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But while suicide is chiefly intended to terminate a life – other acts are aimed at perpetuating, strengthening, and defending values or other people. Many - not only religious people - are appalled by choice implied in suicide - of death over life. They feel that it demeans life and abnegates its meaning.
Life's meaning - outcome of active selection by individual - is either external (such as God's plan) or internal, outcome of an arbitrary frame of reference, such as having a career goal. Our life is rendered meaningful only by integrating into an eternal thing, process, design, or being. Suicide makes life trivial because act is not natural - not part of eternal framework, undying process, timeless cycle of birth and death. Suicide is a break with eternity.
Henry Sidgwick said that only conscious (i.e., intelligent) beings can appreciate values and meanings. So, life is significant to conscious, intelligent, though finite, beings - because it is a part of some eternal goal, plan, process, thing, design, or being. Suicide flies in face of Sidgwick's dictum. It is a statement by an intelligent and conscious being about meaninglessness of life.
If suicide is a statement, than society, in this case, is against freedom of expression. In case of suicide, free speech dissonantly clashes with sanctity of a meaningful life. To rid itself of anxiety brought on by this conflict, society cast suicide as a depraved or even criminal act and its perpetrators are much castigated.
The suicide violates not only social contract - but, many will add, covenants with God or nature. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in "Summa Theologiae" that - since organisms strive to survive - suicide is an unnatural act. Moreover, it adversely affects community and violates property rights of God, imputed owner of one's spirit. Christianity regards immortal soul as a gift and, in Jewish writings, it is a deposit. Suicide amounts to abuse or misuse of God's possessions, temporarily lodged in a corporeal mansion.
This paternalism was propagated, centuries later, by Sir William Blackstone, codifier of British Law. Suicide - being self-murder - is a grave felony, which state has a right to prevent and to punish for. In certain countries this still is case. In Israel, for instance, a soldier is considered to be "military property" and an attempted suicide is severely punished as "a corruption of an army chattel".
Paternalism, a malignant mutation of benevolence, is about objectifying people and treating them as possessions. Even fully-informed and consenting adults are not granted full, unmitigated autonomy, freedom, and privacy. This tends to breed "victimless crimes". The "culprits" - gamblers, homosexuals, communists, suicides, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes – are "protected from themselves" by an intrusive nanny state.
The possession of a right by a person imposes on others a corresponding obligation not to act to frustrate its exercise. Suicide is often choice of a mentally and legally competent adult. Life is such a basic and deep set phenomenon that even incompetents - mentally retarded or mentally insane or minors - can fully gauge its significance and make "informed" decisions, in my view.
The paternalists claim counterfactually that no competent adult "in his right mind" will ever decide to commit suicide. They cite cases of suicides who survived and felt very happy that they have - as a compelling reason to intervene. But we all make irreversible decisions for which, sometimes, we are sorry. It gives no one right to interfere.
Paternalism is a slippery slope. Should state be allowed to prevent birth of a genetically defective child or forbid his parents to marry in first place? Should unhealthy adults be forced to abstain from smoking, or steer clear from alcohol? Should they be coerced to exercise?
Suicide is subject to a double moral standard. People are permitted - nay, encouraged - to sacrifice their life only in certain, socially sanctioned, ways. To die on battlefield or in defense of one's religion is commendable. This hypocrisy reveals how power structures - state, institutional religion, political parties, national movements - aim to monopolize lives of citizens and adherents to do with as they see fit. Suicide threatens this monopoly. Hence taboo.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com