Suicide and the Harm Principle

2897 Words Dec 5th, 2012 12 Pages
The Right to Suicide and Harm

Suicide under circumstances of extreme suffering is the morally right action as opposed to the alternative, living in pain. J.S. Mill’s Utilitarian ideals provide strong reasoning to support suicide in instances of severe pain, while Kant’s moral theory of the categorical imperative provides reasoning against taking one’s own life. Mill’s principle of utility is the maximization of pleasure and the reduction of pain. Mill regards happiness as the greatest good in life and all actions should be performed as long as they have the tendency to produce pleasure. Mill also introduces the Harm Principle. The Harm Principle is used to determine whether coercion is justifiable based on the impact of individual
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Mill would invoke the Harm Principle. The act of committing suicide would be a self-regarding act. As the harm is directly imposed on herself, all other consequences of her action are considered indirect as they occur through Jane’s self-regarding act. Hence, Jane should suffer no moral or legal sanctions for committing suicide. Furthermore, she has evaluated her options and upon deep consideration, decided that the pain of living with her condition outweighs the pleasure of living with her condition. A utility calculation can be formalized to further justify her decision on utilitarian grounds. (Utilitarianism)

For Jane: 1. Tendency to cause pleasure: 100 units 2. Tendency to cause pain: 50 units
For the aggregate of the other people affected: 3. Tendency to cause pleasure: 10 units 4. Tendency to cause pain: 20 units
Hence: Pleasure: 110 units, Pain: 70 units. Perform the action.

For Jane, dying would be the ultimate pleasure as it is the end of her suffering. She views suicide as the mean to her ultimate end: happiness. For Jane, the pain of dying is less than the pain of living. After seeing her mother die from Parkinson’s disease, she makes the valid decision to not die the same way. She recognizes that death is the end of her life and the pain of leaving her family and friends does impact on this decision. Yet, when compared to the suffering she will endure as her Parkinson’s progresses, the pleasure derived from
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