Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Suicide

Threats of suicide do not constitute “participatory democracy”

I'm making note of this conversation which occurred a few days ago on Facebook. I'm doing so primarily for my record, but to emphasise that fasting as POLICY BLACKMAIL is an inappropriate way to seek change in democratic society.

By all means protest, write, spread the message. Civil society has that role. But fasting – that's something no one should use lightly. In Gandhi's view, that was only a tool for self-purification, to bring down violence, to persuade others to stop violence, NOT as a tool to demand something.

I'm glad that no one has died from the many POLICY FASTS we have seen in the last two to three years. Ramdev survived, Anna survived. And now Kejriwal (in a few hours from now he will end his fast). Had any one of these died, that may have led to an outbreak of violence, nullifying the key Gandhian tenet.

EXTRACT

This is how it started, with my tweet:

Arvind Kejriwal (@AKParivartan) Instead of fasting, Arvind, let's work to TAKE OVER the parliament. Don't beseech these rascals. http://bit.ly/MkpNiX

SC: Well….Taking over Parliament is the Last Option. And you are not wrong. But Is Joining Politics and Forming Political parties should be the only way of Seeking Justice? So how do 1 Billion people represent themselves in Parliament? All stand for elections? Should people who are elected not be made Responsible and Accountable? What does "PARTICIPATORY"democracy mean to us?

Very simple example…How was RTI brought into place? Was a political party brought into being? If we start making one political party for evry EVIL in this country, we will have N no of political parties….If thts the solution..be it!

There is something thats called "Pre-Legislative process" in other Democratic countries of the world like UK and a couple of others. Constitution is ever evolving and shud not be Static. Adaptabilty is Growth. 

Sanjeev Sabhlok  Begging rascals, or committing suicide while begging those who are not worthy to be spat upon, is not my idea of "participatory" democracy. Gandhi warned against the use of fasting by those who aren't seeking self-purification. Team Anna has brought fasting down to blackmail. That's inappropriate. There are honorable methods available to participate – Team Anna should choose such methods. Threatening suicide and blackmailing the country is a very bad idea.

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Santhara – or voluntary fast to death in Jainism: provisional views.

A gentleman on FB asked me my views on Santhara. First of all, let me note that I had never heard of this is so I searched Wikipedia and found useful information here. Basically about 240 Jainis kill themselves each year through voluntary fasting. Wiki notes that "Like most Dharmic religious traditions, Jainism considers suicide a wrong."

To begin with let me provide a link to my previous blog posts on related subjects:

Now for a discussion of Santhra. 
 
In the current (draft) version of DOF, I've noted the following in relation to mahasamadhi:
A few other methods of self-harm raise particularly prickly questions. A mahasamadhi is (apparently) an event in which someone, as part of religious belief, wills himself to death. Whether this is at all feasible without causing direct violence on one’s body is a question best reserved for another day (noting my scepticism about such events, and that I would need sturdy data that might not be readily forthcoming). The key issue is this – that people with the purported power of mahasamadhi are usually highly revered. Such self-destruction is charged with widely perceived moral and spiritual properties. 
 
[This] acts appear[s] to violate Proposition 1, and yet, undertaken with wide public awareness, [it is] not comparable with garden variety suicide. Proposition 1 aims to maximise life. When people, in following a particular moral path, undertake such acts of self-destruction, their actions raise many questions of justice and accountability. I would think that the key is to prove that such actions are not in someone’s vested personal interest. Should that have happened, or the truth distorted, then placing such a person under arrest and force-feeding him would be perfectly valid. There is a very fine line distinguishing these actions, and calls for the exercise of considerable judgement.
The current version includes a discussion of "fast-unto-death" along with mahasamadhi, but I intend to treat fast-unto-death separately in further revisions, given my review of what Gandhi actually wrote about it, and therefore a better understanding of the nuances involved. I continue to believe that fast unto death as an emotional tool can be justified under one circumstance: when someone tries to directly SAVE lives through a fast (e.g. in communal violence). It can't be justified as a political tool to obtain normal political goals in a democracy.
 
But mahasamadhi is different. I'm inclined to stick with my views in the current draft of DOF. 
 
The conditions met by santhra include:
 
(a) there is no direct violence involved (true, fasting hurts our own body's cells); 
(b) no one is harmed;
(c) everyone knows about what is going on, and in the religious community involved there is recognition of the spiritual properties involved, and this is used as an opportunity to reaffirm the faith of the particular religion; 
(d) it is not intended to achieve a certain political goal (e.g. Lokpal Bill); and
(e) no one feels coerced to DO anything (i.e. no emotional blackmail is involved). Most importantly, no one is coerced into this, as was the case with sati – which is also problematic because of the severe violence involved.
 
Santhra is different to mahasamadhi in that we don't quite know how mahasamadhi occurs (by willing oneself to die?), but we know the precise mechanism of death in santhra: the fasting involved. The key is that is it part of spiritual belief system and used purely for spiritual ends. In that sense, given other conditions noted above, the choice to quietly wither away is not immoral, not violative of the accountabilities arising from such act.
 
I must add the proviso that this should be done with full public awareness and everyone in the nearby Jain community must confirm that the person undertaking santhra is not undertaking this fast under any compulsion (i.e. someone is not withholding food from them, in order to confiscate their property).
 
In some ways (not all) this is close to euthanasia. In that case, too, as I've argued in DOF, when sufficient checks and balances have been put in place (and the standard for sufficiency I've suggested in DOF is very high), it should be possible for a doctor to administer medicine that takes the life of the person who is seeking relief from acute, chronic PHYSICAL suffering through euthanasia.
 
In brief, subject to the it being confirmed that the person undertaking santhra is SPIRITUALLY aware, is very old, is NOT being withheld food, and so on, such action should not amount to suicide in the commonplace sense we mean by it.
 
Apparently a case is going on in the Rajasthan High Court on this matter as we speak. I recommend a common law interpretation of this action. If that is done, this won't be equated with suicide. The law on suicide is intended for the garden variety, emotional, mentally disturbed cases of suicide. It still can't prevent most of them, but it ensures that there is no social sanction given to suicide.
 
In cases like santhra, which has a tradition, history, and a meaning that totally transcends the emotional, garden variety suicide, we must respect the free individual's right to achieve spiritual salvation by non-violent, non-disruptive means. But if any SOCIAL DRAMA occurs as a result of such an action, or it motivates others to copy this action without having the underlying spiritual base, then the state is entitled to step in and force-feed the person. A matter as personal as this can't be allowed to become a public spectacle.
 
Let me end by noting that as with all other views, my views on this matter, outlined above, are provisional, subject to change through further analysis. In this case, though, I believe that my views are likely to remain consistent, since I'm deriving an answer to this question from first principles – by balancing two KEY things that we must always defend: life and liberty.
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Preliminary list of references to assist Bhagwad/Anuj in preparing their suicide letter

I thought there might have been at least someone in the past who has tried to argue that suicide can be rational, and I stumbled upon a huge mass of literature on the subject. I couldn't readily find any rational suicide letter, so I look forward to reviewing any attempt made in this regard by Bhagwad and/or Anuj.

I found that Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior is a full-fledged academic journal devoted to the study of suicide. It is published by the American Association of Suicidology. Among its recent articles was: 

Humphry, D. (1987), Letter to the Editor The Case for Rational Suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 17: 335–338. doi: 10.1111/j.1943-278X.1987.tb00073.x

In addition, the following articles might be help Bhagwad and Anuj. Note that this is a very preliminary list. I'd appreciate a full list on this subject from anyone who has studied this issue in some detail.

Christopher Cowley, Suicide Is Neither Rational nor Irrational, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 9, No. 5 (Nov., 2006), pp. 495-504

David M. Clarkem, Autonomy, Rationality and the Wish to Die, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 25, No. 6 (Dec., 1999), pp. 457-462

Julian Savulescu, The Trouble with Do-Gooders: The Example of Suicide, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 108-115

John H. Goldthorpe, Rational Action Theory for Sociology, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 167-192

James Warren, Socratic Suicide, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 121, (2001), pp. 91-106

L. Beeley, Juvenile Suicide, The Social Service Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Mar., 1929), pp. 35-49

Dave E. Marcotte, The Economics of Suicide, Revisited, Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Jan., 2003), pp. 628-643

Jerry Jacobs, A Phenomenological Study of Suicide Notes, Social Problems, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Summer, 1967), pp. 60-72

Frances A. Graves, David Peretz, Can Suicide Be Rational?, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Jun., 1982), p. 45

Antoon A. Leenaars, Suicide and Human Rights: A Suicidologist's Perspective, Health and Human Rights, Vol. 6, No. 2, Violence, Health, and Human Rights (2003), 

Wout C. Ultee, Do Rational Choice Approaches Have Problems? European Sociological Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, Rational Choice Theory and Large-Scale Data Analysis (Sep., 1996), pp. 167-179

Georgia Noon, On Suicide, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1978), pp. 371-386

R. A. Duff, Socratic Suicide? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 83, (1982 – 1983), pp. 35-47

I. Brassington, Killing People: What Kant Could Have Said about Suicide and Euthanasia but Did Not, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 32, No. 10 (Oct., 2006), pp. 571-574

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An open challenge to Bhagwad Jal and Anuj to write the world’s first rational suicide letter

I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but I have no choice. No reasoned argument seems to persuade Bhagwad Jal and Anuj that there no fundamental right to suicide (see the post and comments here)

Their contention is that just because in some imaginary case one could argue in favour of suicide, it must become a fundamental right that the state must protect (else rights have no meaning, anyway). I've been arguing that one can't create a legal "right' on the basis of some imaginary case (which in any event can't be challenged, being imaginary).

I've said that repeatedly that if suicide is such a good thing for a healthy person to undertake, then I'd be happy to do it and recommend to everyone. Unfortunately that point didn't get into Bhagwad nor Anuj, who are stuck, like a broken record, in insisting that a right to commit suicide exists – and that it is a rational act.

To me, and to everyone in their right mind, suicide is caused by an unfortunate sickness of mind, an aberration, and NO case, I argue, exists where a healthy (physically and mentally) person can cogently get up and commit suicide.

We obviously CAN'T MAKE A LEGAL RIGHT on the ground of mental or other sickness. Sickness must be cured. The causes must be fixed.

Only two rights exist: to life and to liberty, with life being the predominant source of all rights.

I'm flabbergasted at the persistence of a mindless libertine argument that makes nonsense of the concept of life, of liberty – and of rationality.

I'm very aware that this is a very sensitive matter and I would be loathe to treat the concept of suicide lightly or causually. I'm very sorry if I'm disturbing anyone by discussing this issue, but unless bad ideas are PINNED DOWN AND DESTROYED, they have a tendency to keep arising in the future.

And so my open challenge to Bhagwad Jal and to Anuj:

Can you, Bhagwad and/or Anuj, please imagine that you are a healthy (mentally balanced, and physically fine) person. Now please propose to me a detailed argument – in the form of a suicide letter – that proves suicide is in your best interest. 

In DOF I've outlined a detailed process for testing the rationality of a claim for euthanasia. At the minimum I'd expect this argument/claim (from Bhagawad and /or Anuj) to be PUBLICLY vetted and thoroughly tested for cogency.

Just like all people in the world can agree to a case that 2+2=4, EVERYONE in the world should agree that there is a very good rational argument for a healthy person to commit suicide.

Note that ALL potential counter-arguments should have been taken care of in your "suicide letter", else it will be basically an IRRATIONAL letter and disprove your point.

ADDENDUM

What Drives a Person to Suicide?

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