The issues and responses to the treatment of and support for those suffering from mental illness, including clinical depression, are complex, diverse, and at times, in opposition to each other. Many moral, ethical, religious, cultural, and personal debates have taken place over the topic of suicide, whether it is physician-assisted or not. In the case of my good friend, who has suffered from unremitting clinical depression for decades, suicide, she feels, is warranted and she plans to carry out this action soon. I am unable to dissuade her from this choice. She states that this is her only viable solution to ending the torment she feels.
Although she is aware that the depression itself is coloring her perspective, she feels her decision is reasonable. Taking all of this into consideration, and knowing what she is planning because she trusted me not to tell anyone else yet she did want at least one person to know, I feel her intention to kill herself is morally acceptable. Two main reasons perpetuate my decision regarding this morality. Even though my friend’s perspective of her decision and her decision-making process comes through a lens of what society would term serious mental debilitation, she is, in fact, moral in her choice because she is simply choosing to die sooner rather than later, with the latter option being filled with debilitating and tortuous depression for years or even decades to come.
Richard Brandt, whose philosophical stance is a liberal one, would agree that there are, indeed, moral suicides such as the one my friend is planning. These moral suicides don’t have to be the often-referred to examples of self-sacrificial suicides as are commonly linked to his discourse. These types of suicides include a driver crashing into a building and killing himself in order to avoid killing children who have run into the street directly in his path or in the case of an airplane pilot in a distressed plane intentionally crashing into a mountain rather than an urban area, killing himself rather than many. Brandt would support a suicidal person who has looked at, in the case of my friend, her short and long term needs, her past life experiences, her potential future life experiences (based upon her past life experiences), and how her suicide would impact the world. If all of these factors were already considered by my suicidal friend, Brandt would likely feel the suicide would be justifiably moral. A large part of this justification would stem from the rationality of her decision. Brandt, in his utilitarian perspective, would justify or deem moral, suicide if my friend felt she could not achieve her full potential and contributions to society or the world due to her thus far incurable illness.
Additionally, I feel that my moral obligation to my friend would not only be supported by Brandt’s perspective on suicide, it would necessitate my action to help my friend carry out her plan, if, in fact, she needed help doing so. Once the rational questions have been asked and answered by my friend, and the rational conclusion is that it is best is she commits suicide, it is now my moral obligation to assist her if she cannot do it herself.
Of course, the other side of this horribly taxing argument is that my friend would have a moral obligation not to commit suicide. While this is not my argument nor Brandt’s, there are those who believe that my friend has an obligation to be a productive member of her society and that she has a moral obligation to continue living so as to continue to perform moral acts and choices.
Immanuel Kant bases his philosophy regarding this issue on man’s obligation to God, or man and his soul as a piece of God’s property. The “property of God” approach debases Kant’s argument for anyone who does not believe in God, thereby nullifying his premise for those individuals. Also, Kant’s premise that my friend wouldn’t have the right to commit suicide because her life isn’t hers to take, as it belongs to God, objectifies her life and takes away her free will to make choices for herself surrounding the most basic tenant of life – that of the life force itself.
Kant’s opposition to suicide on all fronts states that the degradation that comes with suicide places the person committing suicide beneath the worth of animals. I wonder what his distinction is between God-created man and God-created animals. In his argument, wouldn’t both man and animals have the obligation to live a moral life and to live as long of life as possible? Additionally, if Kant believes that God bestows inherent value in a life and humans have an obligation to preserve that life, he would argue that I would be morally responsible to stop my friend from committing suicide, as it my responsibility to preserve my own life and the lives of others if they need help doing so.
The morality of suicide has liberal philosophers, such as Brandt, and conservative thinkers, such as Kant, and an immensely broad spectrum of theorists, academics, truth-seekers, and dreamers between the two extremes. The interesting thing about morality-based questions such as the one regarding what to do about my friend’s planned suicide, arouse debate, scholarship, and even attacks between philosophers and lay persons alike. I would stand firm in my conviction and favor the side of Brandt’s thinking regarding suicide that my friend has made a moral decision regarding her planned death. Ultimately, I would prefer that my friend no commit suicide; morally, I have an obligation to support her.