Introduction

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

Albert Camus

Whoever is oppressed with the burden of life, whoever desires life and affirms it, but abhors its torments, such a man has no deliverance to hope from death, and cannot right himself by suicide.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Free to die and free in death, able to say a holy No when the time for Yes has passed; thus he knows how to die and to live.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Suicide (and euthanasia) are now center-stage on the public agenda. Derek Humphry's suicide manual Final Exit published in 1991 made the New York Times best-sellers list. Various opinion polls reveal considerable support for a person's right to die, and several legal proceedings invoked against people who assist in suicide (or euthanasia) usually result in verdicts that are mere slaps on the wrist (e.g., innocent because of temporary insanity, guilty of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, or not guilty, often by virtue of jury nullification). Even the rock singer Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, is memorialized by our youth, recently having a church named after him in Seattle. And, of course, the extraordinary epidemiological changes in medicine, advances in biomedical technology, and assorted preventive health measures have enabled people to live longer and, in turn, raise complex end-of-life decisions about the quality versus quantity of the life so prolonged. Contemporary public sentiment seems to be catching up with the long‐ standing view of many philosophers that suicide can sometimes be the quintessential free, rational act, something often noble and heroic.

-7-

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