The View from Hell

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Procreation and Suicide

with 5 comments

An important reason that it is unfair to force a being to stay alive is that the being took no voluntary action in order to come into being.

Voluntariness is a key element of fairness is much of our legal system. Our law of contract requires that the parties voluntarily enter the contract in order for it to be enforceable. Likewise, marriage must be entered voluntarily, or it is not legally effective. Crimes require a voluntary act before punishment may attach. (See note.)

Given this framework, voluntary procreation (choosing to have children) has two important consequences. One, given that the act of procreation forces existence on others, it may be a moral harm in and of itself. Second, and more relevant to our purposes, procreation is a voluntary act, like signing a contract, that creates a moral obligation for the parent toward the child. A non-parent (or an involuntary parent, such as a rape victim) has given no assent to life, and retains the right to remove himself from the world; the voluntary parent has given his assent to life, and created obligations toward his child.

An interesting question is whether there are acts other than voluntary procreation that cement the agent to the world, potentially destroying his moral right to suicide. One candidate would be intentionally forming or continuing a close relationship; although of course this does not involve creating an entire new being dependent upon the agent, it does, perhaps, encourage others to become dependent upon the agent. Perhaps potential suicides have a moral obligation not to form or continue close relationships, just as they have a moral obligation to avoid procreation.

(Note that voluntariness cannot account for the basis of authority of the state over people who have not consented to be governed by that state. In a state with a broad suicide proscription, in which there is even less of a possibility to “opt-out” of state control, the authority of the state over non-consenting individuals is weaker than in a state where life is not compulsory.)


Written by Sister Y

April 29, 2008 at 12:20 am

5 Responses

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  1. quite an interesting topic. my initial reaction is that virtually everybody prefers to live over dying, and so when a child is created, the child’s likely choice, if he could make one, would be to live. the evidence of this is that suicide is somewhat rare–i’d also guess usually people who have survived suicide attempts are thankful they didn’t kill themselves (i could be wrong about this).i wonder what you think of this–i’ve heard this theory, or something like it, and thought it was great: people through depresseion determine their value to others. depression is a bit like going on strike. you stop or slow down what you normally do, and see what happens. people treat you nice to get you back to doing your valued behavior, and in effect end up showing you your value. maybe people tell you what they miss about what you do, giving you info about your value to others, and perhaps make promises or gifts, to incentivize the valued behavior you used to do before getting the stone age environment, i could see depression being a subtle means of bargaining. ‘i’m depressed, so i’ll do less.’ ‘hey, he’s not helping us hunt! how the heck do we get him back to his old self?’on the other hand, the work you stop doing that isn’t missed by others is work you don’t need to do anymore, if you don’t want to. you then spend your energy more efficiently.the problem today, possibly, is that a person might start to slow down and do less, and not get the attention he needs. he might lose his job, because he’s more easily replaced than in the past (in a stone age environment, a depressed and lethargic band-member might really hurt your interests, whereas today a depressed person in your life might be less likely to hurt your interests, and so you have less incentive to cheer him up). also nowadays, i suspect people are more physically isolated, and so their peers aren’t able to informally monitor the depressed person, and perhaps reward him incrementally to get him to do what they want him to do, and so he continued deeper and deeper into his depression.

    Mike Kenny

    May 1, 2008 at 3:15 am

  2. Thanks for your comment – you open up fruitful topics, all of which I think I will try to write about in the coming week or so, including (1) the objection to antinatalism that most people prefer to live, as evidenced by low suicide rates; (2) the potential for evolutionary adaptiveness of depression, and whether it has consequences for our treatment of suicide; (3) the evidence that some people who attempt suicide later claim that they are glad to be alive (I must say that this is not true for all failed suicides, as evidenced by a disproportionately high rate of successful suicides after attempts, but I do think we need to account for the now-I’m-glad-to-be-alive folks). I don’t think it would do justice to your interesting comment to answer it all in one comment! Thanks so much.

    Sister Y

    May 1, 2008 at 7:36 pm

  3. cool!

    Mike Kenny

    May 10, 2008 at 5:19 pm

  4. I suppose these obligations end when the child dies (if it happens before the parents die)?


    March 11, 2010 at 1:32 am

  5. I would agree with that.

    Sister Y

    March 18, 2010 at 2:51 am

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