(Almost) Everyone Should Be Allowed to Kill Themselves

Bioethicist and Writer
A person should have the right to end their own life, so long as they can prove that they are thinking rationally over a prolonged period of several days.
  • Transcript


Question: Who should be allowed to commit suicide?

Jacob Appel: The short answer, I would say, is anyone.  But the real answer I think is, almost anyone.  I am very comfortable with the system that for a very acute period of time protects from their own worst instincts.  But I do mean for a very acute period of time.  I think the paradigmatic example of someone you might want to prevent from committing suicide is the teenager who breaks up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and tries to overdose on Tylenol.  And to tell them, for a few days, we’re going to hospitalize you against your will doesn’t seem that reasonable to me. 

In contrast, someone who has suffered from chronic depression throughout their life with multiple suicide attempts clearly, modern medicine and modern psychiatry has been unable to help this person.  While I wouldn’t necessarily choose to end my life under those circumstances, I would respect someone else’s right to do so.  So the real standard I would use is, does this person on the one hand have the capacity to make this decision.  Are they thinking clearly, are they thinking rationally?  And secondly, can they demonstrate this capacity over a prolonged period of several days rather than in an instant? And I think the vast majority of people who wish to commit suicide wouldn’t meet most of those criteria.