In my last piece, I argued that immortality wouldn't be the blessing that it's cracked up to be, but rather a curse. Today, I tackle the opposite side of the same coin: suicide.
My thoughts about suicide are quite simple. I have always believed very firmly in complete bodily autonomy. I believe that your body is the only thing you can ever truly own in the purest sense. No one can tell you what you can and can't do with your own body as long as you're not infringing on the rights of others. Laws that prohibit suicide are paradoxical and unethical, as you have an immutable right to bodily autonomy. You do not owe your body nor your life to anyone else, nor to any deity. You do not have a responsibility nor duty to life. Your life is your own. It is yours to do with what you will, including end it if you wish.
Now, full disclosure: I suffer from clinical depression, and I have been suicidal in the past. However, I do not believe that this has clouded my views and compromised my judgement. Quite the contrary, in fact--I believe it has given me a clearer perspective.
I briefly touched on suicide in The Ethics of Life. If you read that, then you already know that I believe it's unethical to create conscious life, and that life isn't worth beginning, though once begun, is usually worth continuing. My thoughts on that haven't changed. I believe that life is worth continuing so long as you personally feel that the pros outweigh the cons. However, (and I say this with the utmost consideration and discretion) there are some cases for which suicide is the answer. I would never encourage suicide, but I have also never been one to judge or hate anyone for it.
There are many very good reasons to fight for your life and continue it, but one of the most often used platitudes isn't one of them. One of the common defenses for life is the claim that "something is better than nothing," that "no matter how bad or painful your life is, it is better than no life at all." This is demonstrably false. (If you've read The Ethics of Life, it will be far easier to follow the plot, here.) As I have previously argued, the state of nothingness, of non-existence, is not unpleasant, as most people imagine it to be. That would be impossible. Nothing is, by definition, nothing. It features no consciousness, no feeling at all. It isn't bad, because there is no one to experience it. Death will feel just as it did before you were conceived. In other words, you won't know that you're dead once you're dead. This means that death is actually preferable to any negative state. A painful life is not better than no life. It is worse. In fact, at any given moment, non-existence would technically be preferable to any negative or painful state, no matter how trivial. This means that death would be preferable to a stubbed toe. If one were to create a linear spectrum of all possible conscious experiences, with positive ones being greater than zero, and negative ones being less than zero, then death would be better than everything less than zero. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Far from it. In fact, death is in the middle. It's dead center (ha, see what did there?). It's at zero. It's the neutral state between pain and pleasure. Any amount of pain, no matter how small, is worse than death, because death is devoid of all feeling.
However, HOWEVER... before you start screeching at me, I completely agree that life is far more complex than that. The reason that I would never advocate suicide for a stubbed toe is quite simply because we know that pain and negative states usually pass, and the benefits and positive states that await us are usually worth sticking around for. For the vast majority of people the vast majority of the time, the pros outweigh the cons, and the pleasure on the horizon is worth enduring the pain for. When I say that death is worse than any amount of pain, I'm speaking in a philosophical sense about a single instant in time. I'm not taking into account our complex emotions, and the desire to weather the storm so that we may be around to enjoy the sunny skies. When considering those things, it is clear that for almost all of us, our lives are typically worth continuing. Now, technically, potential happiness doesn't actually matter, because whenever it is that we die, we won't know or care about anything in the future that we missed out on. We won't exist to miss it. All that really matters is the present, but again, our minds and lives are more complicated than that; we almost never live completely in the present, so to speak. Our feelings and desires matter, too, and most of us want to live, to be around to see what joys might await us. When we get through the hard times and find some happiness again, almost all of us generally feel that the pain was worth enduing, and we're glad we did so. We're typically willing to see the hardship through, and that matters as well. As long as you want to live, then life is worth continuing. It's also worth noting, of course, that we're all interconnected, and suicide usually devastates those around you, and that fact must be considered carefully before taking such a drastic step.
I always discourage suicide and encourage people to keep trying. We'll all be dead before we know it, and most of the time, people are glad that they stuck it out for as long as possible. There's usually enough small joys to make it worth it. As long as there's a greater-then-zero chance of experiencing some happiness, as long as there's any hope at all, then I'll recommend continuing on and trying. Even in the midst of agony, if there's any shred of doubt, any small part of you that isn't sure you want to die, then you should continue life, because the pain will probably pass, and at some point in the future, you'll find yourself laughing again and feeling glad that you're still here. I always advocate trying for as long as you can--try for yourself, for your family, and for your friends. You'll probably be glad you did.
And yet, I would never tell someone that no matter how bad your life is, it is better than no life at all. That's just a lie. It's trivially easy to imagine a life worse than death. There are some people who suffer so greatly, and with no hope of improvement, that suicide may in fact be the best option. I've never known anyone for whom I would recommend suicide, but I could imagine it. If someone's life is unending agony, and there is absolutely no chance of improvement, or if someone's torment is so unbearable that weathering the storm isn't worth it at all, then suicide may be a completely reasonable choice. Ultimately, no matter the reasons, I would never condemn someone for choosing to end their life. It's their life, and their choice.
And that brings me to my final and most important point: I don't think we should ever judge, blame, or hate people for committing suicide. Many people assert that suicide is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances. They say that it is a cowardly way out, and that it must never be considered no matter how bad one's life is. Many people also argue from a religious position, saying that your life is sacred and somehow doesn't belong to you, but rather to some heavenly creator, and therefore you do not have a right to end it. I believe that these are dangerous and harmful mindsets which only make it harder for depressed people to get the help they need. I reject the religious arguments, obviously, and I think that the stigmas surrounding suicide just make it harder to talk about. When suicide is deemed unacceptable and made taboo, is just makes people more scared to come forth and talk about it, which makes them bottle things up, and often attempt suicide without ever talking to anyone. I believe that the stigmas surrounding suicide directly lead to more suicides. If suicide was destigmatized, even to the point of making it officially legal (which I would support), then people considering it would be much more apt to talk about it and get the help they need. I believe that if suicide was destigmatized and talked about more, then it would directly lead to fewer suicides. We should never condemn anyone for such a choice. Instead, we should be understanding, compassionate, and respectful. In order to fight and prevent suicide, we need to be able to talk about it, and I believe that the first step is to stop judging and condemning people for suicide, and start respecting the fact that, tragic though it may often be, it is an immutable, inborn right.