Advanced Search

Am I morally wrong if I can understand why my son took his own life? Am I wrong

Am I morally wrong if I can understand why my son took his own life? Am I wrong to see that his decision was a positive one, given the circumstances? Of course I am distraught, heartbroken and miss him terribly but the guilt I feel for understanding his reasons for ending his life seem to come from expectations of society. The acceptable moral viewpoints that society seems to have over suicide leave caring family members looking like we don't give a damn, when in fact the absolute opposite is true....the question in my head remains though...am I really morally wrong in understanding his reasons and believing he did the right thing for himself? To give some background:- My son was an extremely intelligent, gentle and kind young man, who had battled with schizophrenia for 7 years from the age of only 18. His hopes and dreams in life had to be abandoned through the terrible experiences of hallucinations and panic attacks. Despite the daily routine of taking drugs that left him with slurred speech...

I don't think you are wrong to have such a belief, and we can all think of situations in which people might come to the reasonable conclusion that death was preferable to life. There are of course religious, and not only religious, principles on which suicide is morally ruled out, but social stigma is not nowadays normally much attached to suicide, it seems to me. For example, relatives who assist in the death of someone are rarely now convicted by juries of anything illegal, and in a sense they are assisting in suicide, the suicide of someone who is no longer able to carry it out by themselves. Suicide itself is no longer a crime, in most jurisdictions, and there exists a long tradition in many cultures of respecting the decision to end a life when one no longer believes it is worth preserving.

I would not be overly concerned at feelings of guilt, because we often feel guilt for things over which we have no control at all. It is not as though in a fit of sudden despair when you were not available to be with him he carried out this act. He thought about it over some time, calmly considered the various options and likely eventualities, no doubt including your feelings in the matter and the effect his action would have on you, and came to a certain conclusion. I think we have to respect the decisions of our children, especially when they veer away from where we would like them to go, and not feel guilt as a result of them.

On the other hand, in the case of someone on medication and with mental health problems one is always worried about how far autonomy is at issue. Did he really have the ability to take a calm and measured decision, or was his thinking unbalanced by a particular combination of drugs, or indeed their absence? In that case one might be worried about whether prompt intervention of some kind might have brought about a different conclusion. Then guilt would be appropriate. From the account you provide, though, this is not the situation, and I am sure you would understand the nature of what was taking place much better than anyone else. There is no reason why suicide need not be a brave and defiant act, and you should have no compunction at so describing it.

Let me begin by saying that I'm sorry for your loss. This must be terribly hard. And your sense of guilt is understandable. It's hard to think the thought that one's child may have done the best thing in taking his own life. But as you point out, this thought doesn't come from lack of care or lack of grief, but from the very opposite: from deep caring and empathy born of intimate knowledge of your son's situation. There are some well-known theological and philosophical arguments intended to show that suicide is always wrong. Immanuel Kant offered one that strikes many readers -- it certainly strikes me this way -- as bordering on sophistry; I won't try to reconstruct it here, and won't recommend it as anything you need consider. Theological arguments against suicide often rest on dubious claims about the divine will and the way in which taking one's own life supposedly usurps God's perogative to decide when we die -- arguments that might well make a believer in a loving and merciful God shudder. But...

Is it ever rational to commit suicide?

Is it ever rational to commit suicide?

I would add this, however. While it certainly can be rational to commit suicide, people who are considering suicide aren't always in a good position to think about it rationally. That's for the obvious reason that many (perhaps most) people who are seriously thinking about killing themselves are depressed, and part of what depression does is make it hard to think clearly. A depressed person might believe that there's no hope, and that the pain will never end, but that's often not true. So yes: suicide can be rational. But if you know someone who's thinking about it, helping them get help may serve what they would understand as their own rational ends if only they were in a better position to see them.

I would add this, however. While it certainly can be rational to commit suicide, people who are considering suicide aren't always in a good position to think about it rationally. That's for the obvious reason that many (perhaps most) people who are seriously thinking about killing themselves are depressed, and part of what depression does is make it hard to think clearly. A depressed person might believe that there's no hope, and that the pain will never end, but that's often not true. So yes: suicide can be rational. But if you know someone who's thinking about it, helping them get help may serve what they would understand as their own rational ends if only they were in a better position to see them.