procreation, but of life itself, which will be explored in more detail in a later post) and promortalism.

Although David Benatar is worthy of a lot of respect and admiration for pushing the envelope with regards to promoting antinatalism within the philosophical community and beyond (a position itself controversial enough that Benatar refuses to allow any photograph of him to be published, and refuses to appear on camera for the sake of protecting his identity), I do harbour suspicions that his disavowal of promortalism may have more to do with his unpreparedness to cross the final frontier and deal with the potential fall-out from confronting humanity’s mother of all taboos; than having a coherent and well-reasoned philosophical argument to oppose it. I feel that David Benatar failed not only to provide a coherent argument, but failed in his intellectual principles.

Similarly, I believe that many within the antinatalist community are leery of being seen to promote any kind of idea that might validate someone’s choice to commit suicide (again, harkening back to those ‘vulnerable’ people needing to be protected from the clutches of sinister Internet predators who might manipulate them into suicide by committing the unforgiveable atrocity of formulating a dispassionate and logical philosophical argument).

Suicide Prevention as Harm Reduction

Suicide prevention policies take as read the idea that death is bad for the person who dies, and hinges upon the idea that people need to be protected from this “bad” outcome, even if the protection takes the form of coercively violating their expressed desires and their bodily autonomy, such as in the case of suicidal people who are forcibly removed to a psychiatric ward, if thought to be at ‘risk’ of ‘harming’ themselves.

But instead of protecting us from the real experiential harms of dying by allowing us to access painless, fast-acting and effective suicide methods; suicide prevention advocates are intent on forcing us to perform suicide in a clandestine manner using means that are uncertain to be effective and are also guaranteed to cause us a great deal of pain and discomfort, and prolong the harmful dying process. In doing so, they deter many people from even attempting suicide in the first place, and condemn many who fail in their attempts to lives of permanent incapacitation in the form of disability, in addition to all of the problems (still unresolved) that precipitated the suicide attempt to begin with.

However, if we are going to be “protected”, each of us deserves the right to know from what it is that we are being protected. In a society in which each individual is to be treated with respect and dignity; it simply isn’t enough to gaslight us into doubting our own perception of reality and our own capacity for logical thought. Suicide prevention advocates have failed to answer this question, time and again; merely reiterating their assurances that they know what is best for us. These assurances are always tacitly reinforced with menacing threats that we will be banished to a psychiatric ward if we refuse to accede.

Simply saying that “death is bad” doesn’t provide this explanation, if opponents of death are not able to explain how the alleged harms of death will be experienced by the deceased. And if the harms are “abstract” as posited by the likes of Travis Timmerman, then it behoves suicide prevention advocates to explain exactly why I should be bothered by an alleged ‘harm’ of which I will be permanently unaware and unaffected by after death.

People generally attempt or commit suicide as a response to real harms. The reason that they choose suicide is because suicide provides (as, ironically, suicide prevention advocates never miss an opportunity to point out) a “permanent solution”, and therefore a choice that is perfectly aligned to our rational self-interest in avoiding unnecessary suffering.

You can compare and contrast this to other ‘solutions’ often sought out by the most desperately unhappy individuals in our society. Gambling, alcohol addiction, abusive relationships. All of these are maladaptive behaviours devised by desperate people looking for relief anywhere that they can find it, even if the long term consequences of their choices are likely to do nothing more than keep them entrained in a spiral of self-destruction.

For everything that suicide prevention advocates lack in evidence, they more than make up for in the fervent zeal with which they ensure that their beliefs are upheld, and the fanaticism with which they seek to banish any challenges to their faith from the public sphere. In this sense, the suicide prevention movement is very much like any other form of faith-based movement. It is reliant upon the use of social pressure to ensure that its primacy remains unchallenged. Therefore, just as Islamic nations often enforce blasphemy laws as a harsh deterrence to anyone thinking of stepping out of line, the cult of suicide prevention has its own form of blasphemy law in the form of coercive suicide prevention (up to and including Guantanamo-style torture techniques such as gastro-nasal force feeding of suicidal people who refuse the intake of nourishment), means restriction and gaslighting of the suicidal.

For more on the subject of suicide, please see my other blog posts, and in particular, my most recent post regarding the cruelty of suicide prevention, which can be viewed here.


On the subject of death, the field of philosophy appears to be reluctant to move beyond the dark ages of atavistic primitivism. Although ‘deprivationists’ may have an exquisite knack for semantical manipulation developed through the course of an education in academia, the tapestries of fine words that they weave function as no more than an ornate fig-leaf to conceal their own primordial fears and existential insecurities.

As a consequence of its refusal to challenge the sacred axiom of the goodness of life, it tacitly condones the brutalisation of suicidal people through suicide prevention initiatives which are blasphemy laws masquerading as public health and safety campaigns.

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existentialgoof – 30th January 2023

When Safety Becomes Slavery : Negative Rights and the Cruelty of Suicide Prevention

Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin
Credit for this meme goes to to u/hushitsu on Reddit. See original here:

Introduction: Individual Rights versus Collective Responsibility

The balance between individual rights and liberties and responsibility to the collective has been a hot topic over the last couple of years, as the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the world and, due to the need for public safety measures in order to attempt to arrest the spread of the disease, has ignited intense political friction has ensued between two perpetually warring factions in society. On one side, those who advocate for greater individual liberty (for those who perhaps aren’t clinically vulnerable to COVID and stand a very low risk of death or serious illness). On the opposite side, those who believe that society should prioritise safety over more liberty.

This has been a controversial topic throughout the pandemic, with no clear-cut answer as to where the balance should be drawn between public safety and personal autonomy. It’s not possible to draw a strictly scientific conclusion, because science cannot tell us to what extent we should risk public safety in order to preserve individual autonomy. However, what has been very striking is the outpouring of outrage and indignation over even the most modest of measures geared at protecting the most vulnerable, such as wearing a mask in busy areas; let alone more significant infringements of individual autonomy such as vaccine mandates, or restricting the freedoms of the unvaccinated.

However, there is one topic concerning individual autonomy that has been largely overlooked across society, and one where these tensions between individual rights and personal autonomy do not exist in the same form. Not only that, but those who advocate for their autonomy are written off as being more deranged and unreliable in their judgement than even the most fervent of COVID conspiracy theorists. That topic is suicide.

Suicide prevention: Locking up the innocents to protect them from the criminals

Our Right to Bodily Autonomy – Positive Rights versus Negative Rights

In a functioning democracy, individuals have a mixture of two different types of human right. We have positive rights and negative rights.

A positive right takes the form of something that the government is obligated to provide its citizens. This includes the right to an education, the right to unemployment or disability benefits, the right to police protection against crime, and so on.

A negative right is something that nobody is obligated to provide us with, but which nobody may legally deny us without compelling reason. For example, the right to choose where we work and to refuse to undertake forced labour.

In short, positive rights require that certain things be done for me, whilst negative rights require that certain things not be done to me, or at least, which are not to be done to me without my consent, unless there are compelling reasons for overriding this.

The right to die campaign has tended to focus on deliverance from extreme illness as being a positive right that the government should provide us out of mercy, and the majority of those who advocate for, or defend the right to die, stress that only those with terminal illnesses would qualify for any form of assistance. But there has been very little focus on the negative right to be free from violence and free from compulsion. Case law in the European Court of Human Rights (Haas Vs Switzerland), has determined that the right to suicide would be covered under the right to respect for private life (section 8); however, this has done nothing to dampen the monomaniacal zealotry of suicide prevention campaigns aimed at restricting access to effective suicide methods for individuals throughout most of the European states that are signatories to this treaty, including the UK.

We can compare and contrast this to the legal status of abortion. Abortion is passionately defended within the mainstream on the grounds of both negative liberty (the right not to be forced to continue a pregnancy) and positive liberty (the right to abortion as healthcare). This is despite the fact that the bodily autonomy arguments being advanced by pro-choice activists could arguably be confounded by the fact that abortion involves the termination of a second human organism. To be clear, I do not support this argument personally. I make this point purely to demonstrate that abortion is a far less clear-cut case of respecting the negative liberty rights of the individual, due to the fact that anti-abortion advocates will tend to argue that the moral standing of the foetus outweighs the interests of the pregnant woman in retaiing bodily autonomy.

Counter-intuitively, despite the fact that suicide (without qualifications regarding the health status of the individual concerned) is a matter of the bodily autonomy and negative of a single individual, making a choice exclusively with respect to their own body, it has failed to gain any meaningful political traction. “My Body, My Choice” is a catchy slogan. But many proponents of this argument undermine their own slogan when they refuse to defend the right to suicide with equal vigour under the same banner, or in many cases, emphatically reject suicide as a valid and permissible expression of bodily autonomy.

To understand how society has attempted to reconcile this contradiction, we will examine efforts that are being made by the field of psychiatry to discredit suicidal individuals as rational actors and their capacity to both understand what is in their interests, and to make informed decisions based on their true interests.

Individual Agency and the Capacity to Consent

Prior to the introduction of the Suicide Act (1960) in England and Wales, suicide was largely considered to be a moral failing, and suicide condemned as the ultimate act of selfishness. This provided the grounds for making attempting suicide a criminal offence. This is no longer the overriding theme in arguments against suicide. Instead, it has been replaced with far more insidious attempts to call into question the mental capacity of suicidal individuals.

This shift in paradigm makes it much more difficult to establish any support for a legally codified right to suicide. When we describe an individual as “selfish”, we are holding them morally accountable for their behaviour. In order to subject them to moral condemnation, we are required to conceive of them as morally autonomous agents who had the capacity to choose differently, and who therefore may be amenable to social pressure to change their ways and to prioritise the interests of others.

However, if we describe a suicidal person as lacking the capacity to make an informed decision; although this means that they are no longer subject to the moral censure of a ‘selfish’ individual; it also means that they are presumed to lack the capacity to advocate on their own behalf or to understand what is in their own interests. This places suicidal individuals in the almost impossible position of being comprehensively discredited in the eyes of society and the law before they have even had a chance to state their argument. They are effectively reduced to the legal and moral status of children; because like children; they are restricted from being able to make decisions based on what they perceive to be their interests without the need to act covertly in order to avoid legal interventions aimed at frustrating their plans and imposing society’s will on them on the grounds that they are incapable of understanding their own interests and therefore society must act in their best interests, even when this will involve coercive interventions such as involuntary psychiatric holds, or even merely depriving them of access to an effective means of executing their will. It can be argued that this loss of social and legal standing more than outweighs any benefits gained from the absence of de jure legal repercussions of a failed suicide attempt.

In the context of the high social cost that would need to be paid in order to do so (the indignity of being relegated to the status of a child in the eyes of your peers and of the law), it is unsurprising that very few suicidal people will speak out publicly against suicide prevention laws. In my personal interactions with fellow suicidal individuals, I have had the privilege of getting to know a number of high-functioning members of society who also happen to be suicidal and are passionately in favour of the right to die, but who take pains to avoid allowing their real name to be associated with the right to die movement for fear that this may harm their future career prospects, or reduce their social standing in the eyes of others.

Unlike anti-abortion advocates, suicide prevention advocates cannot argue that suicide must be restricted in order to protect an innocent victim. Therefore they instead need to insinuate that the suicidal person is themselves the victim of a decaying society that has become derelict in its duty of care to protecting the ‘vulnerable’. Their argument depends upon denying the agency of the person who commits suicide (similar to a 3-year-old child who drinks bleach from under the kitchen sink without understanding their actions) and transferring responsibility onto society and the government in loco parentis to keep these ‘deluded’ individuals safe from themselves.

If suicidal individuals were considered to be capable of autonomous decision making and accorded the moral and legal status of an adult that corresponds with such a status, then suicide would not be considered to be the pressing public health and safety issue that it currently is. It may still be considered a moral and philosophical emergency; but the grounds for intervening in the negative liberty right to bodily autonomy on the basis of subjective morality would be highly controversial in societies that pride themselves on the importance placed on individual choice and freedom of expression. Similarly, trying to shut down suicide on the grounds that it is philosophically disquieting would meet with intense resistance from those who would perceive it to be an unacceptable infringement of religion into the realm of individual choice. It’s much harder to take away an adult’s right to be selfish, or their right to invest their welfare into a philosophical view of life that diverges from your own, than it is to take away the right of someone presumed to have the mental capacity of a child from acting against their own interests.

In their quest to convert suicide from a moral and philosophical emergency to a health emergency (and therefore legitimise heavy-handed interventions), opponents of suicide have been ably assisted by the field of psychiatry.

The Medicalisation of Psychological Suffering

Suicide is often prevented on the assumption that it is not a decision made by an individual’s authentic self, but by a mental illness which is divisible from the self.

In bygone ages, humanity looked to religious and tribal leaders in order to divine the ultimate truth of reality from ancient texts and stories passed down through the generations. However, almost a century and a half since Nietzsche first proclaimed that “God is dead”; societies have been drifting further and further away from religion as a source of truth and meaning and have struggled to find anything to replace the vacuum being left behind in our psyches by its absence. As a consequence, we have found ourselves collectively hurtling towards a disquieting state of nihilistic disillusionment in which nobody believes in anything; and nobody can quite figure out what life means and what it’s supposed to be for. A trend which has accelerated since the advent of the world wide web and has put a world of information and different perspectives at our fingertips.

Into this breach left by the priests and witch-doctors have stepped psychiatrists, a clerisy for our technological age. Specifically, the role of psychiatrists is to act as a bulwark to preserve an established and comforting narrative that human societies have constructed in order to affirm the value and meaning of life. This is a narrative that has started to come under threat from the incipient vein of nihilistic thought that has started to creep into the fringes of our collective consciousness. It is in order to quell this growing sense of existential disquiet that we look to the psychiatrists (waving in our faces their medical degrees as a guarantee of the impartial, scientific objectivity of their prognoses and suggested remedies) to assure us that this is, in fact, the symptom of a medical condition that requires medical treatment.

Psychiatry however, does not operate like any other branch of medicine. When you go to your doctor presenting a set of symptoms of a serious illness, your doctor will arrange for a blood test, an x-ray or a brain scan to be done in order to gather evidence of the organic cause of your ailments. If he can’t physically see what’s wrong with your body, then diagnosis will be deferred until the test results come back. After all, it would be pointless to go to the doctor complaining of a sore leg, only to be diagnosed with “sore leg syndrome” and prescribed a course of treatment that is shown to have barely more effective than a placebo in terms of statistical significance, and no more clinically effective than a placebo; and with a range of side effects that can cause permanent damage.

That’s because in order to render a diagnosis of a recognised physical ailment in any branch of medicine other than psychiatry, you usually need to identify the cause of the illness, not merely the symptoms. If your symptoms were something more serious; let’s say that you had symptoms often associated with leukaemia, you would not expect the doctor to put you onto chemotherapy without running any objective tests. But when you visit your psychiatrist or your GP to discuss your psychological suffering, you will likely find yourself being administered a questionnaire which will generate a score. Whether or not you are diagnosed with a mental disorder will be determined by where your score sits in relation to a cut-off point that has been arbitrarily decided based on deviation from a normative standard, and will not take into consideration your life circumstances and personal history in order to determine whether or not your psychological disturbance might in fact be a natural and normal response to life experiences.

If psychological suffering is accepted a natural and normal response to life difficulties rather than a spontaneously occurring brain malfunction, then the process of reasoning which leads them to suicide as a solution now seems more transparent.

Gaslighting Our Loved Ones to Delude Ourselves

gas-lahyt ]

verb (used with object), gas·light·ed or gas·lit, gas·light·ing.

to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation:

Although the term “gaslighting” has become a popular word in the lexicon of social justice, and as such, its meaning has become diluted, I believe that the term is apt to describe what occurs when a suicidal person is caused to doubt his or her sanity in order to justify the need for intervention in order to prevent the suicide.

Opponents of suicide argue that suicide is rarely, if ever, a rational decision. Kevin Caruso, the author of suicide prevention website argues that “Untreated mental illness…is the cause for the vast majority of suicides”. But as we’ve seen above, there is no empirical way to differentiate between suffering that would be considered a natural response to life circumstances, and a clinical illness. In light of this, Caruso, along with other suicide prevention advocates, can bolster his advocacy for aggressive paternalism with nothing more than his own circular logic. This logic itself rests on assuming his own a priori conclusion as a premise. Anyone who is mentally disturbed to the point of suicide must be suffering from a medical condition (as per psychiatric processes of diagnosis). And anyone whose judgement is being severely impaired by a medical condition is unfit to be able to make life and death decisions on their own behalf. Therefore, we need the government to intervene in order to protect these mentally unstable individuals and ensure that they will be unable to access effective tools and information to aid them in completing suicide.

For those who are in danger of losing a loved one to suicide; it is tempting to attribute their choice to a loss of agency. This allows friends and family of the suicidal individual to rationalise transgressions against the liberty of that individual which benefit the friends and family, on the grounds that intervention is also in the best interests of the suicidal individual themselves. This allows friends and family to have their cake and eat it too. Prevent the death of the sufferer without having to feel selfish for doing so. The culture of life assures them that not only should they not feel guilty, but that they are also positively deserving of moral approbation for triggering an intervention which just happens to also secure a benefit for themselves.

Although a great deal of suicide prevention rhetoric focuses on impulsive acts of suicide triggered by curable suffering; this proves disingenuous when we see that the degree to which preventing suicide is morally praiseworthy and morally imperative does not diminish when the suicidal individual has endured sustained suicidal suffering for a period of many years or even decades; and not even in cases where they have been actively engaging with support services in order to find a non-fatal solution to their suffering. The culture of life deals only in absolutes; as anti-suicide crusader Kevin Caruso avers in his blog: “Suicide is NEVER the answer, getting help is the answer”. If you’ve been accessing “help” for years or decades that hasn’t been at all helpful; then the solution is just to continue accessing ‘help’ until perhaps something does ease your suffering in the future.

Many suicidal people find themselves beguiled by the arguments proffered by idealogues such as Caruso, because his rhetoric taps into a very deep and profound human need to feel valued, supported and cared about. After all, feelings of worthlessness and isolation are two of the most significant drivers of suicidal behaviour. Therefore, they are more likely to advocate against their own freedom of choice; having been convinced that they are constitutionally unfit to make a choice of their own, and instead need to outsource their decision making to those who know better.

Indeed, many of the most stalwart opponents of the right to die either have a history of suicidal feelings themselves, or appear to struggle with their own mental health; and often respond with a reflexive defensiveness to any proposal to expanding the right to die. To these people, any suggestion that suicide should be a permissible choice in a free society is an implication that they personally are unworthy of being saved, and that proponents of choice are suggesting that they should be thoughtlessly abandoned. I have often had debates on Reddit with suicidal individuals who genuinely seem to express hurt and dismay at the prospect that anyone could possibly argue for the right to suicide. They are also often intensely defensive of the debunked, yet still pervasive, “chemical imbalance” myth, which reassures them that the panacea for their despair is just a prescription away…if only they could finally find the right one.

I had a recent interaction on Reddit with someone who was opposed to the right to suicide, supposedly on “libertarian” grounds. When I probed a bit further, they gave numerous different preposterous objections that didn’t make any sense and didn’t relate to the argument that I was making. Examples included that they didn’t want their taxpayer money to go on my death (I wasn’t proposing a taxpayer funded program, and when I asked how they felt of all the tax savings that would come from not forcing people to be alive, they demurred) and even that they didn’t think that it would be “lucrative” enough! After checking their post history, I could see that they were a very troubled individual who frequently mentioned being “dead behind the eyes” or similar and suffered from severe self-esteem problems. I put it to them that they were opposed to the right to die because they wanted protection from their own judgement, and wanted the reassurance of having broad affirmation of the value of life from society. After what had been a long exchange, they ceased to respond. You can view this exchange here.

There is also a notable phenomenon whereby those who have lost loved ones to suicide or have survived suicide themselves are accorded almost a sanctified status in our society. This makes it very difficult to confront them when they advocate for tight government control to ensure that people can’t access effective suicide methods, or cannot access online resources to help them research effective suicide methods. It is considered not merely insensitive and offensive, but also almost blasphemous to challenge the wisdom of someone in society who has been personally ‘touched’ by suicide.

Prevention of suicide has become one of our culture’s most sacred values, along with celebrating diversity and denouncing racism. In our zeal to safeguard these values, a moral panic has sprung up. This is perhaps endemic of an increasingly insecure society that, in a rapidly changing world, is having difficulty defining what it stands for.

Why “Assisted” Suicide is a Misnomer

The current state of debate on the topic of the right to die is centered on the assumption that it will entail the government providing us with a positive right to assistance in dying. However, when you actually look at the detail of what “assisted” suicide actually means in practice; it is simply the case that in instances where a patient is approved for assisted suicide, they are permitted to have access to a lethal substance, which must be self-administered. The other type of right to die is voluntary euthanasia, which does involve someone directly killing an individual. However, this would be more appropriately described as “assisted suicide” as the person requires direct assistance in having the lethal substance administered.

The way that assisted suicide is defined frames this issue in such a way that already favours the status quo and gives the upper hand to pro-life advocates, because it assumes that the default state of affairs would be for the government to spare no expense or effort in order to inhibit an individual from being able to access the means of their deliverance, and that “assistance” simply means that the an individual is allowed to bypass these barriers on a case-by-case basis.

But if I’m trying to walk through a doorway and you’re a big burly man who steps in my way to guard the doorway and prevent me from walking through, then if you were to step aside (after I’ve pleaded the extenuating circumstances pertaining to why you should make an exception and allow me through the doorway), you’re still not “assisting” me in passing through the doorway. In that example, you were falsely and unjustly imprisoning me (assuming I’ve committed no crime worthy of the prison sentence). You’re just allowing an exception to your usual rules that you will tyrannise and oppress those who you have kept captive in your prison without due cause. Thus, we should not allow you to claim that what you’ve done is a great humanitarian act of compassion and mercy until you’ve proven that you had just grounds for detaining me to begin with.

It is also falsely assumed that the government needs to be directly involved in administering any assisted dying program. However, technological advances have ensured that this need not be the case.

Leading right to die activist Dr Philip Nitschke, of right to die organisation Exit International, has invented a device which would enable even the most severely disabled individuals to die peacefully without the need for the direct administration of any lethal substance to the patient. Using Dr Nitschke’s Sarco device, the patient is in control of whether or not the inert gas is released into the chamber, and this can be controlled via eye movements for those who lack the use of their limbs.

We do not need a new positive right in order to access this device. What we need is to restrict the government’s ability to interfere in our negative liberty rights. If the government wishes to ensure that people are not accessing these devices based on a momentary whim, then they can require that the suppliers of these machines implement a 1 year waiting period to ensure that the individual’s choice is stable over an extended period of time. Once the waiting period is complete; the government has no further legal recourse to cause any individual to be denied access, unless they can evidence that the individual has done something in the intervening period which would warrant having their autonomy suspended for a longer period of time.

Neither Individual Safety nor Group Rights Justify Non-Consensual Suicide Prevention

As you can see above, we have taken a look at how safety is often used as a justification for preventing suicide, despite the fact that everything that is unsafe exists within life itself. Now let’s explore why this is insufficient grounds in order to be able to ethically justify what should be considered to be a barbaric practice. Let’s first look at the concerns of disabled groups.

Firstly, if suicide is framed as a negative right (i.e. the government is simply not allowed to exercise coercive measures to prevent you from choosing to die), then they are not making any kind of a positive statement with respect to which lives are worth living, or which lives may not be worth living. Every individual, regardless of their physical capability or capacity to contribute to the economy of their society would have this negative right to be free from interference from the government. No particular group within society would need to have a special (positive) right to die carved out for them by policy on the basis that society does not consider those particular types of life not to be worth living. Framing suicide as a negative right would therefore address this concern.

Some of the most vehement opposition to the right to suicide comes from the world of disability rights advocacy. These lobby groups often find themselves well supported by the right-wing media (ironically those who tend to be militantly opposed to provisions that would improve the quality of life of people with disabilities by increasing state spending in this area) and religious organisations.

Disability ‘rights’ activists object to assisted suicide on the grounds that they fear that it paves a slippery slope towards the obligation to die. However, as a private individual, I have no association with malevolent actors that might wish to make disabled individuals feel unworthy of life, or wish to pressure them into killing themselves. I’m not asking that my needs and my demands be put ahead of the disabled individual’s interest to continue living, because I’m not asking that the government actively makes any special accommodations for my desires which would conflict with the rightful interests of another segment of society. What I’m asking for is not for any specific person or agency to facilitate my death. I’m asking for the impediments that exist at present to be dismantled, so that I may make use of a Sarco device or similar. I would like this not only for the sake of helping me die, but of helping me live; safe in the knowledge that I can’t legally be held captive against my will in case my life circumstances become unbearable.

It is also not reasonable to assume that denying people the right to choose to die will force the government to furnish higher standards of care for the disabled, because they won’t be able to ‘dispose’ of them by offering assisted suicide. If we allow governments the power to confine us to cages with impunity, then we give them less accountability to us, not more. And whilst disability rights groups rightly point out that there are a number of systemic issues that result in disadvantaged groups in society becoming marginalised; it is unconscionable to force those very same individuals to pay the price of society’s failure to provide an equitable society; and to hold them hostage until those problems eventually are fixed, if indeed, that ever occurs.

The very fact that you are oppressing those groups by denying them the right to choose whether they live or die undermines any high-minded claims that you want to ensure that these groups are not disposable. In conspiring to ensure that these individuals remain trapped within the prison of their dysfunctional bodies and/or tormented minds, you affirm the fact that the welfare of these individuals is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and that they are nothing but chess pieces to be moved around the board.

Whilst I believe that there are grounds for compromise in terms of temporarily restricting access to facilities such as suicide pods that would be willingly provided by another party (for example, imposing a waiting period); if you persist in impeding my access to these willingly-provided services indefinitely, then this crosses the line into a clear violation of my negative liberty right not to be falsely imprisoned and enslaved; as any such law would be designed to ensure that I would be deprived of a dichotomous choice between life and death, and would be more likely to remain alive either due to a failed suicide attempt, or fear of failing a suicide attempt. Because this act of obstruction would become the cause of all of my future suffering, then it could be considered to be passive violence against me and a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. As such, the continuation of my life (and my suffering) owes nothing to my desire to serve my own interests, and everything to the illegitimate interests of others in using me as a means to their desired ends.

Very much the same can be said with respect to those who claim that we should deny the right to use these booths on the grounds that we must protect “vulnerable” individuals who might ask to use the booths, but whose determination to die is not as immutable as my own, as some would argue that a year’s waiting period is insufficient based on their circumstances, and that they need permanent ‘protection’ to ensure that they can’t choose to opt out of life today and will not be able to opt out 1 year from today, 10 years from today, or even 50 years from today. Those individuals may request that the government suspend their right to decide to die, or they may give a family member or friend the power of attorney in order to prevent them from being able to legally decide to end their life. But this should be a system that people opt in to. Any attempt to take away someone’s right to make their own medical decisions, including suicide, should require robust evidence of incapacity. The current state of psychiatric diagnosis fails to meet this requisite standard of evidence.

Similarly, some would argue against the right to suicide on the basis of alleged “suicide contagion”. That is to say, that one person’s suicide precipitates the suicides of others. If suicide were to be prohibited on these grounds, then that would set a very troubling precedent for all areas of life. That would make you legally responsible for how someone else felt (or may have felt), or what they may do to themselves as a consequence of a choice that you made in your own interests. Therefore, no longer would you be legally allowed to break off a relationship in which the other party was still emotionally dependent on you staying (and there are many suicides that are motivated by rejection in a relationship).

Impeding access to suicide on any of the grounds discussed above based on effects that it could have on others allows the people around us, and the collective as a whole to lay greater claim to ownership of our lives than each of us does as individuals. I did not sign a contract at my birth, agreeing to surrender ownership of my body and suffering to society, or to humanity as a whole. Therefore, unless I have committed a crime that is worthy of surrendering my right to make choices concerning my own life; there are no legitimate ethical grounds upon which society can deem it my duty to remain alive. I’ve signed no social contract guaranteeing the rest of society or the rest of humanity my continued services or existence. I’m not receiving anything in return for having my personal autonomy signed away that I deem to be worthy of the cost of the suffering. None of the arguments that you’ve made as to why death is against my interests make any sense to me, because I do not believe that it is possible for a dead person to regret being dead, or to hanker after the pleasures of life. It is therefore unethical to take measures aimed exclusively at preventing me from bring about my own death.

It’s Not Just About Liberty, It’s About Respect

I do not wish to demonise all of those who support suicide prevention initiatives; as I understand that they tend to be motivated by the fact that they place great value on the lives of those who have been lost to suicide, and those that may yet be saved.

However, as has been discussed in this post and my other submissions on the subject of suicide; any suicide prevention scheme which goes further than voluntarily engaging the suicidal invariably depends on the disenfranchisement of the suicidal.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide and are reading this blog post, then I am sorry for your loss and thank you for taking the time to learn about opposing viewpoints. In some cases, the death of a loved one to suicide will come as a shock when, after exhibiting no discernible signs that they were struggling, the individual takes their own life. It may be in these cases that the individual has not been suicidal over a long period of time, but just happened to be going through difficult times that would have passed were they to have remained alive. If this is the case, then if my proposal of allowing access to effective suicide methods after a 1 year waiting period will ensure that many people going through something similar to this will be incentivised to reach out to support services and choose to wait before making their irrevocable decision, rather than act impulsively and risk severe disability.

However, there are also those who have lost loved ones who were suicidal over a period of years, and still believe that everything possible should have been done to ensure that they didn’t have easy access to effective suicide methods. To these people, I ask: how long would be too long to expect your loved one to have to wait before being granted the right to choose? How long would be long enough to have satisfied you that their decision was made with a settled mind, and based on their authentic interests? After how many failed treatments, in your view, does it become rational to lose hope that things will get better? If your answer is “never”, then I want you to consider that perhaps you are prioritising your own interests in keeping this person around, over their wellbeing.

If suicide was prima facie proof that an individual lacked capacity to make important decisions regarding their own wellbeing, then we might expect that incidence of suicide was restricted to the most low-functioning members of society who, if they were even capable of holding down a job at all, would be mainly found occupying simple and undemanding roles such as bagging groceries at the supermarket.

However, we instead find that the job roles with the highest rates of suicide tend to be some of the most demanding and stressful. These individuals are therefore in the position of being considered mentally competent enough to be expected to be high functioning and tax-paying members of society, and to be integral to the smooth running of our affairs. Yet at the very same time, as per suicide prevention groups, they must also be presumed permanently mentally unfit to make basic decisions pertaining to their own body and wellbeing. These people push themselves to breaking point for the betterment of society; and in return, they are disenfranchised and told that they must effectively live under the conditions of a conservatorship because they lack the agency to be capable of acting in their own interests.

Whilst it is understandable that people want barriers that make it more difficult for their loved ones to make irrevocable decisions in a moment of crisis; such examples do not represent all suicides, and this concern should be adequately addressed by implementing waiting periods prior to accessing such technology as a Sarco suicide booth, as people will be less reticent about engaging with support services and will have more reason to wait before making an irreversible decision.

However, if this is not a compromise that you’re willing to make, and you insist that effective suicide methods should be permanently restricted, because you don’t believe that it is possible for a suicidal person to have the requisite capacity to make that decision even after years or decades of suffering, then your suicidal loved ones have every reason to feel degraded and insulted by the unwarranted implication, and no reason to feel respected.

This, in turn, will intensify their feelings of alienation from others and from society as a whole, which will further reinforce their suicidal feelings. If talking openly about one’s suicidal feelings (as we’re all being encouraged to do by the suicide awareness campaigns that have become ubiquitous these days) is expected to come at the cost of being perceived as too mentally feeble to be capable of exercising autonomy (and nobody ever need prove this assertion), then many will decide that their only option is to continue to bottle up their feelings, and retreat into isolation.

Suicide and the Right to Live Without Fear

The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

The above quote by Nietzsche is one to which I’m sure many readers will be able to relate; not only those who are currently suicidal. The idea that if life becomes too hard, you always have an escape hatch. The knowledge that you cannot be kept trapped in intolerable circumstances can provide great succour even to those enduring the most severe mental distress or physical pain; such as has become evident from those who have been granted the right to die. Amy De Schutter is a Belgian woman who was granted the right to die for chronic and extreme psychological suffering, and found that merely being granted the right to choose for herself, rather than being forced to live by compulsion, has made all the difference to her sense of wellbeing, and claims that the feeling of control that it has given her has “saved [her] life”. When asked about the discomfort that others might experience when confronted with the fact that a physically healthy woman has been sanctioned in ending her own life with safe and reliable suicide methods; her answer is simple “Try to understand it even if it’s against your own belief systems”.

Without the legal right to access a safe and effective suicide method, life becomes a prison sentence. Has anyone else ever thought to themselves “I can’t live this way any more”…only to catch themselves and realise… “I not only can live this way. I have to live this way”. Although it may not be intended as such, suicide prevention policies convey a veiled threat to anyone who is struggling to cope and starting to become unravelled: “if you think that you’re live is bad right now, think of what it would be like living on the streets if you gave up your stressful job. Consider what might become of you if you tried to escape and we stopped you“.

Suicide prevention policies leave us all helpless in the face of an uncertain future. Whether that is economic turbulence that threatens to leave us all worse off, the risk of a future illness or disability that will permanently impair our quality of life, or any other form of life circumstance that might conspire to leave us feeling trapped and searching for a way out, only to find that all of the exit doors are blocked.

Even if you are not currently suicidal; why would you vote to ensure that if you find yourself in intolerable life circumstances, that you will find yourself trapped with no escape? Why would you collude in any such conspiracy against your future self, and why would you conspire against your fellow man and woman who currently have no choice but to live your worst nightmare today?

Next: Share Your Stories and Petition your Government

If you have found what is written above and elsewhere on the blog persuasive, why not consider petitioning your government to roll back existing laws and restrictions which inhibit your ability to access a peaceful and safe death?

UPDATE 17/11/2022 – The UK Parliament Petitions team has rejected the petition on the grounds of being too similar to another petition (for legalisation of euthanasia). I disagree, because my petition is asking for negative liberties to be respected and for Sarco devices (user operated) to be made available. However, I would still recommend signing the active petition here.

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existentialgoof, 7th November, 2022

Suicide Prevention Laws are Functionally the Same as Blasphemy Laws

Sorry to any of the followers of my blog that have been waiting for a new entry. I have been moving house recently and I am also a terrible procrastinator. I am working on a couple of long form posts, which I hope to release soon. In the meantime, I have just typed up some of my thoughts to post on Reddit, and decided to make it a blog post instead given that it has been so long since I last published. I intend to develop these ideas a little further in posts to come, in my more rigorous, long-form style.

The right to die is one of the most contentious topics in contemporary society, and may be the final frontier in civil rights or individual rights.

As the law currently stands, the state is allowed to actively interfere in cases of suicide, and in order to justify this, they typically claim that suicidal people have judgement that is severely compromised due to something called “mental illness”, and therefore need the state to act in loco parentis in order to rescue these people from their own thoughts.

But what is mental illness? It isn’t an objective scientific category. It is a term used to describe human psychological suffering. The threshold for when psychological suffering becomes a pathology is arbitrarily defined and constantly shifting. And when you get diagnosed with a mental illness, instead of identifying some kind of pathogen causing an objectively observed pathology, all that psychiatrists do is give a label to the type of suffering that you are experiencing. So that would be a bit like going to the doctor because you have a sore leg, and being diagnosed with a “sore leg”. Psychiatry isn’t anywhere close to finding the biological bases for the vast majority of these pathologies that they have invented to justify taking away people’s rights, and this ability to label people as mentally unwell has been abused in the past in order to oppress various different marginalised groups such as homosexuals and women who dared to defy gender norms.

In many parts of the world, deviating from the most prevalent religion locally is seen as a form of sickness as well, although the main difference between places with strict blasphemy laws and the western approach to suicide prevention is that the enforcement of the blasphemy laws tends to be overtly punitive, whereas suicide prevention tends to be dressed up in the guise of compassion through a process of gaslighting the individual into believing that the way they perceive the world is distorted and warped. You can prevent suicide by presuming the individual to be mentally ill, and because mental illnesses are not diagnosed through the process of objective testing, they are also unfalsifiable. Therefore, if you are presumed to be depressed because you are suicidal, there is no test that you can have administered in order to prove that you aren’t in fact depressed. And this is one major reason why expanding assisted suicide is seen to be treacherous, because there would be no way of effectively screening out those who are “depressed” due to the lack of any way of objectively testing someone for it, let alone any way of objectively determining how “depressed” a rational person can be based on a given set of life circumstances.

But the same driving force undergirds both the blasphemy law and the suicide prevention initiatives, and that is the desire to protect a shared cultural narrative. If the Pakistani government could prove that Allah was the one true God and Mohammed his only messenger, then there would be no need for such heavy handed enforcement against those who denied that fact. It would just be trivially obvious that those who denied the faith were delusional and not to be taken seriously, in the same way that Western governments do not feel threatened enough by flat earthers to actually start imprisoning them, let alone sentencing them to death, for their beliefs.

It is my contention that suicidal people are summarily discredited as “mentally ill” because our society has no way of proving the objective value of life (or what kind of risks and harms are an acceptable price to pay for the putative rewards on offer), and therefore our belief that life is valuable can easily come under threat from those who choose to reject life. It used to be the case that suicide was a crime here in the UK, and those who attempted suicide and failed would be punished by the law for their crime. Since the Suicide Act in the 1960s, we’ve started treating suicide as an act of desperation performed by someone who was seriously mentally unwell. Although this is supposed to be more compassionate, it is in fact, in my opinion, even more insidious than making attempted suicide a crime punishable by law, because once you are presumed to be insane, you lose your legal standing as a competent adult; a standing which it is impossible ever to recover due to the unfalsifiable nature of the “illness” that you have been diagnosed with (or even merely presumed to have).

I believe that the reason that any attempt to introduce legalised assisted suicide draws an outcry from disabled groups is not because these people truly believe that they will be coerced into dying, but because it invalidates their belief that life is worth living, which is a position based in faith, rather than in evidence. The same can be said of those who work 40+ hours a week in demeaning jobs and barely have time to catch their breath before getting back on the same old treadmill to nowhere. Those people want to believe that there is more to life, and that life is a gift…but their circumstances and prospects for the future do not seem to bear that out, so they can stake their convictions on nothing more than mere faith.

Regardless of whether one is enjoying life now, there was a virtual eternity of time which passed prior to one’s birth during which one had absolutely no qualms about the lack of conscious sensation or opportunities to experience pleasure. And if one accepts that consciousness resides in the brain and cannot survive death, then the same will be true of the eternity of non-existence that follows on after death. If this is true, then if one is not having a good time, then why would it not be rational to cut one’s losses as early as possible, given that one will not be able to regret that choice after death?

My thesis is that this argument is so compelling that there is no way to effectively refute it, and the only course of action is to pre-emptively silence its proponents by stigmatising people who might be inclined to invest their own welfare in such a philosophy as being mentally disturbed and in need of paternalistic care from the state. Since no self-respecting adult wishes to lose their entitlement to be perceived as a competent and rational member of society, this forms a powerful disincentive against speaking out for their right to full bodily autonomy, which would entail demanding that the state desist from actively interfering in their plans to terminate their existence in the most efficient and safe way possible.

I believe that many people do sincerely believe that life is inherently valuable, and that the compassionate thing to do is to prevent suicide. However, I also believe that there is a subconscious awareness of the futility of life that is immanent within the shared consciousness of mankind and that this is the major driving force in the prevention of suicide.

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existentialgoof – 3rd January 2022

Paternalism: From Safe Spaces to Suicide Prevention

Sticks and stones may break my bones, and names will always hurt me”

A Scottish school bullying prevention video, late 1990s

The above quote comes from an anti-bullying video that I watched when I was a pupil in a Scottish comprehensive secondary school, some time in the late 1990s. Although myself and my classmates would have probably been 14-15 years of age at the time of viewing the video, the children featured in this video were pre-pubescent, and would probably have been aged between 8 and 10.

The video started out with the children chanting the well known schoolyard mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. Some of these children were then interviewed about their experiences of verbal bullying and the impact that this had on them. By the end of the video, all the children features in the video had learned that they should be kinder to each other, because “names” can cause emotional injuries just as “sticks and stones” cause physical ones, and ran round the playground chanting the altered and more enlightened version of the mantra, as quoted in the sub-heading. They would all now be resolved to no longer tolerate any form of verbal abuse, and in the future would report all such altercations to a teacher and no child would ever again be expected to sustain injuries to their inherent human dignity without recourse to an authority figure.

Even in my early teens, it never quite seemed right to me that we should look to the teachers as the first resort for resolving all conflicts; even as someone who himself had copped a fair amount of abuse, both verbal and occasionally physical. And I was never the tattling type, or the type to start crying when a mean boy pushed me over in the playground. For me, it wasn’t so much the case that we owed our persecutors protection, and I didn’t want to be responsible for getting someone else into trouble. It was more the case that I felt as though asking a grown up to intervene in my social conflicts was inherently undignified and that by taking the easy way out by asking someone to deal with my problems for me, I would have been depriving myself of an opportunity for personal growth and to develop resilience. Put simply, I would have felt weak and undignified if I took the easy way out rather than cultivating the capacity to withstand conflict and the occasional unkind word. It felt somehow pathetic to be terrified of mere words to the point where, even as a teenager, I would still be so profoundly damaged by an insult that I would have to hide trembling behind the skirt of my class teacher to give me protection from them. Many of my classmates did continue to demand this sort of protection, and I can remember once being summoned by the assistant principal of the school because I had a jokey little fake territorial dispute with a 14 or 15 year old classmate who sat next to me concerning his workbooks crossing the border between his desk and mine, thus taking up my desk space. Fortunately for my defence, this chap; so beleaguered according to his own perception of the world; had been up and down to the assistant principal’s office on the 4th floor like a veritable Jack-in-the-box; reporting anyone who so much as looked at him squint-eyed, so the assistant principal readily believed me when I said that there was no malicious intent and that this was not part of a concerted campaign of bullying on my part. And for my part, I made concerted efforts to avoid any kind of unnecessary interaction with this boy again.

In The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt examines the ‘safe space’ phenomenon that has emerged within the last 2 decades and has been spreading across university campuses in the US and other parts of the developed world. The authors observe that the generation of youths that have grown up with the Internet as a household technology (referred to in the book as “iGen”) seem to exhibit a markedly reduced capacity for tolerance of ideas which challenge their core beliefs in comparison to the generations which came before them. This is attributed by the authors to the fact that there has been an increasing trend towards overprotection of children, which leads to them failing to develop the strength of character and resilience that would enable them to withstand the social pressures of trying to coexist with others who may have a radically different worldview. Policies which cater towards this intellectual fragility in universities include a demand for “safe spaces”, de-platforming and trigger warnings.

The authors posit that the human mind is naturally “antifragile”, which means that it requires this process of being annealed through exposure to different levels of threat in order to build strength. But if a child grows up being overprotected from any danger or threat, even including intellectual threats, then they will emerge from adolescence with a very “fragile” mind who perceives challenges to their worldview as a threat to their very existence, and is in fact at risk of being traumatised by such encounters. For many within this generation “words are violence”, and therefore it is an imperative that one’s “intellectual safety” is protected through the policing of harmful speech.

In countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and other countries within western Europe, this cultural shift is now reflected in the existence of legislation which polices hate speech, and other language and ideas that may be offensive to certain ‘protected groups’. In Scotland, the ruling Scottish National Party recently attempted to introduce a sweeping expansion to existing laws against “stirring up hatred”, which would potentially have resulted in actors being considered criminally liable for the expression of ideas that offended an audience member; even when expressed as part of a performance.

When students across the western world demanded that school administrators implement policies to help them to maintain a mind hermetically sealed off from troubling thoughts from the outside on the basis that “words are violence”: they were not entering into uncharted territory. In fact, they only needed to follow a path that had already been well trodden by fervent suicide prevention activists.

The Leveraging of the Culture of Vulnerability to Prevent Suicide

In England and Wales, suicide was a criminal act up until the 1961 Suicide Act was introduced. This new legislation came in response to changing attitudes towards suicide and decriminalised the act of suicide. Suicide was now increasingly believed to be an act of desperation by those who were seriously mentally unwell, and thus it would be harsh to consider such persons to be fully morally responsible for their actions. Curiously, the new law still made it a criminal offence to assist in a suicide in any form, even if such assistance merely constituted providing a reliable method, or even providing information on suicide methods. Thus you would be liable for prosecution if you offered another person any assistance (even verbal) in carrying out an act that was itself lawful.

In order to better understand this bizarre paradox, it would be instructive to examine how psychiatry and, by extension, society itself, perceives suicidal ideation. Suicide itself is thought to exclusively or almost exclusively arise as a product of the “disordered thoughts” of a person who has been severely compromised in their capacity to reason; and this incapacity is believed to be so profound that this person is not capable of consenting to a choice of the magnitude of suicide and thus it would be deemed more appropriate to keep this person under some form of a guardianship of the state, rather than allow them to freely make decisions on their own behalf. I discussed this in some detail in my first post on the topic of suicide.

Thus, in the eyes of the law, the relationship between the person merely giving information to a suicidal person on where to obtain a method of suicide (let alone actually providing the method) would be considered to be analogous to the relationship between an adult paedophile or hebephile and their underage sexual partner. Or that of a parent who allows their young children to roam freely in a park that is well known locally to be hotspot for heroin junkies to shoot up and drop their used syringes on the ground.

Yes, it’s quite clear. Rational grown up human beings simply don’t experience suicidal ideation. Believing life to be a futile, Sisyphean task of rolling the boulder of need and desire up the hill every day until death, never reaching any destination, is the first sign that you have taken leave of your senses and perforce need to urgently seek professional help. If you have ever been troubled with such thoughts, then this is prima facie evidence that you are not a competent adult, and require an additional layer of legal protection in order to rescue you from the consequences of your own deranged judgement. Just like the parents of very young children have a duty of care to store the bleach in an area that is as inaccessible as possible to their children, so too does society have a duty to do its utmost, as your guardians, to ensure that you do not have easy access to anything that you can use to hurt yourself (which perversely has special emphasis on suicide methods that don’t hurt at all and which could be used to pre-empt any possibility of being hurt in the future).

If you were to perform a search for the term “suicide” or “suicide methods” on any search engine (or at least, ones that I’ve tried), then the top result will always be for the local suicide prevention hotline, and an assortment of resources for suicide prevention.

Far from bridling in response to this infantilisation from the government and large corporations; it has actually been my observation that many suicidal people (fortunately not all) actually embrace their status as vulnerable people who need to have limitations placed on their rights as an adult, for their own protection. If you were to do a search for suicide forums, for example, you would turn up results such as, which is one that I have posted on in the past myself. This is a forum which is run by suicidal people, for suicidal people.

The rules of are fairly standard for forums of its type. In addition to the obligatory rules against sharing suicide methods or forming suicide pacts (these are rules that, for legal reasons rather than on any matter of principle, even I have to enforce on my subreddits and on this blog), you have what amounts to a ‘safe space’ rule which ensures that SuicideForum must always prioritise the intellectual and emotional safety of its participants:

“6. SF is a pro-life support site. Discussion and debate on euthanasia and “right to die / right to commit suicide” is not permitted.”

You will struggle to find a pro-choice suicide forum on the Internet through an easy Internet search, as any such forums tend to quickly become the victim of concerted efforts from the public to have them shut down, even in cases where they expressly prohibit discussion of suicide methods or suicide pacts. Reddit itself has seen a slew of pro-choice suicide subreddits banned or quarantined under a particularly strained definition of “inciting violence” as per the content policy, which may be nothing more than validating an individual suicidal person’s choice to commit suicide, or providing tips on where to access reliable methods. When it comes to suicidal people; it isn’t sufficient to merely hide the bleach in a high up cupboard where little arms cannot reach; you have to actually shelter them from the very concept of bleach itself.

The goal is to create an internal, mental safe space for the suicidal person. In just the same way that trigger warnings and university safe spaces exist not to protect students from tangible external threats, but from their own thoughts. Thoughts which might be provoked through exposure to external stimuli and prove distressing to the young person’s mind. The suicidal person is considered to be constitutionally incapable of weighing up the arguments for and against suicide; and thus they must only ever be presented with the pro-life side of the argument. On, I can remember that there was one particular user (no longer active, as far as I can tell) who was obviously not having a good time in life at all, and always seemed to be teetering on the verge of a complete mental collapse. Yet was one of the most prolific users on the site and their contributions usually consisted of greeting new users to the site who introduced themselves by recounting the tales of woe with the mantras of the group: “life is important”, “suicide is NEVER the answer”.

The striking thing about this type of safe space, is that it cannot keep you safe from whatever is causing you to become suicidal in the first place, and from the distress that these circumstances are causing you. The only “safety” that they can afford you is by helping you to deny that suicide would be a rational solution to your predicament and protect you from knowing how to carry it out without inadvertently causing yourself to become paralysed for life and land yourself in a far greater pit of suffering which would then be completely inescapable. They can “protect” you from having to accept that as your answer by suspending you in a state of denial that may be less psychologically healthy for you in the long run than if you were allowed to be open-minded enough to give both sides of the philosophical argument due consideration.

It is my (unproven, but based on my decades of experience as a long term suicidal individual) personal theory that much of the distress that arises from suicidal ideation arises as a product of the irreconcilable tension that exists between the ostensible logical appeal of suicide as a solution to suffering (e.g. ‘I wasn’t suffering before I came into existence, and if the afterlife doesn’t exist, then I won’t suffer after I am dead) and society’s intransigent insistence that suicide is always an irrational choice and that people who are seriously considering suicide must be protected from their own madness.

This is very reminiscent of the history (and in the case of much of the world, the present day situation) of how homosexuality has been treated by societies steeped in traditionalist views about the natural teleological function of sexual intercourse. As discussed in my previous post on suicide, homosexuality was once, just like suicidal ideation is today, considered to be a form of mental illness. People who grew up gay in these societies genuinely believed that they were sick in the head, and why wouldn’t they? A natural consequence of this is the existence of gay ‘conversion therapy’ camps to try and ‘cure the sickness’ (which bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to ‘pro-life’ suicide forums) and even latent homosexuals themselves being amongst the most venomous denouncers of the sin of homosexuality .

Pro-life suicidal people also tend to be very militant about defending the “chemical imbalance” myth regarding depression. I can remember having a number of interactions with suicidal people on Reddit in which it has been confidently asserted by my interlocutor that suicide is always, or almost always, brought on by a “chemical imbalance” within the brain, which causes the suicidal person not to be in the “right frame of mind” to make the decision to commit suicide. When I politely provided reasonably authoritative sources debunking this myth, these suicidal people became very defensive and dismissive of what I was saying, calling me a pseudo-intellectual, and snidely referring back to the authority of their doctor (sadly it is true that many doctors continue to use the “chemical imbalance” myth as an explanatory framework in order to reassure patients). I have more than once been accused of preying on the vulnerable merely for providing sources to debunk the chemical imbalance theory, or for denying that suicide is always the choice of an irrational and disordered mind.

What form will the next victory of the suicide prevention zealots take? Will a special license be necessary in order to procure a length of rope at the hardware shop? When one goes to purchase a set of new chefs knives, will one be required, at the cashier’s register, to produce documented proof of having passed a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation to certify one’s soundness of mind?

You might have guessed that I’m being facetious. But such is the absurdity of the suicide prevention movement, that I’m a loathe to even wax satirical in this way, lest I should give them any new ideas.

Alternatively, would it not be possible for pro-life suicidal people to individually sign away their own rights to ownership over their own body, without also signing away mine? Or would the mere knowledge that other people were being able to make decisions on the basis of a philosophical outlook on life which contradicts theirs make them feel too unsafe, because their “mental safety” relies not only on being protected from ideas themselves, but even being protected from having to learn about the fact that other people disagree with their ideas about life, and are actually freely permitted to make decisions on the basis of that opinion?

With the money that we would save from effectively torturing people and keeping them locked up in re-education camps for having the wrong outlook on life, we could potentially hire nannies to come around to the homes of the anti-suicide folk and confiscate all of the sharp and pointy objects to ensure that they have nothing with which they could hurt themselves. And to make sure that they’re always in bed by 10 o’clock, and that they are only looking at Internet resources and books that have been pre-approved by suicide prevention charities to be ‘safe’ for vulnerable minds.

Is the doctrine of “sanctity of life” upon which these anti-suicide laws are founded really anything more than a house of cards which threatens to collapse once any card is removed? Are suicidal people being forced to remain alive not due to the need to “protect” suicidal people themselves, but to protect a set of ideas? In that way, it would seem to me that the laws that restrict people from having a right to suicide is actually more akin to a blasphemy law than to policy set in place to help protect people from harm. And it would seem to me that the policies that we are drifting towards that; instead of innoculating people to offence and fragility through exposure to challenging ideas; we instead sensitise them through over-protectiveness, is itself one of the greatest harms that we could deal to young people. After suicide prevention itself, that is.

Even people who have never been suicidal a day in their lives ought to be profoundly concerned about these developments which seek to protect people from their own thoughts. One in which anyone can be reduced to the status of less than a legal adult and deemed unfit to make important decisions by an institution which lays claim to a scientific legitimacy that it has never earned. And in which any decrees thus handed out by this authority are unfalsifiable, and irreversible, as I will discuss in my next post which will explore the rationality of suicide.


In the meantime, I would like to start a Twitter hashtag campaign to advocate for the right to choose, for suicidal people. For too long, intelligent and rational proponents of suicide have allowed themselves to be marginalised in the media due to the types of stigma that I have been discussing in my posts on suicide (more on this in later posts). So I would like to ask you to retweet the hashtag (and this post) with #MyLifeMyChoice. I am not experienced on Twitter – @existentialgoof is my first Twitter account – so if this name is already in use, we can consider changing it. Please stand up and be counted if you are suicidal yourself and do not believe that you fit the mould of the “vulnerable” person who require perpetual guardianship in order to protect them from thinking for themselves regarding this matter.

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existentialgoof – 3rd October, 2021

Antinatalism vs. The Non-Identity Problem

The non-identity problem backfires against opponents of antinatalism

Non-Identity and the Consent Argument

One of the most commonly cited philosophical grounds for rejecting antinatalism is the so-called “non-identity problem”, which posits that procreation cannot be an unethical violation of consent due to the fact that a person does not exist in order to be imposed upon prior to the act of creation, and therefore no ethical trespass has been committed. If you were to read or listen to any rebuttal of antinatalism, the chances are that this is one of the first arguments that you will encounter. The normally excellent Philosophy Tube did a disappointingly cursory video about antinatalism and summarily concluded that the non-identity problem is fatal to antinatalism; as there was no person suspended in the abyss who had any desire not to come into existence, and to find that state of affairs preferable to being born.

This rebuttal misses the point that antinatalism is about preventing a harm, rather than bestowing a benefit. It also seems to be something of a straw-man argument. As an antinatalist, I am not concerned with preserving the non-existent in some blissful ethereal antechamber where they will enjoy their perpetual state of protection from suffering. My ethical concern does not relate to the void that precedes the existence of the person. It pertains to the person who will come into existence in the future. As Youtube philosopher inmendham analogised it best, procreation forces a person onto a tightrope strung out over the pits of hell, and one misstep or gust of wind can send you hurtling down to be impaled on the daggers below. If procreation is prevented, then this prevents an individual from coming into existence who may find that existence to be burdensome, and may resent the imposition. They won’t enjoy a benefit from that prevention; however prevention need not confer the experience of relief in order to be valuable. The value of the prevention is in the fact that we do not create suffering. As the person never comes into existence, the “benefit” of relief from suffering, is never needed.

The Principle of Maximin Reasoning

I believe that most people would agree that consent is often an important pre-requisite to permit you to make decisions on behalf of others. However, as opponents of antinatalism have correctly pointed out, there are numerous scenarios in which the ethically appropriate course of action may involve violating the consent of another. Such examples could include decisions being made on behalf of a dependent child, such as deciding to take them to the dentist, or having them vaccinated. As young children have insufficient life experience to know what is in their best interests all of the time, it is incumbent upon a responsible adult (usually a parent) to make decisions on their behalf which may not coincide with what the child wants at the time, but which are likely to be in the child’s long term interest. Thus, we have compelling ethical grounds to allow us to violate the child’s consent in the expectation of having served their long term interests to avoid suffering. As an antinatalist, I would not dispute that this is often the case, and would not aver that one can never act without the consent of a living person regarding decisions that can have profound ramifications on their future wellbeing.

However, this counterargument ignores a key distinction between examples such as the one above, and decisions taken on behalf of a person yet to exist. Namely, the person who already exists already has a present welfare state that must be protected, and because they exist in the present, they will have a future welfare state which is going to be determined by the decisions made today. Consequently, when you are making a decision on behalf of a young child, or an elderly adult, you must perform a cost-benefit analysis in order to determine whether the short term detriment (i.e. acting against the person’s will, or without their knowledge) is going to be more harmful or less harmful in the long term than abstaining from making that choice.

Because you can prevent your as yet in-existent child from coming into existence, and from having any future wellbeing state at all, you cannot appeal to the same line of reasoning that would enable you to make decisions on behalf of an already born child. That’s because, unlike in any of these scenarios in which the person has already been born, you have an option available to you that would avoid any risk of future harm to the child. Namely, you can abstain from bringing the child into existence in the first place. An entity which never comes into existence, can never be harmed, and it can never want for the pleasures that existence could afford them. In other words, you must invoke maximin reasoning here; which means that; rather than take into account the full spectrum of probability regarding the outcome of that child’s life, you may only consider the worst possible outcomes. If those worst possible outcomes result in serious harm, then you cannot ethically justify the act of procreation. Abstaining from procreation would result in a perfectly harmless outcome for the hypothetical person who would have come into existence (i.e. they will never exist, and will thus never form an identity or a set of interests that can be benefitted); thus in order to justify your imposition, you must restore symmetry by explaining how procreation will also be perfectly harmless. This must be true not only for the child you create, but for all of their descendants as well. And arguably also for any sentient beings whose welfare state they will affect.

Unlike the child who may get sick because they weren’t vaccinated, the child who was never born cannot be identified, and thus no meaningful comparison can be made which would allow one to assert that the child was worse off for never coming into existence. Therefore, the non-identity problem not only fails as a refutation of antinatalism; it actually backfires against the pro-natalist side of the argument and becomes, in my opinion, one of the most robust and devastating weapons in the antinatalist arsenal.

The Asymmetry Between Pleasure and Pain

The only way that natalists can salvage the non-identity problem would be to radically subvert civilisation’s normally agreed-upon rules of ethics and instead of consent being required; an explicit refusal of consent would be required in order to prevent the 3rd party from acting, as opposed to the normal situation in which the absence of verbalised consent would mean that consent has not been obtained. Otherwise, special pleading would be needed to justify why the rules of consent could be violated in this particular instance, despite the fact that a non-existent entity could not be at any danger of being harmed.

Baked into this exercise in ethical subversion is the assumption that life itself is a profitable endeavour, and that the existence of pleasure constitutes a just reason to introduce the risk of suffering. This would therefore constitute the grounds for special pleading being presented in defence of procreation.

Under the normal ethical rules of civilisation, there is first an obligation to do no harm; and no obligation at all to give someone pleasure. If you can give someone pleasure without foreseeably causing them serious harm, then it is optional to give someone pleasure without asking for their consent first. You could illustrate this with the example of an unsolicited birthday gift. The gift would be anticipated to satisfy existing desires or needs, and therefore enhance the quality of life of the recipient, in some way. When shopping for a gift for a friend, one would normally be expected to take pains to ensure that they are not going to be burdening their friend with the burden of maintenance that they may not be prepared to accept (hence a live animal such as a dog would not usually be considered an appropriate choice of gift, unless this had been discussed with the recipient previously, or unless you were already aware that the recipient wanted a dog, and what type of dog they wanted). A considerate gift giver would also take into account the needs and desires of their friends, and tailor their choice accordingly. The recipient must always retain the right to refuse the gift at the point of receipt, or to dispose of it.

In praise of life, you will undoubtedly have often heard it said that life is a precious gift that is bestowed upon us by our parents. But the problem with this claim, is that the “gift of life” seems to fall foul of each one of the criteria listed above.

And the problem is compounded by the fact that the opponents of antinatalism cannot even seem to keep their story straight. No sooner have they invoked the non-identity problem to wave away the ethical concerns of antinatalists, than they have started to impute needs and desires onto an as-yet inexistent individual (or even the universe itself) in order to justify the creation of that individual. The natalist is proposing to create a problem that needn’t exist in order to allow for the chance for the problem to be solved to a satisfactory degree. That is to say, they want desires to be satisfied, even though those desires can only be satisfied up to the extent that a yawning cavern of desire was opened up within that individual’s psychology to begin with, constantly demanding to be filled in; never satisfied for long. Whilst desire is not an intrinsically negative experience itself, it is always a liability. For as long as you have a desire, you run the risk of failing to satisfy that desire, which will result into falling into a state of deprivation. And as is observed from the psychological phenomenon of the hedonic treadmill effect, you can’t just satisfy a desire once, and then remain permanently satisfied with what you have gained. As soon as that one desire is satisfied, then another one arises to take its place.

In order to further illustrate the problem of desire; I would liken desire to the poles of a magnet. There is a negative pole of suffering, and a positive pole of pleasure. Only the negative pole exerts a magnetic pull on the individual, which reflects the fact that striving is usually required to secure pleasure; whereas if you exert no effort at all, then you will inexorably be drawn into an ever deepening pit of suffering. This needn’t even require a lapse on your part in actively attempting to maintain forward movement towards the pole of pleasure. It may be that a barrier outside of your control gets in your way and trips you up, and you hurtle backwards towards the pole of suffering until you are able to gain your footing once again and resume your forward motion. These barriers which may impede your progress may be so manifold that you could never possibly anticipate every one of them. Even if you consider the human body itself; your comfort and pleasure depends on maintaining a minimum standard of health, with every organ functioning as it should be, no significant damage to any muscles or bones, and so on. If you develop a significant injury or malady in even one of the vast number of constituent parts of your body, then the pain or discomfort from that is likely to be sufficient to vitiate any pleasure that you might have been experiencing, as you will become focused on relief from the suffering. This suffering must be ameliorated as a precondition before you can even start to attain pleasure.

As I hope to have illustrated; by following the line of reasoning opened up by the non-identity problem, we find profound weaknesses in the pro-natalist position, and in an honest debate, it would be difficult to assess that the natalist argument has gained any traction in the debate whatsoever. The only reason that it is still winning, is because people were already disposed towards favouring life to begin with, and in the example of suicide prevention for example, are willing to use state sanctioned coercion to silence opposition and ensure that life-affirming philosophy carries the day. Unfortunately, as is the case with suicide, this debate has not been a fair one, to date, and much like the Philosophy Tube video linked at the start of the post, opponents of antinatalism are quick to shuck off challenges to their worldview with superficial arguments, seeming to uphold the virtue of life, but which collapse upon further scrutiny.

Please feel free to add your comments below, or discuss on Reddit at r/DebateAntinatalism or r/BirthandDeathEthics for uncensored debate. As always, all perspectives are welcome. More posts exploring different rebuttals of antinatalism and efilism (and perhaps expanding upon some of the topics touched upon here) will follow in due course. Please also subscribe using the form below, and visit the homepage for an index of all the blog’s published content.

existentialgoof – 19th September 2021

Negative Utilitarianism – Why suffering is all that matters

Pessimistic philosophies such as antinatalism, efilism and the universal right to die are widely rejected on a number of grounds and this blog intends to explore many of these arguments in due course to find where they are lacking. In this post, I will be addressing the claim that these philosophies place too much emphasis on suffering, and pay insufficient regards to the putative positive aspects of life, such as joy, love and meaning.

The core pillar of my argument is one that has been promulgated by the Youtube philosopher inmendham in a large number of the thousands of videos that he has made since joining Youtube in May 2007. Namely, that suffering is the only source of value in the universe, and thus all ethics should be focused on minimising, if not eliminating suffering.

There are many philosophers who explore negative utilitarian themes, however this is generally considered to be a very unpopular ethical theory, as even such controversial ethicists as Peter Singer believe that procreation can be justifiable if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child will have a good life. Even David Benatar is reluctant to characterise himself as a negative utilitarian, and whilst he opposes procreation on the basis of the axiological asymmetry, he has publicly rejected promortalism.

The reason to assert that suffering is the only source of intrinsic value is obvious. Whilst most people do value their lives, they value their lives on the basis of their feelings. Therefore, whilst life is considered a wonderful gift to many people, who hope to live as long as possible, to the chronically suicidal person, life is seen as an unasked for burden and a malediction.

If one rejects the duality of body and mind, as most atheists would do, then a person yet to be born, or a person who was born but is now dead, is incapable of ascribing any value to life at all. Similarly, as both inmendham and David Benatar point out, the planet of Mars is not apparently being tormented in any way by the absence of living beings enjoying pleasure. Therefore, one would logically have to conclude that pleasure has instrumental value, because living organisms have an innate desire for pleasure and aversion to suffering. The extremes of pleasure and pain are the two opposing poles of sentient experience, and the further you get away from one pole, the closer you get to the opposite pole. Just as Sisyphus valiantly struggled to push the boulder towards the top of the hill in order to earn his short period of respite at the top before the boulder rolled back down; as individuals, we must be constantly striving towards the pole of pleasure. If our efforts to do so fall short, then we will inexorably find ourselves inexorably pulled towards the magnetic pole of suffering. Suffering is the default condition of life, as one will find oneself in suffering if one fails to expend adequate effort in seeking comfort.

As creatures with diverse interests and dispositions, external stimuli will not always elicit the same value response from all people, and this is because the external factors that affect how we feel have only instrumental value or disvalue in inducing either a positive or a negative feeling. It is only the feelings themselves which have intrinsic value, and thus ‘suffering’ is tautologous with ‘bad’. Without the capacity to experience the feeling of suffering, then the concept of ‘badness’ itself cannot exist in the universe. When you get down to the core of trying to explain why pain is bad, it is impossible to do so without merely referring back to the ineffable sensation itself. It is for this same reason that we could explain to another human being our need for aspirin when we are experiencing a severe headache, by just referring to the mutually understood sensation of pain; but we would not be able to explain to a non-sentient AI (if such could exist) why we need this relief, as due to the sensation itself being ineffable, we would be incapable of reducing it to concepts that would be understandable to an intelligence that had no direct experience of it. In much the same way, we would not be able to describe the colour blue to someone who was blind from birth.

In my years of debating on Reddit, a great deal has been made of the subjectivity of suffering by moral nihilists, who greet this fact as a welcome ethical loophole to excuse a multitude of unethical acts, especially procreation, and perhaps more importantly, afford them some form of psychological protection from the unsettling philosophical implications of the realisation that they live in a universe which is coldly indifferent to their own wellbeing, and by the fact that they were evolved through unintelligent forces with no concept of mercy or fairness; and live in a world in which, by and large, mercy and fairness have little to do with the actual outcomes which obtain.

Moral nihilism is the psychopath’s charter, but also an untenable philosophy. It is the argument that, if objective morality does not exist, then there’s no compelling reason to pay any regard to the impact that one’s actions may have on the suffering of another, unless one’s actions were being constrained by the character weakness of empathy.

However, as much as moral nihilism is correct in a very narrow sense, it is also untenable in real human affairs. Moral nihilism is how the animal kingdom operates, and how nature and evolution have always operated. There was no benevolent guiding force which created these beings, and they have very limited capacity for morality themselves, and for structuring cohesive societies based on mutual interests.

Humans, on the other hand, have realised that life can be made a little easier for virtually everyone, if we co-operate and respect the ‘golden rule’ to not do unto others as one would not want done unto oneself. Unless you are unchallenged as the most powerful person on the planet; untrammelled moral nihilism is not going to work in your favour, because as much as you would be capable of bulldozing over the feelings of others in order to obtain what you desire; they would be able to do the same to you. In a world in which the rules of ethics have broken down and might makes right, the end result is a perpetual state of anarchic war, which will be sure to be unsatisfactory to virtually everyone concerned. It would be otiose to propound a philosophy of morality that you will abandon when it does not suit your own interests.

Invoking Hume’s is/ought gap, as moral nihilists are wont to do, does not meaningfully detract from the validity of pessimistic philosophies such as antinatalism, as one always feels that one ‘ought’ to avoid unnecessary suffering; and if one recognises that to be the case for oneself, then there’s no logical defence for creating meaningless new lives that will serve no purpose other than to perpetuate the existence of sensations that are intrinsically negative.

As an antinatalist and efilist, would I be willing to die on the hill of negative utilitarianism? Yes, I would, in the most literal sense. As I’ve explained above, I only have any use for my life whilst I still have it. Therefore, if the Benevolent World Exploder came tonight and instantaneously eradicated all sentient life on the planet, then it would not be possible for me to register any qualms about its decision to act without my consent. Consent is only important when the potential outcomes of one’s actions are going to cause harm, and a scenario in which life was eradicated painlessly at the push of a button would do nothing other than remove harm from existence.

David Benatar would argue that annihilation is itself a harm; however this can only be true in an abstract sense. And if I’m dead and everyone else is dead, then whom is left over to worry about abstract harms? Why should I be concerned about a “harm” that nobody will ever have to experience? Why worry about my interests being frustrated, when the only rational set of interests it would be possible for me to have would be concerned with trying to navigate a path, for myself, and/or for others, through the treacherous terrain of life, with the least amount of suffering (and therefore the maximum amount of the polar opposite of suffering, pleasure) possible? This is the point at which Mr Benatar unfortunately ran into some difficulties in his debate with Sam Harris. Harris correctly pointed out that the badness arising from the frustration of one’s interests to continue living do not accrue in any realm of physical reality (in Harris’ and Benatar’s physicalist universe) and thus it is difficult to understand how Benatar believes that he is able to remain logically consistent whilst avoiding this logical conclusion of his antinatalist arguments.

Some philosophers have posited a “deprivation account” of the badness of death as a refutation of Epicureanism; however, again, this relies on the existence of some kind of abstract harm that is not experienced. I will devote a separate post to the deprivation account in order to explain its shortcomings in more detail; having debated this at length on Reddit.

To conclude this post, my thesis is that if one accepts an atheistic and materialistic conception of reality, then there can be no such thing as a good or a bad that is not defined exclusively by the feelings of sentient organisms. There is no basis for having a preference between two different outcomes outside on the impact that those outcomes are going to have on the feelings of yourself, or other sentient organisms. The gulf which exists between pleasure and pain is what drives preference; and if not guided by this, then all choices would be as arbitrary as the result of a meaningless coin toss.

Even in cases where we are driven by the motivation to preserve life (the source of all suffering), our motivation comes from the fact that we are evolved to associate suffering with existential danger, due to the fact that most of the things which induce suffering are harmful to the wellbeing of ourselves or our loved ones, and therefore in the wild, would have been most likely to have reduced our chances of being able to successfully replicate our DNA and protect our family to ensure that they were able to continue on our bloodline. Our instinct to preserve life is based on crude instincts, with which we were endowed by unintelligent forces. Not because life has inherent value.

Unfortunately, as the result of unintelligent and non-rational forces; natural selection is an arena within which the most effective tools are not necessarily the ones that best represent the interests of rational beings. There is no more effective tool to motivate organisms to preserve their bloodline than one which elicits genuine value as punishment for failing to do so. It is as a result of this that we find ourselves in the position today where most of humanity is still incapable, or unwilling, to recognise the trick that has been played on them by the forces of natural selection. Only when we allow ourselves to outsmart the unintelligent forces of natural selection will humanity realise that the only rational course for us to pursue is that of the extinction of ourselves, and of all life. We can then realise that, in a game in which nobody can win, the best option left to us is to cut our collective losses.

Please feel free to use the comment section below for further discussion. Comments will be reviewed prior to publication, however providing you demonstrate that you are intending to debate in good faith and does not endorse or promote violence or self harm in any way, your comment will not be deleted or altered. Alternatively, if you have a Reddit account, please feel free to discuss these topics further on r/BirthandDeathEthics or r/DebateAntinatalism. Please subscribe by email to be notified of future content, using the form below:

existentialgoof – 10th September 2021

In Support of a Fundamental Right to Die: an argument from personal liberty

The right to die movement is well under way in a number of developed nations across the world, with several countries having established assisted suicide laws, and yet more countries in which this is a subject of intense public debate.

However, I would argue that the approach that has been taken thus far to securing this right has been too cautious, and too readily accepts the fundamental premises upon which opposition to the right to die rests.

The scope of the right to die laws that have been introduced in most countries that have so far established the right to assisted suicide are very narrowly focused on a small group of people in extreme circumstances. This group of eligible candidates is typically restricted to those languishing in the final stages of a terminal illness; often specified as a prognosis, verified by 2 or more doctors, of 6 months or less to live. Even in Canada, where the Carter commission recommended that assisted suicide be made available to people with non-terminal conditions and to include sufferers of so-called mental illness, Justin Trudeau and his pusillanimous Liberal Party failed to live up to its own sobriquet, and instead instituted a very narrowly focused MAID program available only to those whose natural death was deemed by doctors to be “reasonably foreseeable”; thus callously abandoning Canadians suffering from severe psychological torment and cravenly capitulating to the protests from religious and disability rights lobbying groups. Fortunately, Trudeau’s government has now reversed track on this somewhat, and now intends to make this service available to the mentally ill within 2 years. This progressive advance however, is under threat should the Conservative Party get back into power in Canada, as they propose to block any extension of MAID to the mentally ill.

Should this be successful, it will be a substantial step in the right direction for the many people who have an interest in this subject in Canada, and one further blow to be struck against the religious primitivism of suicide opposition. Unfortunately, here in the UK whence I am writing this article, we still await even the most modest of breakthroughs, as our parliament continues to cower and pander to the querulous disquiet of assorted ‘disability rights’ lobbying organisations and faith groups. However, I would like to take a different tack in this article, and argue for the right to suicide not as a privilege to be granted by the government, but rather as a negative right, from which we should be unfettered from undue government interference.

At the present time, the majority of discourse around the subject of assisted suicide concerns the terminally ill, as mentioned earlier. The argument for granting these people the right to die is fairly clear cut. Whereas with those who are not close to death there are arguments brought up concerning the individual’s potential for future happiness and the prospect that they could be basing their decision on a distorted mental state; in the case of those with a terminal illness, there is very little life left to foreclose upon and what little life they do have left is virtually guaranteed to be of deteriorating quality. In upholding the right to die for these people, we can show mercy to those at the end of life’s journey, but do so without invalidating society’s fundamental belief in the intrinsic value of life.

What the right to die movement has failed to do, so far, is to champion the view that the value of an individual’s life is something that should be defined only by the individual. That only the individual should be entitled to decide what, for them, constitutes an acceptable quality of life, or acceptable risk of coming to serious harm in the future. The right to die movement as it currently exists, is still predicated on the assumption that a standard life contains a certain amount of intrinsic goodness which can be affirmed and codified into law independently of the agreement of the owner of that life. It is also predicated on the belief that death itself (as opposed to the dying process) can be bad for a person because it deprives them of certain goods that may have obtained should they have stayed alive. In a future post, I will produce a detailed rebuttal of the so-called ‘deprivation account’.

If an individual is to be truly at liberty, and to be the owner of their own body, then they should be at liberty to determine what cost they are willing to pay for their own existence. Nobody else will have to endure this individual’s suffering; therefore nobody else is qualified to be an arbiter of what constitutes an acceptable ‘exchange rate’ between the amount of suffering to be paid, and the amount of life’s goods to be reaped in return. Nobody can objectively say that even so much as a hangnail would be a price worth paying in order to continue living, if the owner of the life deems otherwise. Of course, for as long as one remains alive, one has to contend with the risks of an inconceivably broad array of potential harms arising in the future, and one is never safe from these until death. The capricious nature of fate makes it such that a “good life” is something that can only really be judged in retrospect once an individual is dead, or at least on their death bed, as one can otherwise never rule out a period of prolonged suffering that would leave the person wishing that they had never been born.

To force an individual to continue experiencing the harms of conscious existence is to enslave this individual, and therefore the right to opt out of sentient existence must be considered to be the bedrock of personal autonomy. One cannot meaningfully own one’s own life, if one remains alive by compulsion, rather than by choice. For those who would rather opt out, if given the choice, there is no meaningful autonomy; as every choice that they do make is in an effort to try and make the best of a bad situation. To mitigate, as to the best of their ability, the liabilities inherent in sentient existence. They may still have choices in respect to what job they will work, where they will live, what they will do in their spare time, what they’ll spend their income on, and so on. However, they are compelled to make these choices in order to satisfy the needs and desires which society compels them to continue to have. This person is stuck in perpetual damage limitation mode. They are not living as a free individual. A free individual can choose to shuffle off their mortal coil whenever they perceive the putative ‘benefits’ of life as no longer commensurate to the price that they need to pay in order to receive them.

Libertarians are often keen on pointing out that one can never have a right which entails an obligation on the part of someone else to provide a service. But why is so little objection raised to the act of forcing someone to continue to need the services that only someone else can provide, when that person could terminate their involvement with the system altogether without demanding anything from anybody that this other party was not willing to provide.

I explored this issue on 2 different libertarian subreddits, to mixed results. Regrettably, the idea of granting individuals the fundamental liberty to decide whether or not they wish to experience life as a sentient organism was greeted with a reception of less than unanimous acceptance, with most responses citing concerns around mental illness clouding the individual’s capacity to provide meaningful consent. I’ll address why this is a philosophically and ethically problematic stance in more detail in a separate page. However, I have provided a link to both of the threads below, in which I address these concerns multiple times:

My post on r/Libertarian which, for some reason, is not formatting the numbers properly, and putting each bullet point as number 1. You can view the outcome of the same thread posted on r/GoldandBlack here.

At the very minimum, the government should not be unduly interfering in the rights of citizens to end their lives, as to do so is a breach of the individual’s negative right to freedom from violence (as involuntary suicide prevention and detainment is an act of violence), and the right not to have their personal choices and liberties interfered with on the basis of an unproven religious/spiritual belief (namely society’s foundational shared narrative that all human life is endowed with intrinsic value, meaning and dignity). By restricting access to suicide methods, the government is also unjustly blocking the individual’s right to access goods and services willingly provided on the basis of an unproven and unprovable presumption that the consumer’s philosophical beliefs are inauthentic and are the result of impaired reasoning brought on by a “mental disorder” whose creation itself was never justified on the basis of any empirical evidence whatsoever, but rather by comparing an individual’s internal conscious experience to a normative standard which itself is not demonstrated to always be calibrated (by the intelligent design of God, or by the omniscient and omnibenevolent process of natural selection?) to optimal capacity for rational, informed decision making.

As you may see from the threads, the basic thrust of the argument that I received from self-identified libertarians opposed to the right to die can be paraphrased thusly: ‘We support autonomy, but only for people who have demonstrated the capacity for rational decision making. But if you don’t enjoy life, then by definition, you lack the capacity for rational decision making, and it would violate your right to life if we allowed you to act on this distorted and delusional perception that there’s something fundamentally wrong with life’.

So upon what basis can one assume that a rational mind will enjoy life, and always seek more life? If one is a believer that the universe, and life itself, was designed by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity, then the answer is simple. God is the objective arbiter of goodness, and God imbued us with the instinct to live. Therefore, anyone who doesn’t desire to continue living is obviously defective in their ability to evaluate goodness, and thus we must intervene on their behalf in order to protect them from their own judgement.

It certainly worked well in the case of homosexuality, which was in the DSM up until the 1970s due to the fact that homosexuals practiced intercourse in such a way that deviated from the presumed teleological function of intercourse, which elicited feelings of disgust from the general public (undoubtedly including a great many psychiatrists), and this probably in no small part contributed to its eventual inclusion in the DSM. Much as is the case with depression today (along with the large majority of mental illnesses), there was nothing in the way of empirical evidence that would have warranted its categorisation as a mental disorder. But this is how psychiatry has always operated, as it has always sought to pathologise behaviour that is objectionable to social norms. For example, Drapetomania, which psychiatry medicalised as a “disorder of slaves who have a tendency to run away from their owners due to an inborn propensity for wanderlust”. When it was eventually removed from the DSM in the 1970s, neither was this based on any new scientific evidence. Rather, it was the case that institutionalising a moral stigma against homosexuality was becoming increasingly difficult to justify, and it was voted out as a disorder via a referendum. Psychiatry as a ‘science’ has scarcely moved on since the days of Drapetomania, of being used as a tool of oppression against women who dared to subvert or challenge socially ingrained gender roles by asserting independence of will and of homosexuality. All that has changed is that social attitudes have progressed, and psychiatry is not able to get away with the same abuses (operating behind veneer of unearned scientific legitimacy) today as it did in the past.

As was the case with homosexuality, escaped slaves and strong-willed women, the opponents of suicide also invoke these teleological arguments to suggest that, because we are ‘hardwired’ to want to preserve our existence; the existence of a desire which runs contrary to this instinct betrays prima facie evidence of severely compromised judgement.

Astoundingly, it is not only theists that have advanced these arguments in opposition to a legal right to suicide. Even self-professed ‘atheists’ have made very confused arguments of this sort (see an example of this here).

Those who wish the right to suicide without interference should demand objective evidence from anyone who claims the authority to know what is in their interests better than they do themselves. Given the enormity of the stakes involved in this type of interference with a person’s liberty (nothing less than slavery itself, I would argue), a very high standard of proof would perforce need to be met in order to provide sufficient ethical justification for this action. Not only this, but the authority responsible for making this decision should be legally required to outline exactly what they are intending to do in order to help that person to attain a mental state in which they are capable of meaningfully giving consent, and should be limited by law to a specified time period within which they are entitled to suspend the individual’s legal right to choose for themselves. Presumption of incapacity based on an unproven belief in life’s inherent value is not sufficient here.

An unfalsifiable diagnosis, based on normative assumptions and rendered without conducting any objective tests will not suffice. As far as I’m aware, there is no scientifically established link between any organic brain dysfunction or anomaly and suicidal thoughts. More to the point, I am also unaware of any scientific evidence which has ever proven the value of life; and thus I am unsure as to how one could scientifically establish a threshold to determine how much a rational person ought to be enjoying life under any given set of circumstances. In which case, there is no way to compare how an insane person would react to how a sane one would, and you cannot render a sound verdict that the suicidal individual has failed to evaluate life correctly due to cognitive distortions.

As we can see, there is no basis other than articles of religious or philosophical faith for codifying the value of human life into law when it pertains exclusively to decisions that an individual is making on their own account. Therefore, the existing restrictions on suicide may be viewed as a violation of the right to freedom from religion, and no state which upholds these restrictions can be considered to be a truly secular one.

The future of the right to die

As for what the right to die might look like, I will advance my own proposal. I am not averse to the idea of forming a compromise with those who have concerns regarding the impulsivity of suicide, and those who may make a choice after an episode of adversity, within a mindset not typical of their usual outlook. We would address these concerns by implementing a specified waiting period of perhaps a year for those who want to die due to non-terminal illness, and counselling could be required during this waiting period. This would give the health service sufficient time to direct the patient towards support services that may help to remediate any issues that are identified as factors contributing to the patient’s wish to die; and importantly, it would demonstrate that the patient’s will was settled and that they had sufficient time to reflect on, and give serious consideration to, alternative options to suicide. As for the actual suicide itself, this need not necessarily require the direct involvement of medical doctors. Once the patient completes their 1 year waiting period, then the doctor would provide them with documentary proof that they have met this requirement. They would then be entitled to access a service that would allow them a painless, and risk-free death, such as Philip Nitschke’s invention The Sarco, which the patient themselves would be able to utilise without the need for a doctor to assist them in contravention of any sincerely held personal principles. The actual service of assisting the person to die could be run parallel to the health service of the country.

Anecdotal evidence from Belgium demonstrates that even knowing that one has the exit door available can help to ameliorate distress that previously was intolerable, and thus the patient who was once desperate for death finds that their emotional resources are greatly restored. From a personal perspective, I feel that the greatest source of my psychological unrest is from the anxiety and fear of finding myself being burdened with a life that I never consented to having had imposed on me in the first place, but being denied a failsafe and dignified route out of this existence, should I choose to take it. I find it difficult to divert my mental energies to ways in which I can improve my living circumstances when I am constantly worried about trying to break out of my prison cell by tunnelling out through the walls whilst the guard’s back is turned. I believe that granting people the peace of mind of knowing that they cannot be indefinitely trapped in their circumstances against their explicit consent will affirm George Sterling’s famous quote “a prison becomes a home when you have the key”.

What are your views on the right to die? Please share your views in the comments section below. The full spectrum of views on this subject are welcome, and will be published unaltered, providing that they are submitted in good faith, with the desire to advance the discussion. Please note that, for legal reasons, I am unable to allow publication of any comments that provide information pertaining to suicide methods, or which explicitly advocate for suicide. Please subscribe using the form below, if you would like to be updated on future content.

existentialgoof 10th September 2021