If you knew that someone you knew was going to take their life, is it your responsibility as someone trying to uphold a "moral law" to try and prevent that person from the act and even take measures to hold that person against their will? ( in our society the case would be a mental institution )

What if you knew the person really well and that in his situation suicide could be considered a very rational choice.

I heard a quote, I think it goes something like this.

"You put a rational person in a irrational situation, and the rational choice to make is to become irrational"

We could argue whether suicide is rational or not , but that is not the point i am trying to make. Some people go through so much sh!t and to be quite honest there is absolutely nothing we can do to make them better. You can say that medication or time helps , but i have seen more then one case where neither is true and in a few cases it is actually , scientifically, the opposite.

Essentially in trying to prevent suicide , one could say that you are trying to prevent the pain that would be incurred by association ( mother, father etc ), and does this pain by association out weigh an exit from his/her painful reality. Obviously suicide has very negative effects, but could the effects of mental and emotional regression be even greater to that person and the associates that he/she has?

Please dont think i am some heartless observer, I just wonder if someone can rationalize death by their own hands are we now obliged to by all means prevent this even if their justification is rational ( or would that just make me equally insane? )

  • 1
    "Obviously suicide has very negative effects" Why is this necessarily so?
    – Vector
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


The answer naturally depends heavily upon your own ethical model.

If you're working from some sort of Consequentialist theory, such as utilitarianism, then whether you should prevent the suicide normally depends on the weighting of the outcome. Assuming that being dead does not have some absurdly negative (perhaps infinitely so) weight, then someone who has few relations and would not cause much pain by taking their own life should be allowed to commit suicide. On the other hand someone who is loved by many and would be grieved for immensely should be kept from suicide even if there is no hope. Obviously these are rough terms, but generally this is the sort of position a consequentialist model would take.

If you're working by a Deontological theory I think the answers will be mostly consistent. Kantian ethics, for example, would probably hold that suicide is always unethical and should always be prevented, because of Kant's Categorical Imperative. Other deontological models will generally involve some sort of hard moral absolutism where certain actions are always good or bad, and in these models suicide will normally be bad: factors that go into this judgment would be things such as the inherent value of life, consideration for one's loved ones, and arguments from contradiction that if suicide weren't bad, everyone would be allowed to do it and that this is ridiculous. However, there may be some wacky deontological theories which say that suicide is always acceptable, but these would be pretty uncommon.

Of course there are many nuances to each position, and not all ethical models fall under either consequentialism or deontology, but the majority of ethical theories will follow one of the arguments above.


A lot of different forms of suicides were and are, depending on the culture, socially accepted. E.g. the hero's death: Killing in order to help someone or something else is often considered, be it family member or a nation, to be an honorable act. Though as killing oneself is not the main goal, it is a special case. More to the point would be soldiers and secret agents, who carry around suicide pills in order to avoid a more painful death and not to leak essential information, or even suicide attackers. Also, in some Asian cultures, ritual suicides served as a form to restore one's or the family's honor after failing an important task or committing a terrible offense, e.g. Seppuku.

Those forms have one thing in common: They are not only committed for oneself but for others. What you are describing is a person who wants to die because they want to die never minding the consequences.

So one could boil your question down to:

Is it OK to commit suicide for selfish reasons?

Does the person really have to care what others around them think and what consequences they have to endure due to it? You may cause your parents and family sorrow, or your children may be orphaned, yet where does the obligation derive from to not cause them such harm?

I for one would allow for such selfish suicide. All I would ask was that the person in question would seek help in order to determine if the person has made up their mind in a sound way. The choice to kill yourself is quite final by definition, so it should be done with extra care.

Many people who undergo a suicidal phase feel that their problems are unsolvable, even though they appear quite insignificant from an outsider's perspective, and very much can be solved. So I would argue that we at least try to help those who want to commit suicide to understand themselves why they want to do it.

Yet there is no necessity to stop people from committing suicide, and keeping people alive against their will seems unethical to me, simply due to the fact that I can think of situations where I would want to die yet could not kill myself. (Just watch Johnny got his gun.)

People are not asked to be born, yet they can control how they die. So for me, I will handle it in this way: "As long as I want to live, I keep on living. If I do not want to live anymore, I will seek help in order to analyse my unhappiness and if it can be resolved. If I understand my reasons and my unhappiness cannot be resolved I will commit suicide", and I recommend the same procedure to others who feel suicidal as well.


If you try to hold a "suicidal" person against their will, then you negate their agency and probably end up negating their own personal identity.... unless their personal identity is completely bound up in having things happen to them and they do not do anything in any meaningful sense. If you negate someone's personal identity, then you do not encourage that person to live. So, I respond that it is almost surely NOT your personal responsibility to hold a "suicidal" person against their will.

I've put the word "suicidal" in quotes, because the very notion of suicide involves killing of one's self. But, what is the nature of the self? There exist plenty of philosophers who have maintained one way or another that the self cannot get killed. If so, suicide is logically impossible, even though the body can end its own existence.


Most suicides are committed due to mental health problems, and are not based on any rational decision. Since the victims are not thinking clear, they may have a plan to kill themselves, but no alternative plans. So you get a massive chance of saving someone's life without restricting them much by removing their intended means of committing suicide. Removing a gun or ammunition, or removing a stash of sleeping tablets, these are very helpful ways of helping a suicidal person.

I hope you were looking for a practical way to help. Discussing the ethics of suicide out of curiosity and because it makes for an interesting subject would be deeply unethical.

And after careful reading: Should I ever have the bad luck to be in a situation where suicide is a rational choice (which I seriously hope will never happen), what do you think would I do about it?

  • 2
    "Discussing the ethics of suicide out of curiosity and because it makes for an interesting subject would be deeply unethical." How would this be "unethical"? "Should I ever have the bad luck..." Are you attempting to assume that my post would lead someone to suicide? Its the lack of concern or conversation that keeps this taboo to the subjects of the dark corners of the internet where no good comes from it. And the people who are suffering find themselves even more lost then before in their search for answers!
    – user2683
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 7:56
  • Of course, there are situations where you might be ethically compelled (depending on your ethical framework) to help a suicidal person to actually commit the suicide - e.g. to reduce suffering of a dying person through euthanasia.
    – Peteris
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 22:20