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J Med Philos. 1986 May;11(2):143-55.

The concept of rational suicide.


Suicide has been condemned in our culture in one way or another since Augustine offered theological arguments against it in the sixth century. More recently, theological condemnation has given way to the view that suicidal behavior must always be symptomatic of emotional disturbance and mental illness. However, suicide has not always been viewed so negatively. In other times and cultures, it has been held that circumstances might befall a person in which suicide would be a perfectly rational course of action, in the same sense that any other course of action could be rational: that it could be sensible, i.e., defensible by good reasons, or that it could be in keeping with the agent's fundamental interests. Indiscriminate use of modern life-sustaining technologies has renewed interest in the possibility of rational suicide. Today proponents of rational suicide tend to equate the rationality of suicide with the competence of the decision to commit suicide.


Suicide has historically been condemned on theological grounds and, more recently, as symptomatic of emotional disturbance and mental illness. However, the indiscriminate use of modern life-sustaining technologies has led to an interest in voluntary euthanasia on the grounds of compassion and self determination and to a revived discussion of rational suicide. Proponents of rational suicide defend the practice as a competent decision when it is made on the basis of realistic beliefs and in the light of the person's fundamental interests and long-term values. The most obvious cases of rational suicide involve the termination of suffering, but Mayo also considers reasons other than self-interest. These include self-sacrificial suicides that advance altruistic values and expressive suicides that demonstrate a fundamental interest in a cause or situation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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