During the reading of some of my Sociological articles (most specifically those authored by Emile Durkheim), I began thinking of a moral quandary.  What is a valid reason (as atheists) to prevent suicide?

Christians believe in some type of hell or another; thus eternal torture.  Pagans believe in reincarnation; thus the return to the state the suicidal is attempting to leave.

What compelling reason do Atheists give to the suicidal to prevent this act?  Do we believe there is nothing to prevent it? Is it considered o.k. to do it?  Do we offer the suicidal the weapon of choice and politely say, “What’s stopping you?”

As a budding psychologist/ sociologist, and as a member of society, I am truly curious.

Please, don’t call the local authorities or put me on 24 hour watch- this is purely educational.  I have no intention or desire to take my own life.

In advance: thank you for your input.


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Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 3:00pm

Personally, I am not morally opposed to suicide.  If someone makes the decision to end their life, I respect that decision.  If they succeed and it was the wrong decision... well, they'll never know.


In practical terms, I support suicide prevention efforts, but that's only because I think many, if not most suicide cases could have lived to see brighter days with the right council or treatments.  Things like depression and life issues can generally be managed, but sometimes that's difficult for people to see when they're in a bind.  I just think it crosses the line when we move from trying to help people through difficult situations, and cross over to obligating, if not forcing them to live against their will.

Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 3:23pm

Morally, if loved ones are going to endure hardship as a result of the suicide, I would judge it as immoral.


Can I get some clarification on this?  What type of hardship?  Do you mean something like leaving a large financial burden on those you leave behind, or something like emotional hardship suffered due to your death?

Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 3:38pm

That works.  Thanks for clarifying.

Comment by Robert Karp on August 29, 2011 at 3:38pm

What compelling reason do Atheists give to the suicidal to prevent this act?

How about because it is an easy way out and the although it would solve your problems, think about the people in your life it would affect.  Parents, siblings and especially children would have the mental fallout of something that is so all encompassing.  How about because it's incredibly selfish. How about because there are so many people that have it worse. How about because for so many people, it can and does get better.  There are resources available to those who may not realize there are. These are the non-theistic and humanistic reasons to talk someone out of it.


Look, for the people who are severely mentally or physically handicapped due to illness or accident, I would say the choice is theirs and I think assisted suicide can alleviate needless suffering. There comes a point when one's body can no longer function, then the choice to go on, endure, must be respected. 




Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 3:46pm

I don't get the 'selfish' line that often comes up in suicide conversations.  

Suicide is something you do directly to your own life to serve your personal needs.  It does affect others indirectly because their lives are connected to yours, but that's the price of having personal connections: it hurts when those connections are lost (for whatever reasons).


Now, on the flip side of the coin, obligating someone to live is something you do directly to someone else's life to suit your personal needs.  This strikes me as more selfish than suicide itself.

Comment by Robert Karp on August 29, 2011 at 4:11pm

Suicide is something you do directly to your own life to serve your personal needs.


Isn't that the definition of a selfish act?  Isn't anything you do to serve your personal needs selfish?

Comment by Gabriela Menicucci on August 29, 2011 at 4:24pm

IMO there are very few permanent unfixable problems in a person's life. I wouldn't describe the act as 100% selfish, the person is backing away from pain, but suicide "victims" can hurt many people around them, basically because they will wonder what they did wrong, and ultimately will feel that somehow it was their fault for not being there. 

The ONLY reason I give to people who are thinking about it, is that this might be the only form of existence they will ever experience, and once is done there's no turning back, they will never see their loved ones, they will never experience nothing this life has to offer ever again. If they would only think about it, all the extraordinary things that lead to their existence, they will see whatever problem they have is not a big as is the curse of events that lead to them being alive. Really is 1 possibility out of billions and billions, call it random chance, but it is very worth every second of it.

Comment by Doug Reardon on August 29, 2011 at 4:26pm

The brains of suicides, in one study done in the 70's (for which I cannot give a citation), found that serotonin levels were 1/3 the amount in non-suicides, implying that the decision to commit suicide was not necessarily a rational choice.  If one is suffering from intractable pain, or a terminal illness, then suicide my be a rational choice, but in lieu of that, perhaps one should try antidepressant therapy prior to taking that option.  

Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 4:31pm

The people in your life, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your spouse, your children, are affecteddirectly by your death.


I would, personally, define that as a direct effect, as opposed to an indirect one.


It is still indirect.  Suicide ends your life.  That is its direct impact.  The end of your life has it's own direct impacts, but they are indirect with relation to the suicide.


Imagine three dominos lined up on their ends in a row.  I tip the first , which tips the second, which in turn tips the third.  It may be a foregone conclusion that tipping the first will also tip the third, but that doesn't mean that the first domino tipped the third directly; it was indirect.


The thing is, people aren't dominos.  They bear a certain amount of responsibility for their own lives and which lines they stand in.  They can also react to situations with greater freedom and complexity than tipping dominos.  They bear responsibility for how they react the decisions of others.  So I will reiterate my initial point as a question: is it not more selfish to obligate someone else to live to fulfil your personal needs than it is to take your own life?

Comment by kris feenstra on August 29, 2011 at 4:33pm

Isn't that the definition of a selfish act?  Isn't anything you do to serve your personal needs selfish?


Read the full response, please.  You've removed the comment from its proper context.  It was an issue of what is more selfish.  If selfishness is the objection, would it not be reasonable to side with the least selfish side of the equation?


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