The Corner

Family-Supported Suicide Harms Society

There was once a time when friends, family, and society worked to prevent suicides.

Now, if the suicidal person is ill or disabled, there is support for self-killing, with friends and family members even attending the deed.

That–and what it may portend–is the subject of my biweekly First Things. From, “Family-Support Suicide and the Duty to Die:”

Is it right or wrong to support a loved one’s suicide? This seems to be one of those issues, increasingly prevalent in our society, about which debate is not possible: The answer depends on one’s overarching worldview.

Some will believe that their duty is to support their family member’s choice, come what may. Others, including this writer, believe that supporting suicide is an abandonment that validates loved ones’ worst fears about themselves—that they are a burden, unworthy of love, or truly better off dead.

What might this phenomenon portend?

Family backing for suicide furthers the normalization of hastened death as a proper response to human suffering. Such normalization, over time, will put increasing pressure on those coping with the infirmities of age and with the debilitations of serious illnesses and disabilities to view their suicides as not only a suitable approach, but perhaps even as an obligation to those they love.

This is known in bioethics as the “duty to die,” which has been debated for years in professional discourse. 

I quote some advocacy material for a duty to die:

A duty to die becomes greater as you grow older. . . . To have reached the age of, say, seventy-five or eighty years without being ready to die is itself a moral failing, the sign of a life out of touch with life’s basic realities.

This isn’t a fringe idea. Books have been written on the topic.

I conclude:

No, a day won’t come when the euthanasia police kick down doors and force unwanted lethal injections upon the sick and elderly. But legal compulsion isn’t the only way to push people out of the lifeboat. The more public support families and friends give their ill or debilitated loved ones’ suicides, the greater the prospect that a moral duty to die will become culturally legitimate.

Again, I don’t see how we debate this. Either we want such a society, or we don’t.

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