Attitudes toward Suicide
Most of us know that anthropologists have found every imaginable attitude toward suicide in both savage and civilized societies. Anthropologists, however, like psychiatrists and sociologists, are able only to provide us with data; in their scientific capacity they cannot jump the gap between what is and what ought to be. To suppose that tabulating moral sentiments described from observation settles an ethical question is what is called the naturalistic fallacy- confusing what is with what ought to be. Whether we ought to be free to end our lives or not is a question of philosophy, of ethics in particular. If a psychiatrist, for example, asserts or implies that people ought not to choose naughtness or oblivionate themselves (to use Herman Melville's neologisms), that scientist is wearing a philosopher's hat. Ought is not in the scientific lexicon.
In spite of the defiant immortalists who look forward to resurrection by cryonics or by outwitting cell death biochemically (such as Alan Harrington, who stated, "Death is an imposition on the human race, and no longer acceptable"), we know perfectly well that aging is a fatal disease and we all are its victims. The ethical question is whether we may ever rightly take any rational human initiative in death and dying or are, instead, obliged in conscience to look upon life and death fatalistically, as something that just has to happen to us willy-nilly.
We have pretty well settled the life-control issue with our contraceptive practices and policies; now we must look just as closely at the death-control problem. If we may initiate life, may we not terminate it? Were Ernest Hemingway and his father before him wrong to shoot themselves? Ethically? Psychologically?____________________