The selfishness of being against suicide.

I watched the excellent movie The Sea Inside, about the real story of a paraplegic man, Ramón Sampedro, who fought 28 years for the right to assisted suicide. There is no doubt who the director thinks is sympathetic and who is despicable, especially his brother, who is bitter at having to support him but vociferously refuses to support his suicide.

Even though it is, after all, a story and not a documentary, I think it illustrates the selfishness of the anti-suicide position. There really is no reason for anyone to not be supportive of Sampedro’s quest. Yes, obviously a lot of people feel that life is always worth living and that suicide is regrettable, and some still cling to religious dogma which prohibits suicide because suicide takes asses off the pews and into the ground, but these are, after all, only opinions. Reasonable people should be able to accommodate the existence of differing opinions.

But a more interesting question is this: why is suicide regrettable? Yes, people who kill themselves make their loved ones suffer because of it, but only because they must do it in secret. In cases of assisted suicide which were planned for such a long time, surely no one will be taken by surprise.

Now, family situations are a different matter. When children depend on the income of a person or two people, a suicide of one of them will have a profound effect on the child’s well-being. And I don’t deny that suicide, in those cases, does inflict suffering and is questionable at best. The fact that this is not even a consideration right now in the public debate about suicide and assisted suicide is a reflection of the childism in our cultures: we don’t really care what happens to the children.

In the movie, the brother seems to be suffering from some strange version of the sunk cost fallacy: because he ruined his own hopes and dreams in order to take care of Ramón, he therefore believes that it would be unfair for Ramón to kill himself and undo all this work. While the situation is deplorable, it is deplorable because of the illegality of assisted suicide, not because of the suicide itself. Obviously I am not blaming anyone who’s angry or frustrated about such a difficult situation. But we must always remember who is suffering the most: the person who wants to kill themselves but is not allowed to.

Viewers of the movie seem to sympathize with Sampedro and his plight, even though he is trying to kill himself. Perhaps people sympathize because he is, after all, presented as the protagonist, and he is an extreme case. It’s easier for people to accept that someone who’s been paraplegic for 28 years should be able to kill themselves than for people to accept assisted suicide as a whole. And people do love a good story.

It seems to me that the anti-suicide attitude is very selfish. Parents don’t want to be seen as bad parents, friends and family would rather see them continue to live than bear the shame and loss of a suicide, and I think people in general oppose suicide because they have a selfish desire to make life something better than it is. We know from the way people argue against antinatalism and pessimism, and the popularity of religious and New Age beliefs, that they desperately need to see life as more than what it is.

Although the most extreme seekers are ready to lie to themselves in order to achieve this, most people are content with ignoring inconvenient facts. Such an attitude consists of looking at the positives and ignoring the negatives. One can say that, for example, Sampedro lives a life where he is free to write at his leisure (albeit with his mouth), where he is taken care of, where he may be pushed in a wheelchair whenever he needs to go somewhere. He publishes a book and clearly can do something with his life. But there are also severe negatives in his life, including, well, being paraplegic, with all the severe physical limitations that this entails, and a complete lack of independence or privacy. Optimists wants us to only look at the first list and not at the second. Obviously if you ignore all the negatives of a person’s existence, then you can easily argue against any suicide.

A lot of people pull the veil over their own eyes. This causes problems. But even bigger problems are caused by the fact that those same people try to restrict other people’s freedom based on this veiling. Ultimately, they want to turn society as a whole into a self-censoring torture cell, which is how they treat their own minds. They torture their minds to “exterminate negative thoughts” and keep optimism in the face of the negatives of life, and they want to physically torture others who refuse to align themselves with their delusion. For what can we call forbidding people, who are in psychological or physical pain, to kill themselves, but a form of torture?

It’s always easy to maintain our belief in a just world and blame the victims, call them whiners, and so on. That’s the easy way out, keeps us in our bubble, keeps us comfortable. But blaming the victim is never honest and doesn’t help anyone. Blaming people for killing themselves is selfish and dishonest, and no matter what, people just shouldn’t do that. Yes, you’re allowed to think that a person shouldn’t have killed themselves, but admit that it’s your opinion, and that others (including the suicide) are allowed to rationally disagree.

8 thoughts on “The selfishness of being against suicide.

  1. The Brain in the Jar February 11, 2016 at 15:46

    The anti-suicide position thinks it’s benevolent, where in fact it revolves around making choices for other people, based on the choice-maker’s own life. “My life is good, so therefore you should live.”
    Anti-suicide is often rape-like. People don’t own their bodies! We must force them to live even if the don’t want to! We must brainwash them into thinking like us!

  2. autotheist May 28, 2016 at 20:04

    I generally agree with your position but one can see life as more than meets the eye (i.e. from a spiritual point of view) and also believe that suicide is sometimes a reasonable choice.

    I don’t believe life or reality is what we think they are. I think there is a reason we are here. I don’t know what that is but I believe it’s important. I have no rational basis for this belief but it’s something that I feel in my interactions with other people and reality itself.

    But I also believe that it might be important to leave when an individual is no longer needed in this life.

    I have an uncle who committed suicide. He had severe digestive problems that made him a hermit for most of his life. When he was 68, he had his colon removed and the pain became unbearable. He had already suffered a good deal in his life and he was going into old age alone and looking at more surgeries, knee and back, that would cause him even more pain.

    My uncle also had to pay for all of his medical expenses out of pocket because he was an entrepreneur and didn’t have social security or Medicare. He was spending $400 a month on a shot just to be able to go to the bathroom.

    So he looked at his finances and realized he had a small fortune (I do mean small) and if he were to continue to live, he would spend it all to live maybe 10 more years in excruciating pain. Instead of doing that, he killed himself and left his fortune to his family.

    It is very sad to think of someone you care about being forced into the position of having to make a decision like that but I 100% agree with the decision he made. I just wish that society was mature enough to have let him make that decision without forcing him into a violent end.

    I have been chronically ill for nearly 15 years and practically housebound for nearly 4. I am only 40 years old. I also have a severe digestive disorder along with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There have been many times I’ve wanted to make my exit but there are still things that keep me here. My family would be very upset and so would my boyfriend. I can say their feelings are selfish but I could also make the argument that not caring about their feelings is selfish. I don’t think suicide is inherently selfish but love sometimes demands sacrifice and I am willing to make the sacrifice to stay alive and suffer so that people I love don’t suffer. Not everyone has to though and I certainly wouldn’t hold it against anyone if they chose to end such an extended period of suffering.

    I may commit suicide one day but not right now. I still feel like I have a purpose in being alive.

    • Francois Tremblay May 29, 2016 at 01:23

      I don’t fault you for taking any decision you feel is best in the face of difficulties. We are all victimized by life and we deal with it the best way we can.

  3. Nick October 29, 2016 at 17:39

    Sara Perry has argued that “suicide is not wrong, but an ethically privileged, rational response to the badness of life”

    Do you think many would agree with her?

    But Schopenhauer thought that suicide was embracing the will to live. Rather than denying the will to live and becoming ascetic, you’re full heartedly embracing the will to live. To him, denial of the will to live was be fleeing life’s pleasures, but suicide was fleeing life’s suffering. To him, the suicidal person is someone who wants to live, but thinks that their position makes it impossible.

    How do you view all of this?

    • Francois Tremblay October 30, 2016 at 00:45

      I agree in both cases! I think what you said about Schopenhauer is an especially sensitive and sensible view. Where does he write about that?

    • autotheist October 30, 2016 at 20:27

      I also agree with both perspectives.

  4. Nick October 30, 2016 at 13:20


    I learned about it in this essay.

    Just my two cents worth.

    Camus argued that suicide is what happens when someone decides that life is not worth the struggle….. Fleeing one’s suffering, in my view, is a rational strategy in the game of life. Sure, we can construct some sort of aesthetic to suffering, that Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Camus and others all tried to do in their own way. But I see this as a coping mechanism, nothing more. If life is so bad as to warrant not having children, then it should also not be worth living.

    In any case, it’s hard to see how Schopenhauer’s asceticism isn’t ALSO a form of fleeing life’s suffering. I do have sympathies, though, for theories that advocate the continuation of life in order to maximize one’s utility. Von Hartmann was one thinker who advocated this.

    In general, though, I have to agree with Sartre and Tolstoy: people continue life out of ignorance or weakness. It is the strong who manage to kill themselves.

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