Philosophy  •  April 6, 2018   

Why People Want Suicide to Be Illegal

I’ve heard many arguments for suicide being illegal. It’s a relatively stable position over the course of human history. But none of them are compelling. They all turn into a matter of semantics; how we define concepts like “god,” “society,” “duty,” “responsibility,” “rights,” and ultimately what constitutes “suicide.” It’s a slippery slope that leads nowhere.

Some people say it’s selfish because it hurts others. Then, what if you have no friends or families at all? What if nobody even realized you died? Is suicide OK then?

Some religious people would argue that your body is not yours but a loan from God. It’s not for you to decide what to do with your body. Then the burden is on them to prove the existence of God to you. They cannot force you to believe in God or in anything else for that matter.

Some argue that suicide is cowardly and that living requires more courage, but what is the point of having courage for something you don’t want to do? Should everyone be a race car driver? If not, should we criticize them for being cowardly?

These kinds of arguments are tiresome. Even though none of them are compelling, people keep trying. Obviously, they didn’t arrive at their position by reasoning; they had already held the position that suicide is wrong, and used reason to justify it. So, rather than asking why suicide should be illegal, we should ask why people want it that way.

Rationally speaking, you have only two choices in life: You live because you want to, or, you kill yourself because you don’t want to live. In other words, why stop something if you like it, and why continue if you don’t? I’m using “you” in order to encourage you to ask yourself these questions.

“Why continue, if you don’t?” is rational but frightening. Perhaps it’s frightening because it’s so rational. It makes sense but can you actually kill yourself? If not, this is not a viable option. If you just had a cup of coffee and are feeling good about yourself, you might say, “Sure, of course, I can kill myself if I wanted to.” But deep down, you know you don’t know that. Deep down, you know you are scared. We fear what we don’t know, and as long as we continue living, we can never know death. It is therefore perfectly rational for you to fear death.

This is the fear that pushes you to the third option which is that you live because other people want you to. With this clever twist, you turned your cowardice into heroism. You have to live because your friends and families want, or even better, need you to live. But you know deep down this is bullshit too. The truth is that you don’t have a choice. Death is not an option for you. Life is your only recourse.

But, this third option works like a charm, and this is why suicide is illegal in most countries. By making it illegal, even those who are completely alone in the world can use this third option to deny their fear of death. The government is telling them that it wants them to live. It’s a social safety net or a device for mercy.

But not being able to accept the truth, the fear of death, leads to a society filled with people who feel their society owe them something. This makes people less capable of enjoying life. This is true in many aspects of our lives. Attachment makes us unappreciative. Stated the other way, lack of attachment makes us more capable of appreciating life. For instance, your ability to break off a relationship makes being in that relationship more enjoyable. Your ability to stop drinking makes drinking more enjoyable. Your ability to die makes life more enjoyable.

Life has a way of getting even. Even if an act of mercy allows you to avoid pain now, you end up paying for it in some other way later, and a delayed pain tends to grow bigger. The fact that suicide is illegal is comforting, but accepting that comfort would in the end make your life less enjoyable. From this point of view, a better social safety net would be to make suicide legal.