The View from Hell

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The Underground Railroad

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He might have done it for ideological reasons. He might have done it for money. I don’t care. He is the motherfucking Underground Railroad to me. His name is Jeff George Ostfeld, and he was arrested recently for allegedly smuggling barbiturates into the United States – and potentially supplying these drugs to a 29-year-old Oregon woman who used them to commit suicide.

Authorities say Ostfeld, from Las Vegas, was carrying 1,200 milliliters of pentobarbital — vials with a picture of a Great Dane on the label — when U.S. officials stopped him May 18 at the Progreso International Bridge in South Texas. Officials said at a detention hearing last month that he was also carrying a camera with still photos of what appeared to be a deceased [Oregon woman Jennifer] Malone and videos that included what appeared to be her last words, “I’m scared.”

At that May hearing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Robert Haberkamp III said Ostfeld, 33, told him that he planned to sell the remaining animal tranquilizers he bought in Mexico. He said he wanted to sell them to others seeking to end their lives, including a woman in the United Kingdom and a man in Australia, according to Haberkamp. He has not been charged in Malone’s death.[Emphasis mine.]

Suicide is the only act that is not a crime, the assisting of which is a crime.

Fuck that. We would-be suicides are slaves. Those who would assist us, at the price of their own liberty, are no less heroes than the conductors and stationmasters of the Underground Railroad.

From the AP:

Malone’s boyfriend, Tom Piazza, says she suffered from chronic depression and had attempted suicide before. But he says she couldn’t have done it without help.

To me, it sounds like Jennifer Malone was in the same situation I am in – she was even within two years of my age. Would my last words have been “I am scared?” Possibly. But should that have any effect whatsoever on Ostfeld’s criminal liability? How could it? Who would not be somewhat scared on approaching death? But a determined adult who ingests poison is the proximate cause of her own suicide – not the person who provided the poison to her. A person who provided pentobarbital to me would be nothing but an agent of my deliverance.

Ostfeld was charged with importing a controlled substance and intent to distribute.

Yes, let’s keep that drug war going. It seems to be working out so far.

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Written by Sister Y

June 25, 2009 at 4:58 am

39 Responses

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  1. Maybe it's just a gender thing (since males seem to be more at ease with dispatching themselves with firearms), but it feels to me like a real stretch to equate the situation of would-be suicides who aren't physically incapacitated that of actual slaves.

    I guess I'm not yet convinced that making exit easier for the non-physically-incapacitated should follow from the laudable project of de-stigmatizing suicide.

    Rob

    June 25, 2009 at 9:35 pm

  2. Hi Rob!

    The suicide who must use a method other than overdose of barbiturates is, I think, in a very similar position to an actual slave (in various historic instances of slavery). Slaves were generally not kept in chains in a dungeon; many escaped, but they did so at the risk of serious injury to themselves (injury that might incapacitate them from making future escape attempts). As with would-be suicides, they were free in a sense, but not in a meaningful sense. And if they managed to escape part way, they could be forcibly dragged back to servitude – just like a suicide under the suicide prohibition.

    Sister Y

    June 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm

  3. I haven't read much Nozick, but The Tale of the Slave gets you thinking “Do I own myself?”. At the same time, Walter Block's ridicule of comparisons of modern day citizenry in the U.S to 19th century chattel slavery is apt.

    TGGP

    June 26, 2009 at 1:29 am

  4. Slavery analogies invite trouble, but they're almost always useful to consider. Under the weight of severe depression, I came to the never-quite-shaken conviction that life is a first-order form of slavery. Mining this view leads to weird questions about the nature and meaning of “freedom,” and there is the need to draw distinctions. But the constraint on exit sanctioned and practiced under a yoke of drug prohibition nudges the dismal idea back into the frame. A nonsuicidal person may snort over the concept of life as coerced servitude, but it is certainly possible to imagine that throughout history their have been at least a few chattel slaves who sincerely preferred their lot as codified and enforced.

    More provincially, military conscription seems to provide a clear case where equation to slavery is entirely accurate and justified.

    Chip

    June 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  5. TGGP, I don't think Block's criticism applies with as much force to the would-be suicide as to income tax protesters. Being forced to pay taxes on the money one earns is categorically different from being forced to stay alive in misery in the first place. Not having control of a single aspect of one's life is different from not having control of one's life, period – which is, I propose, the situation with a would-be suicide, as well as a slave.

    Slavery is slavery, regardless of living conditions. Many people live in conditions similar to those suffered by slaves in the 18th century (or worse), but are not slaves. Similarly, living in relative affluence or even extreme affluence does not render one “not a slave” (see purdah). But I do think people who haven't studied the reality of the suicide prohibition and forced hospitalization don't fully grasp the painful, dehumanizing, and punitive nature of suicide “treatment.”

    Chip, I think I know what you mean, but could you explain what you mean by first-order versus (presumably) second-order slavery?

    Sister Y

    June 26, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  6. But why is having limited control over one's exit options tantamount to “not having control of one's life, period“?

    Rob

    June 27, 2009 at 3:14 am

  7. Rob – I think answering this would require a definition of slavery. Which is interesting, but I'm not sure I have one.

    Sister Y

    June 27, 2009 at 5:12 am

  8. Yes, I thought about including one, but couldn't come up with anything more than the notion that it invariably involves, across varying degrees of quality of life, an absolute confinement to inferior status — but then I recalled that (I think) there are some cultures in which upward mobility from slavery is a possibility. So perhaps your analogy is a sound one.

    Rob

    June 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm

  9. Curator,

    By “first order,” I mean to suggest an experiential condition of slavery that may come before legal or extralegal enforcement. Mainly I am referring to the existential predicament, in the sense that people are born without precedent consent and hence “enslaved” by life (and death). The “first order” concept might be broadened to include the circumstantial condition of slavery experienced by children, who for practical purposes exist as the property of their parents.

    If this distinction may be allowed under a working definition of “slavery,” I would propose that “second-order” slavery refer to legally (or illegally) enforced practices that are amenable to political redress. This would include the politically or economically or sexually motivated constraints that people typically have in mind when they invoke the term. It would cover the institution of labor slavery in polities throughout history, as well as extralegal practices that may continue without formal sanction.

    Chip

    June 27, 2009 at 7:01 pm

  10. Aside from the fact that the poor guy gets nothing but jail time for trying to help, the saddest part of the story is that the boyfriend's hoping Ostfeld will be charged with murder. Such complete lack of empathy and refusal to consider anything but his own possessive feelings towards the woman he supposedly loved. And therein, I believe, lies the clue to a significant part of human suffering (really all of it, since without those attitudes people would be doing all they could to avoid breeding). But I think you've written about that.

    CM

    June 29, 2009 at 3:01 am

  11. Rob, regarding your first comment: how would it even be possible to de-stigmatize suicide if it weren't treated like any other legitimate lifestyle choice to complete which we are free to enlist the help of others? I seriously cannot think of anything that is stigma-free but restricted to DIY. In fact, I think it's more often the case that even activities which are legal to assist are still stigmatized, like abortion.

    CM

    June 29, 2009 at 3:10 am

  12. CM – regarding your first comment re: possessiveness – exactly, exactly, exactly, thank you.

    Sister Y

    June 29, 2009 at 6:33 am

  13. CM, I've not read much about the particulars of the case, but shouldn't Ostfeld's reported possession of a video of the suicide (and, as reported in one article I read, her i.d. and credit card), give some pause before considering him a “poor guy”? It also strikes me as presumptuous (unless there's a lot more publicly available on the story than I'm aware of) to characterize the boyfriend as having “such complete lack of empathy and refusal to consider anything but his own possessive feelings towards the woman he supposedly loves”.

    As for you second point, perhaps you're right: maybe the only way to de-stigmatize suicide is for it to be treated like any other lifestyle choice. Personally, I hope this isn't the case, as I'm apparently less comfortable (thus far) than nearly everyone who posts here with making suicide easier for most people under 30 or so. I would at least first rather see suicide on the part of folks older than, say 50, somehow de-stigmatized. Maybe, though, a phased change like this is a pipedream, and I need to get over what may be a rather patronizing attitude towards people under 30.

    Rob

    June 29, 2009 at 4:29 pm

  14. Rob, I think it's valid of you to point out that we're kinda filling in our own narratives here. But I'm wondering what kinds of facts would be necessary before I'd change my mind that the boyfriend's actions were possessive and lacking in empathy.

    I do disagree on you about the age thing, though – in part because I'm barely 31 and I think my right to painless suicide should have vested long ago. But for another reason as well. Those of us who are suicidal and younger have a much higher cost in continuing to live than do older people. While suicide for the terminally ill is the most socially acceptable type of chosen death, I think it is in some ways the least pressing. Someone with sixty or seventy years left on the clock has much more to lose in being prevented from suicide than someone who will die in six months or so at any rate.

    Sister Y

    June 29, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  15. I don't think physically healthy people in their early thirties in serious amorous relationships (which, for the sake of argument, I'm assuming here) have any right to expect their partners to facilitate their suicide; and I genuinely wonder if it's really that much more selfish and possessive for their partners to discourage them from suicide than it is (with the above qualifications) to kill yourself while in such a relationship.

    What I would prefer to see is greater cultural acceptance of physically health people who've given life a try for, say, around 40 years and found it wanting being able to dispatch themselves as painlessly as possible and with dignity.

    Rob

    June 29, 2009 at 9:21 pm

  16. Rob – I don't know which article you read, but the ones I've read say all of her credit cards were found cut up in the hallway trash can. See here. He was seen carrying her purse out of the room and didn't pay for the room. So? Not that I condone not paying for hotel rooms, but this fact is irrelevant to the case at hand. And the reason he had her purse is unknown to both of us. Maybe she wanted him to have it, or to give it to someone, or there was something there she didn't want people to find. Plus, Ostfeld was pretty forthcoming about the reason he had the tranquilizers and he hasn't been charged in Malone's death (and given the current attitudes, don't you think they would have charged him if they could?). Sure, the particulars of the case are not crystal clear, but the evidence available so far leads me to believe that my sympathy towards Ostfeld is justified.

    As for the boyfriend – he seems to know full well that his girlfriend wanted to die, yet just because she “was incapable without someone's help”, her death is somehow wrongful and unjust. A complete non-sequitur, if you ask me.

    I would agree with your characterization of your discomfort about young people killing themselves as patronizing; but at least you realize that, which is commendable. I'd also like to point out that it may be kind of offensive to people over 50. A lot of them enjoy being alive much more than some young people. People's assessment of their own quality of life is pretty subjective (I think Curator has written about it, as well).

    CM

    June 29, 2009 at 9:58 pm

  17. Rob, I don't know how killing oneself while in a relationship could be construed as possessive of the other person. You committing suicide does not in itself constitute a judgment of how things ought to be for your significant other. Wanting to charge someone who merely helped your loved one accomplish what s/he wanted with murder does. Besides, it's not the same as discouraging her from killing herself. She's already dead; there's no one to discourage. But the fact that he now has a personal vendetta against Ostfeld shows that he does not accept her decision as valid.

    Was it selfish of her to kill herself while in a relationship? Sure, but then everything we do is selfish. To be completely unselfish, you'd have to do something you hate, something you think neither you nor anyone you care about would benefit from in any way, and you'd have to do it for no reason whatsoever. I seriously doubt it's possible to implement in practice. Besides, I don't think it would have made that much difference to Malone's boyfriend if she had broken up with him the day before killing herself. Or did she have to break up and then wait till he was completely over her? The latter option seems like excessive self-denial. By that token, you shouldn't dump people at all.

    I think people who are resolved to die as soon as possible would be well-advised to avoid forming close attachments. But maybe Malone wasn't suicidal when she got involved with Piazza. Besides, given the fact that suicide is not really a viable option for a lot of people, are they supposed to make their lives even more miserable by avoiding all the pleasures of socialization? Someone would always get hurt, be it the would-be suicide or his/her loved ones. That's the nature of life for you. One more reason not to bring more people into it.

    CM

    June 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

  18. CM — More recent reports claim he had her purse, credit cards, and birth certificate. Who know, maybe he intended to return them to her mother… or boyfriend.

    I don't know anyone who has committed suicide, but I do know several people who do, and also from what I've read my impression is that doing it while in active relationships risks leaving others haunted with self-doubt and guilt as to whether they could/should have done something to prevent it. Maybe this doesn't apply in the case at hand since she had made a previous attempt and was apparently a manic-depressive, which surely instilled those around her with at least a small foretaste of the possibility. My point is just that physically health people determined to end their lives should put some distance between themselves and others such that the latter aren't implicated in any of the proximate circumstances of the suicide.

    Rob

    June 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

  19. CM makes a good point about abortion. One of the big selling points for legalizing it is precisely because “back-alley” amateur abortions are recognized as dangerous and limiting people to them abhorrent. There was a movie made recently about an old English woman who helped working class girls abort their children and she's presented as a very admirable persecuted figure. No way that's happening for Jack Kevorkian. The band Acid Bath used one of his paintings as the cover for their second album, the first featured one by John Wayne Gacy. So Kevorkian is on the level of Gacy. There are some positive signs in pop culture though. Million Dollar Baby and Dexter both put assisted suicide in a positive light.

    TGGP

    June 30, 2009 at 6:06 pm

  20. I have a recollection that we have already had a discussion about ending relationships prior to suicide, and I think I've found it: http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com/2008/09/suicide-and-leprosy-ethics-of-voluntary.html#comments

    Furthermore, I feel compelled to say something about Robs apparent intuition that suicide is less problematic in older people. This seems to me to be an instance of the “don't reject what you haven't tried” argument. This, I think, is a distorted implication of the assumptions that only well-informed decisions are valid. It is distorted because it does not consider the decision about whether or not to try in the first place; trying it is not a relevant means of gathering information for making such a decision.
    And while that argument does no harm if there isn't much at stake in trying, it is certainly not valid for cases where quite a lot is at stake – like your bodily integrity (you can validly decline participation in a dangerous sports without ever having tried it) or enormous emotional distress (yes, you can validly reject life if you have inductively reached the conclusion that it will be full of suffering, regardless of your age).

    Constant

    July 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

  21. Thanks, Constant – I meant to post just such a recap, but I have been very busy.

    Sister Y

    July 4, 2009 at 9:28 am

  22. Constant — Thanks for the link to the previous discussion (and the trenchant comments), which I had not read… My intuition is really pretty simple. I just think folks — in the contemporary American culture with which I am familiar — under thirty are, generally speaking, considerably less capable of making good decisions about whether or not to try in the first place, or of properly arriving at inductive conclusions, based on their assessment of emotional distress, to kill themselves, than people who have at least reached the vantage of around forty. Again, generally speaking.

    Rob

    July 5, 2009 at 4:05 am

  23. I have trouble understanding you about this. Could you elaborate with an example or so? In particular, there are two things I have problems with:

    based on their assessment of emotional distress

    Here, I don't understand what you mean by the words. Assessment in what respect… ?

    or of properly arriving at inductive conclusions

    Why do you think so… ?

    And there's actually a third point:

    considerably less capable of making good decisions about whether or not to try in the first place

    What do you think makes a good decision about such an issue?

    Constant

    July 5, 2009 at 9:43 am

  24. I would be much more sympathetic to my friend Rob on this point if he also argued for other restrictions on the actions of under-40s – such as procreation.

    I think the decision to commit suicide is less serious than the decision to procreate.

    Sister Y

    July 5, 2009 at 10:40 am

  25. Constant — I mean I'm not confident that, generally speaking, physically healthy under-thirty-somethings in the contemporary American culture with which I am familiar are in a position to judge their emotional distress as a basis on which to kill themselves. Presumably, such an assessment involves gauging the likelihood that the quality and/or(?) quantity of one's emotional distress will remain as it, or worsen over time, and I'm just not confident that, generally speaking, the relevant thirty-somethings are equal to the imaginative demands of such a task.

    My view is structured by the assumption that a good decision to end your life now is one it is reasonable to believe you would endorse later in life were you not to carry it out, such that it would be worse not to do so now than to do so later (or never). I think there's considerably more room for doubt that one is making a good decision, so defined, when you are under thirty than when you are around forty or older.

    Here's an example that might help. Imagine, say, someone deeply devoted to a quite specific physical activity (like running, or some other daily endurance activity that tends to attract intensely assiduous, quasi-religious-ritualistic devotion; though the example could be extended to artistic activities), so much so that it is a daily cornerstone of their well-being without which life is not worth living. Now suppose this person is deprived of this activity by an injury and has surgery with, say, a 50% chance of recovery and it will take two years after surgery to know whether the surgery is successful. If the surgery proves to be unsuccessful, this person will wish they had not awoken from the anesthesia or had killed herself soon after the injury because the past two years were only worth living in light of the prospect of recovery. I think someone around forty or over is in a considerably better position to decide whether the risk of enduring two worthless and anguished years of life is worth taking than an under-thirty-something… Maybe not a good example.

    Unrelated: an interesting interview with the author of House of Wittgenstein (three of Ludwig's older brothers killed themselves):

    “I go along with Nietzsche on this. I think the death bed is an area for general showing off, and I would suggest that [Wittgenstein's assertion that he'd had 'a wonderful life'] was a bit of pantomime.”

    Rob

    July 5, 2009 at 2:11 pm

  26. Thank you for your explanations, Rob.

    to judge their emotional distress as a basis on which to kill themselves

    Well, who else is?

    and I'm just not confident that, generally speaking, the relevant thirty-somethings are equal to the imaginative demands of such a task.

    Frankly, I cannot see why someone over fourty should meet the demands, while younger people don't. And I'm afraid you have a very awkward position for arguing with me about this, since I'm under thirty and you would sort of have to convince my of my own incompetence, which on non-intellectual issues may be impossible in principle.
    And I just can't follow your intuitions; absolutely not. I agree that maybe for an older person (but they would probably have to be significantly older) the prospect of two years of suffering has a different status than it has for a younger person – but I don't see why the older person's attitude is in any way better. They just experience differently.
    And why would fourty be the threshold? I mean, there's a big difference between a 40-year-old and someone in his 80ies, certainly not smaller that between two people 20 and 40 of age.

    My view is structured by the assumption that a good decision to end your life now is one it is reasonable to believe you would endorse later in life were you not to carry it out, such that it would be worse not to do so now than to do so later (or never).

    Ah, I see, that's important to know. Because I don't agree with that definition in the first place. And linking it to what I said above about different experiences, this is part of why I don't accept it: Why should a younger person have to measure things with standards that are not their own – namely the standards of older people – while older people are not so disadvantaged?

    And in particular: Why does the younger person have to take into account the interests of an older person that would not otherwise exist? (Sound a bit like a certain familiar asymmetry…) Basically, the question is why doing the relevant thing has to be better than not doing it in order for the decision to be good – why isn't it sufficient that doing it is not worse?

    Furthermore, it has always struck me as somehow beside the point to measure the decision against the preferences of some possible future version of the person in question. Which future version, at any rate? If you require that there be none that would not regret the decision, then why do the non-regretters have more to say in it than the regretters?

    Constant

    July 6, 2009 at 7:36 am

  27. I struggle with the time issue here.

    Sister Y

    July 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

  28. Constant — In regard to your (and Curator's) particular ages, please recall my qualification “generally speaking”… As for the ages periods I've highlighted, I claim no more authority for them than personal intuition, which may well be worthlessly parochial. (At your age, I would have similarly balked, and my current view may be no more than a function of age.)

    Why should the younger person have to measure things with standards that are not their own — namely the standards of older people — while older people are not so disadvantage?

    Because the younger person is on track to acquiring those standards, but the older person isn't?

    Why does the younger person have to take into account the interests of an older person that *would not otherwise exist*?

    I see this as importantly different from the “certain familiar asymmetry”: the latter concerns a decision whether to bring someone into being, the former whether to end a being whose development is already in process.

    Which future version, at any rate?

    How about simply the future version (or versions) one has reason to believe are likely to be realized?

    By the way, I never addressed Curator's point above about procreation. I didn't mention it because I'm anti-natalist, which I take to be compatible with a wide range of views about the extent to which, and to whom, suicide should be discouraged (or, my tentative view in regard to under-forty-somethings, not encouraged)… I agree with Benatar that it's better not to bring anyone into existence. But to the extent that the question of whether it would be better that those who exist had not been brought into existence depends on a quasi-Schopenhauerian view of pleasure/happiness as states, and desires/drives as state-oriented, I think there may be room for a Nietzschean challenge based on his drive psychology (drives as process-oriented [as opposed to state-oriented] and correlative analysis of the nature of drives as strivings for resistances to be overcome, which would seem to mean that a certain kind of suffering is actually part of human fulfillment and might lead the way towards a revaluation of suffering such that it might be true of some lives that it would not be better had they not been (maybe just equal?). (If anyone's interested, check out Paul Katsafanas' essay on drive psychology here, where he uses marathon running as an example.)

    Rob

    July 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm

  29. Back again, after puzzling a bit over this:

    “…it has always struck me as beside the point to measure the decision against the preferences of some possible future version of the person in question.” (Constant)

    I must be suffering from a very serious lack of imagination because I can't figure out how else one would measure such a decision except by somehow doing so against the preferences of some possible future version of oneself at some time (or times). It seems to me that either one imagines the relevant (i.e., ultimately psychical, I presume) circumstances remaining essentially the same, better, worse, and this involves a future self. What else is there to measure the decision against? Or their some other way to structure the decision? I'd love to hear your contrary view on this (and much else).

    Rob

    July 6, 2009 at 4:53 pm

  30. Curator, thanks for digging this up.

    Rob, to make sure I'm understood the right way, I wasn't offended or anything. I only wanted to point out that my inability to follow your intuition is probably not in any way deviant and that it's going to be difficult to achieve intuitive agreement on this issue.
    And I appreciate your readiness to consider that your own intuitions might be to some extent determined by your age.

    I see this as importantly different from the “certain familiar asymmetry”: the latter concerns a decision whether to bring someone into being, the former whether to end a being whose development is already in process.

    I admit I should have been more explicit about this: The analogy of course only comes up when you sort of separate the different temporal states of a person into distinct entities.

    Because the younger person is on track to acquiring those standards, but the older person isn't?

    My feeling is that it's got something unfair about it to hold supposed future preferences of a person against an earlier state of this person. It's never come to anyone's mind to do the opposite: Why not require a later state to also respect the preferences of an earlier state? Somehow the later ones have got a privilege; I have no problem that they have the privilege at the time when they are the present ones – but they even have it prospectively, already at the time when an earlier version is still the present one. And that, I find problematic.

    How about simply the future version (or versions) one has reason to believe are likely to be realized?

    But there are going to be different future versions which disagree among themselves. One might regret that she's still alive, then there might be a later one who is glad about it, and yet another, later one might be sorry about it again. And somehow your argument seems biased in favor of those with non-existinctive preferences.

    What else is there to measure the decision against?

    I think we should try to work with the present preferences of the person contemplating suicide.
    Just to illustrate the difference:
    Assume that A kills herself, but that, if she hadn't, she would have found herself glad to be alive six years later, considering those years of suffering worthwhile, given the better life she now has. Now, if we judge from the preferences of the later person, it was a bad decision for her earlier self to kill herself.
    However, maybe that earlier version didn't think she would like to endure six more years of suffering even if she could be reasonably certain (or even absolutely certain) to have a better life (according to her present preferences, because that is the only way for that better life to apply to herself) after that. Thus, measured against her preferences, killing herself was fine. (Of course, the example is utterly simplistic, since there are many more considerations in play when contemplating suicide than merely the duration of one's suffering.)

    Here, of course, the inductive capabilities play a role again: Assume A thinks that she could endure 2 years if things would get better afterwards. But how certain is she that this will happen? And does she want to take the associated risk of living two terrible years in vain? Of course, it is good for her to make an informed choice. But what you can demand of an informed choice is, I think, only that the person have gathered and taken into account all information that was reasonable accessible to her. Everything else opens up the route to paternalism.
    And then, you can, of course, not say “Oh, just try, maybe you'll really feel better after those two years”. This would be an irrelevant advice since the question is precisely whether to try.

    I hope I'm expresing myself not too badly…

    Constant

    July 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  31. It's never come to anyone's mind to do the opposite…

    Actually, this is one of the chief reasons behind my bias against under-forty-somethings in promoting social acceptance of suicide: the older you get, it seems, the greater the likelihood of grief over the unmet claims and unrealized aspirations of one's younger/former selves, and thus the greater justification for suicide. Suicide should be a respectable and honor-reclaiming option for those whose reasoned recognition of themselves as failures — of not living up to the claims made by values they have endorsed — is intolerable (or who might be aided in truly and honestly grasping their state of being a failure by the social acceptance of suicide as an honorable way to end failure).

    My spade is simply turned here, I just feel around forty is when, on average, in contemporary American culture, one can reach a measured conclusive self-diagnosis as an irrecoverable failure that might provide a basis for deciding enough is enough. But at one's late twenties or earlier? (Again, assuming one is physically healthy and not afflicted with psychical affliction so extreme as to be immune from exhaustive engagement with the state of the art in pharmaecology.) But sure, back when life expectancy was much shorter and people not uncommonly compacted into their first twenty years more than what many of us, under the contemporary cult of longevity, will ever accomplish with four times as much time at our disposal; but, again generally speaking, I think not now.

    Rob

    July 7, 2009 at 12:52 am

  32. I'm not sure what judging oneself to be a failure has to do with anything. What about the people who just dislike being alive, or find the outside world to be severely lacking?

    Emotional distress is so subjective, I would say a quale, even, that it is not really something you can objectively measure and decide how much qualifies one to be able to die when they want to. If someone wants to die right now for no logical reason at all, their experience is still valid and the only justification they need. I agree with Constant; unless their desire to die is contingent on a false belief about the present state of things (like if they think god wants them to drink the kool-aid), speculation about the future is irrelevant to their present wishes.

    CM

    July 7, 2009 at 2:43 am

  33. Just like CM, I think judging oneself an irrecoverable failure is not necessary as a basis for deciding that “enough is enough.” Rather, all that is required is an informed belief that the costs of recovering or the risk of not recovering are greater than you would want to take.

    Constant

    July 7, 2009 at 10:51 am

  34. What about the people who just dislike being alive, or find the outside world to be severely lacking? (CM)

    Do you suppose this is a pervasive enough phenomenon among physically health young people to in itself justify a change in the status quo? Admittedly, my first impulse of a response in face of an affirmative answer would be that resources should be devoted to addressing such a phenomenon as a social problem to be ameliorated rather than as a brute existential fact to be accommodated.

    Rob

    July 9, 2009 at 3:36 pm

  35. Rob said:

    Do you suppose this is a pervasive enough phenomenon among physically health young people to in itself justify a change in the status quo?

    I don't think it's very pervasive. But IMO, one person is pervasive enough to justify a change in the status quo. As long as no one is forced to assist a suicide against their will, I fail to see how such a change would in any way burden those who wish to remain alive (other than maybe grieving over those who chose to die, but again, why should would-be suicides forgo what they want for the sake of pleasing others? Just because those others are the majority?). Realistically, of course, the majority would find it hard to justify assisted suicide for everyone who wants it (even if their decision is as informed as can be) because they are threatened by the notion that it is possible for a rational person to prefer to not be alive under most circumstances. But this has nothing to do with whether or not there ought to be assisted suicide from the humanitarian perspective.

    resources should be devoted to addressing such a phenomenon as a social problem to be ameliorated rather than as a brute existential fact to be accommodated

    I do not wish to die at present, but I find my quality of life to be significantly hindered by not only things that are commonly listed as global and personal concerns, but also by the fact that most people's wishful thinking causes them to harm those around them for the sake of ludicrous fairy tales concocted by a bunch of ancient goat/camel-herding nomads; the fact that breeding and using one's children as playthings until you get sick of them is considered one of the most selfless acts; and the fact that the main force that drives our society is exploitation. Do you seriously believe that any of those things will be significantly improved within my lifetime?

    CM

    July 10, 2009 at 8:35 pm

  36. In the news just today was a story in the Daily Mail about a British conductor who commit suicide with his wife in a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic. Now some busybodies want to interfere with fellow Britons' rights to escape suicide paternalism overseas.

    The story can be read here:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1199550/Famous-British-conductor-Sir-Edward-Downes-wife-die-assisted-suicide-clinic-Dignitas-switzerland.html

    Anonymous

    July 15, 2009 at 3:31 am

  37. Another case, particularly heartbreaking, last year:

    Why my son had the right to die

    Rob

    July 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

  38. The comments (and Recommended by… figures) on the NY Times coverage may be of interest.

    Rob

    July 16, 2009 at 5:06 pm

  39. According to court documents, attorneys for 33-year-old Jeffrey George Ostfeld have requested psychiatric evaluations of their client, who they say suffers from suicidal tendencies.

    http://www.themonitor.com/news/insanity-29232-alleged-mcallen.html

    Rob

    August 25, 2009 at 12:14 am


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