Is it one’s duty to live?

During a public hearing by the German ethics committee on euthanasia, Prof. Gethmann presented two ethical questions outlining the topic:[1] First, ‘Is suicide morally permissible?’ Second, ‘Is coercion to continue to live morally permissible?’ In the exploration that followed, Prof. Gethmann provided two conceivable paths that the ethics committee, and more importantly each individual, can take in answering these difficult questions. One is straightforward: If my answer to the first question is yes, then the answer to the second must be no. If, however, my answer to the first question is no, then how do I respond to the second? Is it one’s duty to live?

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Being-towards-suicide (Sein-zum-Suizid)

[Editor’s note: an abridged version of this essay was published on Mad in America –]

‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.’ [1]

Albert Camus’ opening sentence to his work ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, unmistakably emphasising the eminence of the topic at hand, is a fitting start to the thoughts and considerations to follow. For this sentence, concisely as it may deliver its underlying message, imbues the reader with an ethical dilemma: it confines suicide to the philosophical realm, thereby negating manifold alternate reasons which necessitate its rumination. How does one decide how to act if one’s reasoning is philosophically incoherent yet psychologically lucid? Or philosophically incoherent yet circumstantially logical? In this essay I seek to trace the lines of suicide through small excerpts of literature from the past century which grasp the zeitgeist of post-war peace; a century in which individualism, elsewhere favourably labelled self-determinism, has been reproachfully dismissed as the crude fetish of several generations. Finally, in assembling the loose ends, I will seek to rethink suicide in times of technological advancement, consequently liberating it, (indeed) as an autonomous act by a self-determined agent, from philosophical, moral and medical chains of restraint. Herein I will come to a different conclusion to Camus, and ultimately reject his call to refuse suicide [2] on the basis of revolt: an individual’s perpetual confrontation with their own absurdity, which is in essence an eternal, futile search for clarity and worldly meaning of the human condition. [3]

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