Should People (Even Depressed Ones) Be Allowed To Kill Themselves?

Just a quick warning that this post discusses mental illness and suicide. If you consider that a trigger or those topics make you uncomfortable, please avoid this post. This post was not written to offend or hurt anyone. It is an attempt to explore a controversial topic. 

Should depressed people have the right to take their own life and/or have the state (government) help them? Taken a step further, should people be allowed to take their life no matter what the circumstances?

I ran across a news story of a 24 year old who has recently been given the go-ahead to be euthanized by lethal injection :

A 24-year-old Belgian woman who suffers from depression and has had a “death wish” since childhood has been granted the right to die  — even though she’s not terminally ill.

Doctors gave the young woman, identified only as Laura, the go-ahead to be euthanized by lethal injection after she spent her life battling suicidal thoughts, she told Belgian newspaper De Morgen.

“Life, that’s not for me,” she said. “Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful.”

Laura, who entered a psychiatric institution when she was 21, said her alcohol father and troubled childhood contributed to her longtime “death wish.”

“I played all my life with these thoughts of suicide, I have also done a few attempts,” she said. “But then there is someone who needs me, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. That has always stopped me.”

I watched a short video on it, where the hosts (I’ll drop the video at the bottom of this post) debate the topic. One was for euthanasia and one was against it. My first reaction was to recoil at the thought of someone taking their life for any reason other than terminal illness, but the more I mull over the situation, the more I feel as though people should be able to take their own life no matter what.

Now, I do want to qualify that statement by saying I hope no one wants to take their own life. I’m not cheering at the prospect of people taking their own life.

However, I don’t feel the state has a right to try and force people to live their lives. I don’t feel as though life should be forced on anyone. I also don’t think the state should have the right to incarcerate people for failing their attempt to take their own life.

Anyone who has read this blog should know my thoughts on the religious arguments that God owns your life etc. I definitely do not agree with those arguments, and I don’t believe people’s individual religious views should be factored in when it comes to making laws. I’ve also written before on my thoughts about euthanasia for the terminally ill.

When push comes to shove, I think our life should be our own and whether we live it or not should be our choice and our choice alone.

The sticky part for me is when mental illness is brought into the equation. At that point, how much of the decision is based on our choice and how much is based on the mental illness affecting thought processes?

I don’t know. I’m not a doctor and I’m certainly not qualified to speak on that topic. I only have my opinions.

According to statistics:

Suicide is a potentially preventable public health problem. In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. That year, there were nearly 37,000 suicides, and 1 million people attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Those numbers seem very high. They probably shouldn’t surprise me. In my lifetime, I’ve known at least one person who has taken their own life. They used a shoelace, tied it to a doorknob and around their neck, and sat down until they asphyxiated. He was fighting a drug habit and might very well have been battling a mental illness.

If he had been allowed to go to a doctor and get assistance to die, would he have done so?

I don’t know. And while I think on an intellectual basis that people like my acquaintance should be allowed to seek out a doctors help instead of having to tie that shoelace, my gut tells me otherwise. I realize I’m being a bit wishy-washy on this subject because I’m really undecided.

So what do you think? Under what circumstances should someone be allowed to kill themselves? Should the state be allowed to assist?

Or are you against euthanasia and suicide altogether?

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39 Comments

  1. To me, the question comes down to whether or not the person is competent to make that decision. If having the state take my life in a humane manner was an option for me, I know I would definitely try to use that option. Am I competent to make that decision? Even while on medication and receiving therapy, probably not.

    Still, if this person has exhausted reasonable resources and avenues for treatment, I don’t think she should be forced to suffer. At least this way, she can die with dignity.

  2. Difficult call as we are talking about mental illness rather than a terminal physical illness.
    In the latter one’s mental faculties are likely less skewed than the former.

    The danger in the former case is that some unnecessary cases are going to slip through the net, in a similar way that a percentage of inmates on Death Row are executed and they are, in fact innocent.

  3. Yeah, that whole “sound mind” argument when making the decision can turn into one big mess…after all, who’s 100% sane all day, every day?

    As someone who has attempted suicide and has a child who also attempted it, (years and ages apart; unrelated), I don’t know if I can explain well enough why I see mental illness as different. Maybe because the symptom of MI is feeling suicidal (or at least one of those) vs. the other diseases that get brought up have definite, measurable declines in other functions that are not related to one’s mental state?

    IDK. I don’t think I am articulating this very well, but it is definitely something to ponder…

  4. I am super idealistic, and always believe that life can always get better. I guess that’s why I disapprove of suicide. I think if people clung on to the hope that their life could be an important part of the fabrication of time, they wouldn’t necessarily see death as a better escape.

  5. I think too that if someone is that close to suicide, they’ll do it. Oftentimes it’s messy, a dreadful trauma for anyone who finds them, and in many cases it colors the lives of the people left behind, forever.

    1. Death with dignity. On your terms. It may even dissuade some people from the actual event, since often the threat of suicide is used for favors, or attention.

    2. You don’t have to hide now. You are who you are, and you are opting out because this life and you are not a match.

    3. Far better to choose when than to pick the day after Christmas ( a popular place, I’ve noticed for suicides), or after Mum’s birthday, or something…

    4. You dont have to be concerned (nor do they) that they’ll find you dead in some particularly gruesome way.

    5. And the beauty part of it is, you can change your mind at the last moment. If someone is mentally ill, but also realizes that he doesnt want to live, Id say he’s sane enough in that regard to either do it himself or have it done by request.

    We accord our animals death with dignity, why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

    • I am in full support of assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill and suffering pain every day. I absolutely think they should be able to die with dignity.

      I’m leaning towards saying that we should just have the right to die on our own terms regardless of the circumstances. It makes me a bit uncomfortable but I’m not sure why.

  6. It’s a difficult debate because we don’t all have the same understanding. I possess an abundance of knowledge by association, but that isn’t the same thing as living with it inside my own brain. I have loved ones who are trying to survive suicidal thoughts as if it were any other disease attempting to kill them. Eventually they come back around and find pleasure out of living again, if only for a while. And that is the part that makes this conversation scary. When someone is struggling to keep their head above water, I do not believe they have the ability to see the bigger picture.

    The part that intrigues me is that if there were an avenue of diagnosing untreatable Depression, the kind which never allows one to come up for air; and that diagnosis meant you would be given the okay for lethal injection….would those struggling with suicidal thoughts be more likely to seek treatment in order to obtain this? I think they would. At least, some of them would. And from this perspective I might support the idea wholeheartedly.

    • “The part that intrigues me is that if there were an avenue of diagnosing untreatable Depression, the kind which never allows one to come up for air; and that diagnosis meant you would be given the okay for lethal injection….would those struggling with suicidal thoughts be more likely to seek treatment in order to obtain this? I think they would. At least, some of them would. And from this perspective I might support the idea wholeheartedly.”

      What a great point! I never even thought of it from that angle before. In a round about way, it may actually prevent suicides.

      Thanks for that food for thought, LAD

    • Interesting, I read this and got the exact opposite thought. In general, I’m okay with people making their own decisions about their lives, but I worry that in the case of suicide, if we are more accepting as a society of “some people just have to end their lives” (outside of terminal conditions, of course) we will see an increase in suicides, which means people who might not have ended their lives will. Japan is a good example of how this works. They have a long tradition of “noble suicides.” They have by far the highest suicide rates of any industrialized nation.

      I also have done some reading on the relationship between hope, options and ability to adjust psychologically. For example, I read a study (couldn’t find it in the time I had to post this, sorry) about how patients with temporary colostomy bags are actually worse at adjusting to them than people with permanent ones. When you dangle what seems like an easy escape in front of somebody, it becomes much harder for them to concentrate on anything else. I think that if we had “are you depressed enough to end your life” panels and reviews, that would disrupt the healing process of so many people who already have it so hard.

      I don’t judge people who end their lives because of mental illness, and I think people who attempt suicide should be treated instead of criminalized. But I think we need to give people their best chance at recovering and living a happy life.

  7. I’m not sure that I have anything to offer in the way of whether [depressed] people should be allowed to commit suicide or not. I will only say that I don’t think the state can really prevent [depressed] people from committing suicide. I’m not sure I can say that I think that the state should assist anyone [even a terminally ill person] in doing so. These are personal decisions that I don’t think the state has any part in. I’d be a little more than concerned if I found out that the state was helping people end their lives in any way whatsoever.

    Here is what I do think. Terminally ill people should be allowed to have physician/caregiver assisted suicide if they are of sound enough mind to make such a decision.

    I know that people suffer from ongoing clinical depression for which there is no cure. Trial and error in finding medications can actually exacerbate their depression. In the final analysis I think only the person who is suffering should be the one to determine when enough is enough. I know that if I were suffering day in and day out for a very long time with no relief in sight I might(likely would, in fact) choose suicide over the suffering.

    I have suffered from acute situational depression and wished(actually prayed) for death to come. I fleetingly considered suicide and quickly realized that I needed help. I’ve heard more than one person say that they don’t understand suicide and that they feel that it is cowardly, selfish, and the easy way out. I disagree. I never felt that simply because I briefly considered ending it all that I was being any of those. When a person is in excruciating pain and they see no other way to make that pain stop suicide isn’t as insane as it sounds.

    I’m glad I didn’t choose to harm myself. That would have been a permanent solution to a temporary situation. But for some people depression isn’t temporary. It’s an ongoing daily struggle. And for them suicide might feel like a very(maybe the only) sane option. Maybe we are the selfish ones for wanting them to endure that level of pain so that we can have them here.

    I hope that they can find enough good reasons not to end their lives. I hope they can overcome the daily struggle to have peace. I wish that no one ever even felt the need to think of that as a solution.

    • I agree with a lot of what you said, Ruth.

      “I fleetingly considered suicide and quickly realized that I needed help. I’ve heard more than one person say that they don’t understand suicide and that they feel that it is cowardly, selfish, and the easy way out. I disagree. I never felt that simply because I briefly considered ending it all that I was being any of those. When a person is in excruciating pain and they see no other way to make that pain stop suicide isn’t as insane as it sounds.”

      I don’t think that it’s a cowards way out either. I think that’s just people slinging mud and talking about something they don’t fully understand.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts. Excellent, excellent comment.

  8. I concur with Judy, although I still have mixed feelings due to personal circumstances. I think if every option to get well has been exhausted, and the person is still wanting to end their life, he/she should be allowed to die with dignity.

    My late husband committed suicide, and it was like seeing the worse of the worst in a horror movie. Blood, brain matter, teeth and pieces of skull all over our bedroom. The images will never go away. He had been battling with severe depression which was caused by a neurological disorder induced by traumatic brain injury. He was in his 20’s. This happened back in the 80’s when they knew very little about the impact of TBI, complex partial seizures and depression. People with CPS are 25 times more likely to commit suicide.

    His neurological disorder was also responsible for him becoming hyper-religious, which is a major feature of certain mental disorders. So he got very religious as his condition progressed. In becoming very religious he also got involved with the wrong crowd — evangelical Christians who told him that the cause of his disorder was due to demons. Because of his hyper-religious condition he believed them, got freaked out, and used a shotgun to end his life.

    I do believe that had he gotten the right counseling and found the right medication to help him with his disorder and depression, he’d be alive and well today. I do not think that in this circumstance, he should have been given the green light to end his life. Nevertheless, like Judy mentioned, people who are in pain, mentally, and feel there is no escape except to end their life, will find a way, legal or not.

  9. oh Victoria, you are just the kind of person I was thinking of. I am so sorry that happened to both of you. But how much kinder and gentler if he had had the choice and could have spared you just that kind of ending for himself.

    Anytime I see an obituary where it says, for example, ‘died suddenly, at home…” and he or she was only in their 20s or 30s, I think, oh crap. But if it were to be, Id much rather have it happen under a known doctor’s aegis, rather than ‘state’ assisted. That begins to sound a bit too cold and 1984ish.

  10. I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I wrote a philosophy paper on the right to die for terminally patients. I, also, have had severe depression and other mental health issues, and yes, I’ve been to the point were I’ve wanted to die. I’ll spare you the details.

    The thing with mental illness is even if the person is competent in a legal sense. The person still isn’t competent, when untreated, in another sense. Depression alone is actually highly treatable. (It’s more complicated if it’s, say, Bipolar depression.)

    If the person in question has gone through every possible combination of treatments, then yes, we should let them die. (Provided they’re still suicidal.) But, I do think it would be wrong to allow some to kill themselves, when they have the potential to recover and live a normal life.

    Plus, mental illnesses are not purely biological, generally speaking. Usually, there are environmental factors, and this is where you get into politics. It is a lot cheaper to just medicate, when most severely mentally ill people need both medication and psychotherapy. Insurances don’t want to spend a bunch of money on therapy, and many people can’t afford weekly sessions etc. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the details.

  11. Just the idea of a board of people looking at some poor soul in obvious endless emotional pain, suffering the further indignity of being judged sane enough to allow someone to euthanize them…and its really a catch-22 isnt it. If you are sane enough to want to be euthanized then you are insane enough to be denied…

  12. Hi, sorry for putting up two posts in short order. I perhaps should have stayed away from this post, as it’s affecting me more than I thought it would. However, what’s done is done, and I need to just say one last thing and then stay as far away from this comment thread as possible for a while.

    I’m transgender. I’ve had depression and severe isolating anxiety. Most of my friends have at least one of those in common with me, which means that basically everyone I know has contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, myself included. Thankfully, none of us successfully did it, and all of us are happy we didn’t. All of our lives still suck in some ways, but we got through our suicidal phase. For all of us, a crucial part of that was the voices, both from friends and the culture at large, that said, “don’t do it. Your life is worth while. This is not the end. Do whatever you have to do, change your body, abandon your religion, pursue the therapies that your parents have told you was for weaklings. Do things you never contemplated doing, that you’re afraid to do. Just don’t end it. Your life is worth saving.”

    If instead of that voice, we had heard “just convince me you’re depressed enough, and I’ll give you a pill that will end it all quietly,” many of us would not be alive. The thing about people who recover from suicidal feelings is that at the time we are feeling them, they are as real as for the people who end up ending their lives. Our heads are already buzzing with the terrifying conviction that this will never end.

    I’m not going to say that I know everyone can recover just because my friends did. I don’t know that. What I do know is that not condoning suicide doesn’t stop people from doing it. I lost my uncle to suicide. I lost so many trans brothers and sisters who I will never have the privilege of meeting to suicide. Nobody needs your help to decide to end it, if it’s really that bad. They need your help to find the strength to not end it.

  13. Pingback: My Thoughts On ‘The Amazing New Atheists’ and Morality and Ethics | Godless Cranium

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