Saturday, July 29, 2017

On Rational, Consensual Suicide

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

-Albert Camus, opening line of The Myth of Sisyphus

Not one of us chose to become alive. From our conception, our existence has been involuntary, subject first to the whims of nature, and then to the determination of our parents. Our violent exit from the warm into the cold was the first of many instances where stress, pain, and simple existence were handed to us without our consent.

Consent, once one is old enough to be capable of giving it, is a shared social value. Depending on one's political compass, consent is sacred. For some, the consent of bodily touch is holy, not to be infringed. For others, consent over the seizing of money and property is holy, not to be infringed. For most, continuing to live, even against one's will, does not seem to be a matter of consent. Is this well reasoned?

Following birth, where we become breathing beings without consent, we grow and are given names we do not choose. We are handed ideologies we do not choose, and attend schools we do not choose. We enter puberty, and develop social and sexual preferences we do not choose, fall in love with people we did not choose to develop feelings for, and sometimes enter into marriages, the form of which was decreed normal long before we had a voice. The entire outline of our lives, it seems, is forced upon us without our consent.

And it's worse than that. The structure of our towns, churches, relationships, families, and beliefs systems were formed long before we had brain matter. They're so ingrained in us, we aren't aware none of it has to be the way it is. We didn't start with options, so we don't develop the awareness that options exist.

And all of it, from birth to grave, hurts. Every day we live is full of pain, and stress, and worry, and disagreement. On occasion, it is also full of love, and relief, and catharsis, and pleasure. The array of human experience is vast and varied, but there are only two certainties throughout: you didn't choose to enter into this life, and this life will end.

The end of life, inevitable and final as it is, is the last footprint a person gets to leave on this rock we inhabit. And perhaps the most cruel social convention that is thrust upon us without our consent is that the end of our lives must be left up to nature and circumstance. The thought that an individual might decide that the pain of this life is not worth it anymore – few ideas provoke such unanimous disapproval.

Social reaction to suicide is predictable, even if it's without intellectual scrutiny. A selfish act, they say. They had so much more life to live, they say. They should have lived for others. What a shame.

The pain of others is often used to shame people away from suicide.  The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on, the more people we know, and usually, the more people we love.  The love we have for these people, and the love they have for us, is supposed to eliminate our agency; To take away our consent over life and death.  But to give others this power assumes we could have predicted the future.  We are assumed to have known, when we married, or had children, or took a job, that the future would remain as painless as it was in those moments.  None of us have that power, and even if we did, why do others have more claim on our lives than we do? 

I submit that suicide is neither selfish, nor anyone's action to judge. If a person must live without their own consent, of what value is it? Every day, every single person we interact with is someone who decided, on that day, not to die on purpose. And once a person realizes their life is their own to continue or not, how brave a statement it is to trek on, choosing to bear the pain life brings when any number of simple actions could put a stop to it.

Today, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, you are experiencing some kind of pain that exists because someone else brought you into this world. You know that you will die, but it won't be today. Others will not make that choice. Their pains, also existing because they were born without permission, were not worth it anymore. For those people, the magnitude of their own power finally dawned on them. They don't have to feel this way anymore, and choose not to. I propose that this is not only rational, it is their right as involuntary people. Death will come for us all. If we are allowed to choose anything in this life, it ought to be whether life is worth living. May we do our best, each day, to live on purpose, until the day we can no longer give this life our consent.