The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources

The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources

The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources

The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources

Synopsis

Is suicide wrong, profoundly morally wrong? Almost always wrong, but excusable in a few cases? Sometimes morally permissible? Imprudent, but not wrong? Is it sick, a matter of mental illness? Is it a private matter or a largely social one? Could it sometimes be right, or a "noble duty," or even a fundamental human right? Whether it is called "suicide" or not, what role may a person play in the end of his or her own life? This collection of primary sources - the principal texts of ethical interest from major writers in western and nonwestern cultures, from the principal religious traditions, and from oral cultures where observer reports of traditional practices are available, spanning Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania, the Arctic, and North and South America - facilitates exploration of many controversial practical issues: physician-assisted suicide or aid-in-dying; suicide in social or political protest; self-sacrifice and martyrdom; suicides of honor or loyalty; religious and ritual practices that lead to death, including sati or widow-burning, hara-kiri, and sallekhana, or fasting unto death; and suicide bombings, kamikaze missions, jihad, and other tactical and military suicides. This collection has no interest in taking sides in controversies about the ethics of suicide; rather, rather, it serves to expand the character of these debates, by showing them to be multi-dimensional, a complex and vital part of human ethical thought.

Excerpt

Is suicide wrong, always wrong, or profoundly morally wrong? Or is it almost always wrong but excusable in a few cases? Or is it sometimes morally permissible? Is it not intrinsically wrong at all, though perhaps often imprudent? Is it sick? Is it a matter of mental illness? Is it a private or a social act? Is it something the family, community, or society should always try to prevent, or could ever expect of a person? Could it sometimes be a "noble duty"? Or is it solely a personal matter, perhaps a matter of right based in individual liberties, or even a fundamental human right? This spectrum of views about the ethics of ending one's own life-from the view that doing so is profoundly morally wrong, the gravest of sins, to the view that it is a matter of basic human right, and from the view that it is primarily a private matter to the view that it is largely a social one-lies at the root of contemporary practical controversies over how we die. These practical, often overlapping controversies include at least six specific issues of historical and contemporary salience . . .

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