This business of trying to noodle out the morality of suicide in a framework of “rights” seems unlikely to result in any sort of useful moral clarity. It reminds me of the standard libertarian argument: “no one has a right to coerce another human to do anything” (sounds reasonable enough, if you don’t think too hard for counterexamples), ergo I can’t prevent you from owning a machine gun because that would be coercive. That’s just a shitty way to frame a political philosophy. The world is just… more complicated than that.
When I was twelve, I got to watch my mom try to kill herself. (Thankfully, she survived, but it was close.) In the 16 years between then and now, I’m still affected by that experience and its aftermath. The ripple effects can last a long time. They would have been much worse if she had actually succeeded. I reject out of hand this idea that somehow the police and paramedics should have allowed her to die on account of “bodily autonomy.”
John Horstman, @33, has a clever loophole for the “parent problem,” that somehow seems to miss the point:
people who opt to procreate owe it to their offspring to try to stick around to care for them until they can care for themselves.
By this logic, presumably one parent is allowed to kill themselves then? And realistically speaking, the children of suiciders (at least in the US) would be cared for either by family members or the foster system, which, while far from optimal, won’t result in the children starving to death in either case. At least in my own experience, and I think in the experience of a lot of other people, the damage to children is far more emotional than logistical. This isn’t the loophole that’s going to get you out of solving the parent problem if you want to frame this discussion in terms of “rights.”
The right to bodily autonomy is a useful rule of thumb, that works most of the time for sorting out issues in everyday experience. It’s widely applicable enough that it makes some sense to use the word “right.” It’s a great argument for why women should have access to abortion. It’s even a great argument for assisted dying. But it’s not magic. Just because we attached the word “right” to it as some sort of approximation doesn’t mean that it’s universally applicable. In engineering terms, it fails in edge cases. I don’t have a forumula for when we should let people kill themselves. In some cases, they should obviously be allowed to. A lot of cases are a lot more complicated–what if I’m really drunk and I want to kill myself? Do the police stop me? I’ve struggled with depression for my whole life–and most of the time I don’t want to kill myself. A couple times a year I contemplate suicide. Present me is pretty glad that past me wasn’t allowed to kill myself, but maybe future me won’t feel the same way? It’s a deeply personal and thorny and complicated moral problem that I don’t know how to sort out in general. But saying “bodily autonomy” as if it gets you out of thinking about the complexities of the situation is just lazy.