, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 111–123 | Cite as

What is Wrong with Rational Suicide

  • Avital PilpelEmail author
  • Lawrence Amsel


Recently, the ‘right to die’ became a major social issue. Few agree suicide is a right tout court. Even those who believe suicide (‘regular’, passive, or physician-assisted) is sometimes morally permissible usually require that a suicide be ‘rational suicide’: instrumentally rational, autonomous, due to stable goals, not due to mental illness, etc. We argue that there are some perfectly ‘rational suicides’ that are, nevertheless, bad mistakes. The concentration on the rationality of the suicide instead of on whether it is a mistake may lead to permitting suicides that should be forbidden.


Rational suicide Decision theory Medical ethics 



We would like to thank Prof. Giora Hon, Prof. Saul Smilansky (both from the Department of Philosophy, University of Haifa) and two anonymous reviewers for advice and helpful criticism.


  1. Alighieri, D. (au.), & Musa, M. (trans.) (2002). The divine comedy: Volume 1: Inferno. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM-IV-TR (4th ed.). Washington: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. Aquinas, St. Thomas (au.), Davies, B., & Leftow, B. (Eds.). (2006). Summa Theologica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Augustine, St. (au.), Bettenson, H. (trans.) (2003). City of God. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  5. Baca-Garcia, E., et al. (2005). Suicide attempts and impulsivity. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 255(2), 152–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Battin, M. (1999). Can suicide be rational? Yes, sometimes. In J. L. Werth (Ed.), Contemporary perspectives on rational suicide (pp. 13–21). Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  7. Beck, T., et al. (1990). Relationship between hopelessness and ultimate suicide: a replication with psychiatric outpatients. American Journal of Psychiatry, 147(2), 190–195.Google Scholar
  8. Callahan, D. (1999). Reasons, rationality, and ways of life. In J. L. Werth (Ed.), Contemporary perspectives on rational suicide (pp. 22–28). Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  9. Callahan, J. (1999). Rational suicide: Destructive to the common good. In J. L. Werth (Ed.), Contemporary perspectives on rational suicide (pp. 142–147). Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  10. Camus, A. (au.), O’Brien, J. (trans.) (1955). The myth of Sisyphus. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  11. Cholbi, M. (2002). Suicide intervention and non-ideal Kantian Theory. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 19(3), 245–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clarke, D. (1999). Autonomy, rationality and the wish to die. Journal of Medical Ethics, 25(6), 457–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dick, C. (1999). Rational suicide: Life and death your way. In J. K. Werth (Ed.), Contemporary perspectives on rational suicide (pp. 73–79). Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  14. Dilling, C. A., & Rabin, A. I. (1967). Temporal experience in depressive states and Schizophrenia. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 31, 604–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Durkheim, E. (au.), Spaulding, J. (trans.), Simpson, G. (au., ed., and trans.) (1966). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  16. Dworkin, R. (1993). Life’s dominion. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  17. Epicurus. (2005). Letter to Menoeceus. In M. Morgan (Ed.), Classics of moral and political theory (pp. 419–421). Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  18. Frankfurt, H. (1971). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Bangalore: Better Yourself Books.Google Scholar
  20. Freud, S. (1967). Beyond the pleasure principle. New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  21. Hare, R. M. (1981). Moral thinking: Its levels, methods, and point. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hobbes, T. (1966). Leviathan. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  23. Hooker, B., & Streumer, B. (2004). Procedural and substantive practical rationality. In A. R. Mele & P. Rawling (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of rationality (pp. 57–74). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Humphry, D. (1986). The case for rational suicide. Euthanasia Review, 1(3), 172–176.Google Scholar
  25. Kant, I. (au.), Gregor, M. (trans.) (1996). Metaphysics of morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Levi, P. (1959). Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Collier.Google Scholar
  27. Luce, R. D., & Raiffa, H. (1989). Games and decisions: Introduction and critical survey. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  28. Mann, J. J. (1987). Psychobiologic predictors of suicide. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 48(12), 39–43.Google Scholar
  29. Mayo, D. (1986). The concept of rational suicide. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 11(2), 143–155.Google Scholar
  30. Mishara, B. L. (1999). Synthesis of research and evidence on factors affecting the desire of terminally ill or seriously chronically ill persons to hasten death. Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying, 39(1), 1–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nagel, T. (1970). The possibility of altruism. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  32. Nietzsche, F. (au.), & Zimmerman, H. (trans.) (2005). Beyond good and evil. Stilwell: Digireads.Google Scholar
  33. Noyes, R., Frye, S. J., & Hartford, C. E. (1977). Conjugal suicide pact. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 165(1), 72–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nozick, R. (1993). The nature of rationality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Owens, M. J., & Nemeroff, C. B. (1994). Role of serotonin in the pathophysiology of depression: focus on the serotonin transporter. Clinical Chemistry, 40, 288–295.Google Scholar
  36. Plato (au.) & Grube, G. M. A. (trans.) (1992). Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  37. Rawls J. et al. 1997. “Assisted suicide: the philosophers’ brief.” In The New York Review of Books, 44, 5, 41–45.Google Scholar
  38. Russ, M. J., et al. (1999). Assessment of suicide risk 24 hours after psychiatric hospital admission. Psychiatric Services, 50(11), 1491–1493.Google Scholar
  39. Sartre, J.-P. (au.), Warnock, M. (au.), & Barnes, H. (trans.) (1969). Being and nothingness. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Schopenhauer, A. (2007). On suicide. In A. Schopenhauer (au.), & T. B. Saunders (trans.). Studies in Pessimism (pp. 24–29). New York: Cosimo.Google Scholar
  41. Seidler, M. J. (1983). Kant and the stoics on suicide. Journal of the History of Ideas, 44(3), 429–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Singer, P. (1993). Practical ethics (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Szasz, T. (2002). Fatal freedom: The ethics and politics of suicide. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Szasz, T. (2004). Self-ownership or suicide prevention? The Freeman, 54(3), 23–24.Google Scholar
  45. Von Neumann, J., & Morgenstern, O. (1953). Theory of games and economic behavior. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Ward, M., & Greely, A. (2006). Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  47. Warren, J. (2006). Facing death: Epicurus and his critics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Williams, B. (2005). The Makropulos case: Reflections on the tedium of immortality. In N. Wartburton (Ed.), Problems of the self (pp. 118–133). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryColumbia University Medical CenterNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations