After I attempted to take my life, I spent five long weeks in the hospital, eagerly awaiting my return home. Eventually, I was discharged by the hospital’s mental health facility. But I wasn’t quite free. Instead, I was released on “Extended Leave” under British Columbia’s Mental Health Act.
This act gives the government the authority to issue a warrant, apprehend, and recall me to the mental health facility if I’m deemed a threat to myself or others, stop taking my medications, or cease communications with mental health workers.
To many, this Mental Health Act might sound like a sensible piece of legislation. If enforced correctly, the act could promote mental health, protect citizens, and prevent death.
There’s only one problem: Suicide is a human right. And by denying citizens the right to choose, governments may be promoting and prolonging undue suffering.
Is Life Superior to Death? Let the Individual Decide
Forcibly detaining people who have attempted or expressed interest in suicide is the equivalent of an adult “time-out:” That is, overbearing and patronizing. In detaining tentative suiciders, authorities may believe that they have their best interests in mind. But these actions and policies are founded on the notion that life is superior to death, which is implicitly biased.
In actuality, whether life is preferable to death is subjective and should be decided by the individual. That’s because:
- Depending on myriad factors, each human life entails a distinct and wholly unique experience
- One human life can involve a significantly higher degree of suffering than another
- Finding contentment in one’s life doesn’t mean others can/will find it
- Neurochemical and physiological differences are real and can complicate one’s life, potentially leading to a higher degree of suffering
Perhaps most importantly, human beings are enthralled by the notion of self-preservation, which clouds our thinking on the issue of suicide. We’re programmed to fear death and view suicide unfavourably as a non-option. Psychology graduate Mitchell Heisman — who died by suicide — touches on this in his manifesto:
This prejudice against death, however, is a kind of xenophobia. Discrimination against death is simply assumed good and right. Absolutist faith in life is commonly a result of the unthinking conviction that existence or survival, along with an irrational fear of death, is “good”. This unreasoned conviction in the rightness of life over death is like a god or a mass delusion. Life is the “noble lie”; the common secularreligion of the West.
This pervasive prejudice against death, founded by fear, ultimately influences and shapes human action and policy like British Columbia’s Mental Health Act. And by policing suicide and revoking an individual’s right to die, governments force people to endure suffering and live by the “noble lie” that Heisman describes.
Meanwhile, none of us chose to be here. So why force everyone to stay? Doing so is perverse.
Human Life is Not Precious
One argument against suicide is that human life is precious, and human lives need to be lived and protected.
In reality, humans are the most populous mammal on earth. Our intelligence or resourcefulness doesn’t make our lives inherently superior to the lives of any other creature. Arguably, the scarcer a species is, the more valuable its lives are. And human beings are far from extinction.
Perhaps the “human life is precious” argument would hold up during a time of crisis. An apocalyptic event that decimates our population might assign a different value to human life if such a thing is even calculable. But with a population of nearly eight billion, humanity can safely embrace the right to choose between life and death.
Heisman certainly thinks so, believing that embracing suicide is a contribution to civilization and the application of reason to our existence:
Overcoming the “will to live”, then, represents one of the final steps in overcoming the provincial and “primitive” life instincts probably inherited from our evolutionary past, i.e. inclinations towards patriarchy, authoritarianism, sexism, kinism, and racism. It is not only a contribution to civilization but a culmination of the progress of civilization, that is, the application of reason to human existence. Only when the will to live itself is civilized, can one be free to acknowledge that reason itself does not dictate a bias towards life.
Of course, governments have a vested interest in protecting human lives because they need them to maintain and build their civilizations. Willfully participating citizens are the cells of any civilization’s body. Without them, authorities, governments, and civilizations will wither and die. This compromises their judgment on the issue of suicide.
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