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Suicide and the Question of Rationality and the Thought of Death

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2013 words Published: 9th Aug 2021

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In her work, Ethical Issues in Suicide, Margaret Pabst Battin tries to determine if suicide can be rational by using a number of criteria. I believe that two of her criteria can be weakened. While I agree that suicide can be rational, I think she fails to examine critical points that could lead to the irrationality of killing oneself. I will argue that suicide can be considered rational due to the human’s capacity to make their own choices and their rights over their own body. However, if the individual committing the act are not the ones making the decision by themselves, then suicide in both cases should be determined irrational because it does not involve the individual’s deduction process.

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Battin states that rational suicide is usually defined as “…the individual is not insane, in which the decision is reached in unimpaired, undeceived fashion, and in which the choice made is not a foolish thing for that individual to do,” (132). People determine suicide to be something a person would reasonably and knowingly do. Battin comes up with five criteria, which fall into two groups: the first three being non-impairment criteria and the last two being satisfaction of interests, both which could be used to evaluate other acts as well (132). It seems to be based on the human’s logical thinking process and their physical and emotional wants.

The ability to reason is the first criterion in the list, in which most think is that the person can come up with different logical reasons and the person can evaluate the consequences of the conclusion (Battin 133). However, there are mistakes that people commit while proving irrationality of suicide as Battin states it is thought that people should be able to predict the consequences after suicide if the act itself should be considered rational (133). Battin is explaining that humans must be able to figure out what would or could happen if they kill themselves in a thought process. However, she declares that many people do not actually see these consequences correctly (Battin 134). Battin points out that people do not imagine their deaths correctly (Shneidman and Farberow; Nagel, cited in Battin 1995, 134) or are focused on affecting the other people in their lives in a dyadic suicide (Shneidman, cited in Battin 1995, 134). This would prove that suicides could be rational because if individuals could not see the outcomes of their deaths, then the argument about consequences would be prove false. Battin goes on to state that suicides based on religion, to continue life and experiences after death, and reputation, to be seen in a particular way after death, are rational because it would be hard to prove ability to reason due to error in reasoning (Battin 134-135). Overall, I believe that Battin is stating that rational suicide involves a clear mind and extensive thought process.

Adequacy of information is another criterion where it is assumed that many suicides cannot meet this to be considered rational (Battin 137). It is assumed that inadequacy is people committing suicide based of mistaken information, such as an individual with a terminal illness committing suicide based off of a physician’s facial expressions, and can involve the person’s thoughts about present and future consequences (Battin 137). This would mean that people would not be rational in committing suicide because they do not have the right information to base it off of. However, Battin claims that you cannot determine irrationality of a suicide if there was no way possible of the individual knowing; it can only be judged if there was no attempt to get it from reliable sources (Battin 137-138). I think that Battin is inferring that not having the correct information could mean they are unable to participate in rational thought process. Another assumption of suicide not being rational due to this criterion is caused by internal factors, such as depression where they can unknowingly suppress certain information (Brandt, cited in Battin 1995, 138). She counters this by stating that you can still have adequate information because the future may be already negative, even with a smaller view (Battin 138-139). Therefore, from her counterargument, she is countering any claims of narrow views that the opposition would try to argue by stating that an individual’s health status does not matter. Battin states that some would claim that suicide would be irrational if one committed it because of an unlikely future, but states that committing suicides later, such as in illnesses, would be rational while committing it early would not be (140-141). Battin is saying that it would have to depend on the situation that the individual is in. Overall, I think Battin is trying to conclude that it would be difficult to determine the amount of reliable information needed in order to commit rational suicide.

I think that suicide can be rational since it is in regards to the individual’s body and mind because it was what they were born with. It is their choice whether they commit suicide or not and they have the right to do whatever they want with it. I argue that they know their own bodies enough since they have lived in them for so many years and ultimately would know what is best for them. Therefore, it would not be irrational to commit suicide if they are the ones who are committing that act. Some could say that just because you own your body does not make it rational to commit suicide. In fact, you may not know much about your body at all and are making an uninformed decision, thus making it irrational to commit suicide. This would be an example of inadequacy of information being used as an assumption for irrational suicide (Battin 137). However, objectors would not know the human’s situation either so it would not be fair to say if an individual commit suicide. This is something Battin acknowledges when she states that each person has their own ideas about suicide and what comes after (142). It is up to the individual to decide whether they end their lives; if they think they have done enough research and learned as much as they can to commit suicide, then they should be allowed to proceed.

However, I believe that suicide is irrational if the person committing the act is not the one who thought about it or came up with the idea to kill themselves. To be more specific, the individual who is committing suicide should have thought about it all by themselves without any influence or coercion. This derives from the original definition given in the text, in which the person should not be deceived when committing rational actions (Battin 132). This is something that I believe Battin should have looked at further since it could have affected her choice of criteria. If they are being influenced by any other person, then that is not their own decision. Even if they are committing the act with their own bodies, their mind was not a part of the decision. One example is if they were a part of a cult led by one main individual who had control over their followers. If that person preached to his followers to drink poison for him, and they do, then they were not clearly thinking about it. They let someone else tell them what to do, not what they thought to do. They should also not be physically forced into committing suicide as well. An example of this could be pointing a gun to someone’s head while handing them a knife and telling them to slit their throats. Whether from physical or emotional pressure, no one should not have a choice on whether or not to end their lives. I would consider this also irrational because that person is not being given a chance on whether to end their lives or not; someone else is making the choice for them. Battin claims that no act is fully rational with coercion (131).  This demonstrates that suicide by force could not be rational because if you are being forced with no other options then there is no way that could fully be your decision. Battin also reinforces this in which one of her criteria is that it should meet the interests of that individual (Williams, cited in Battin 1995, 146). Also, both of these points fail the criteria of ability to reason, in which they can move from premises to conclusion (Battin 133). If the individual is being forced or influenced by others, then they cannot figure out the premises or conclusion by themselves. If suicide is forced or not their decision, then it does not meet their interests but the interests of others, demonstrating that suicide in that regards could not be rational.

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One objection to my argument could be that the person was able to make those decisions by themselves even if they were coerced or influenced by another individual because they were able to think about it regardless. For example, they could have answered no and walked away, and that would have been more rational because they actually thought whether they wanted to proceed or not. However, I think that would be less rational in certain circumstances than suicide. Not everyone can decline and look the other way. If an adult had the mind of a six-year-old child, then they could not fully comprehend suicide. If the leader of a cult told that individual to drink a vial of poison, it is likely that they would because they may trust them. They would not have the ability to make a rational decision about suicide because they cannot fully understand the situation. The individual may not have the capacity to say no either. The same would go for an actual child as well, as seen in the text where children would not think of suicide as the end of their lives, but only sleeping (Battin 133-134). This does not fulfill the criteria of adequacy of information, because they do not have the information from other resources or there was no effort to get them from reliable sources (Battin 138). This would mean that even if suicide by individuals under those circumstances was considered, it would not be rational because they do not have a variety of information available to make a conclusion, or it would not be possible for them to an informed decision. It does not fulfill the ability to reason criteria either because they are not moving from premises to conclusions (Battin 133). If they cannot comprehend the situation due to their mind’s age, then there is a chance that they cannot be able to complete that process. If the person with the gun pointed to their head had their spouse threatened who they loved, then they would seemingly have no choice. Battin reinforces this by stating that people in forced-choice tests choose the option that suits their most fundamental interest (151-152). In this example, it would be the spouse that is saved if the person is selfless. It also goes against one of Battin’s criteria, in which it does not serve the person’s interests which come from their values (Williams, cited in Battin 1995, 146) because it would not serve any interest to kill the spouse if the individual loved them. By committing suicide for these reasons, I do not think they are committing rational suicide because they are being influenced or have no comprehension of what they are doing. Both examples still lack the ability to reason, in which Battin states that the reasoning for suicide that involves living after death could be rational (135). If they are being forced or influenced, then it must be considered someone is doing it for them. They may not be thinking about it at all. Suicide needs to be thought out, not rushed. In my opinion, rational suicide would need to be the person’s choice if it, and not the choice of others.

In conclusion, I think that suicide can be rational in regards to Battin’s criteria, but only if it is the person’s choice.

Works Cited

Battin, Margaret Pabst. “The Concept of Rational Suicide”. Ethical Issues in Suicide. Prentice Hall, 1995, pp. 131-135. Print.


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