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 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 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 Robert Karp on August 29, 2011 at 4:39pm

Sorry Kris.


Are you talking about obligating someone to live based on another's theological views, if so then we are in agreement, yes, it is much more selfish to do so.

Comment by Gabriela Menicucci on August 29, 2011 at 4:42pm

Some people commit suicide without ever hinting it, they just do it. I think is impossible to force people to do what you want

Comment by Robert Karp on August 29, 2011 at 4:49pm

I have no self-interest by placing moral pressure on someone to live.  If the person's death would affect me or my family directly, then I would have self interest but I still do not think that trumps the selfishness of the act itself.  

Then again, maybe I'm getting confused. This conversation is almost above my pay-grade ;-) 

Comment by Unseen on August 29, 2011 at 6:42pm

To take a person's control over their own life out of their hands involves the naked imposition of the state's will over an individual's right of self-determination. It's no different from forbidding abortion. If we are opposed to the state controlling a woman's right to control her body, it seems to me by the same logic we should either take a hands-off approach or provide clean and pleasant facilities so that someone doesn't have to leave a mess behind (shotgun in mouth, jumping off the 20th floor, slitting one's wrists, etc.). The only exception might be someone who is clearly insane, though their suicidal tendency should not be considered as the sole determinant of their sanity.

Comment by James on August 29, 2011 at 9:25pm

Personally, I'd say that life, no matter how bad you think it may be, is reason enough to prevent suicide. In the case of a believer, there is still the idea of something after death. Be it good or bad, it's still something. But we have but one life to live. It is short and precious, and when it's done, that's it. Eternal non-existence. So even if life is bad and you think that suicide is the answer, I'd say that that life is still better than being permanently erased. Life is a gift that so many never get to experience properly, if at all. To piss it all away because things are tough seems very selfish and ungratefully to me. We awe it to those potential people that were never born to make the most of our lives as we can. Maybe things are tough now, but they can (and often do) get better. Then there are those close to you to consider. Sure, you may only be ending your life, but that act will profoundly touch the lives of everyone you now as well. So no, I don't oppose suicide on the grounds of religious consequence/morals, but in the name of life itself.



Comment by Unseen on August 29, 2011 at 9:39pm

I guess the question is, though, is it ever right to intervene in someone else's suicide and impose one's will on them. I'm not talking about someone who is clearly insane, but someone who has considered everything by their own lights and decided to end it all. If it comes down to saving their life by strapping them to a bed, is life so important that one should go that far to preserve it in someone who doesn't want it?


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