Friday, 23 September 2011

Liberalism and Suicide

Liberals believe that the acceptable limits to individual freedom are only justified by the need to prevent doing harm to others. But, what about harming to himself namely through the extreme act of committing suicide?

The attitude to suicide has been extensively debated by philosophers and theologians throughout history, and we find all types of arguments in favor or against ranging from utilitarianism to stoicism.

Some Classical Liberals are often are in favor of such freedom on the grounds that a person's life belongs to herself, and nobody has the right to force their own ideals that life must be lived. Others go even further by claiming that suicide represents the ultimate freedom of humanity. For instance, Thomas Szasz argues that if freedom is self-ownership—ownership over one's own life and body—then the right to end that life is the most basic of all rights.

However, many libertarians hold that the right to life is an inalienable right that one cannot renounce by committing suicide, any more than one could alienate oneself from the right to one's liberty by selling himself into permanent slavery.

The self-ownership argument depends on whether one believes in God or not. For instance, John Locke, one of the founders of liberalism, believed that “men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker … are his property” and therefore man has no liberty to destroy himself.

For those who do not believe in God’s ownership, Locke’s principle on the equality of all mankind as the foundation for mutual love, which leads him to advocate that “men know that is no less their duty, to love others than themselves”, provides a basis to refute suicide.

In conclusion, on the basis of the inalienability of the rights to freedom and equality liberals must condemn suicide. Yet, because of their duty to be charitable they must pardon suicide committed as an act of despair before a certain death from torture or from a painful incurable disease.

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