Faye Girsh is the Founder and the Past President of the Hemlock Society of San Diego. She was the President of the National Hemlock Society (Defunct) and the World Federation of RTD Societies (Extant). Currently, she is on the Advisory Board of the Final Exit Network and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. Here we talk about religion, secularism, and Rational Suicide.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Some might read the combination of the words “Rational” and “Suicide” as “Rational Suicide” and scoff & huff, especially in the context of Abrahamic religion dominated societies in which the theology seeps into every facet of the society, “You cannot have a ‘Rational Suicide’ as God owns everything, including every body and soul. So, to kill oneself usurps God’s authority, this violates Natural Law and Moral Law. Both given by God Almighty. It is sin, pure and simple.”
What seems like a secular counterargument to this line of argumentation? What seems like a religious counterargument to this line of argumentation?
Faye Girsh: Not being a religious scholar — or believer — I probably do not have a convincing argument disputing the basic premise that God owns everything. Seems to me that a lot depends on how God is seen, i.e., as kind and merciful, generous with His or Her gifts such as free will, rationality, and choice. I think scholars have been arguing these issues for centuries.
Even in Islam there are various interpretations of how much their God controls things. My very religious Christian neighbor chose to end his life, as did his wife, because they felt they had accompished their mission in life and knew they would be together now in the arms of Jesus.
A minister who was a Hemlock member wrote a treatise arguing that Jesus had Divine Euthanasia, as evidenced by the fact that he died pretty quickly on the cross whereas the Romans intended it to be a prolonged death (like many people have now.)
The main thing, it seems to me, is that in a secular country no religion should impose its beliefs on others who think differently.
Jacobsen: How does religion and non-religion impact questions of a Rational Suicide?
Girsh: Certainly some religious people, such as Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, would never agree that taking one’s own life is a rational act, nor would some psychiatrists and other professionals.
Yet the rate of suicide is increasing so some religious people are desperate enough to take matters into their own hands in spite of the possibility of burning in hell and other penalties for violating religious doctrine.
As a psychologist I do believe that the choice of ending one’s own life in the face of unbearable suffering or of impending dementia is a rational one. But I have worked with many people for whom ending life is not rational.
There is realistic hope for them of having better days, cures for their suffering, and working through their problems. Understanding that death comes to all of us and that we do have some control over how it will be helps to let go of a difficult life.
There are so many forms of coercion forcing people to stay alive — including but definitely not limited to — religion that it seems important for people to accept that death will happen and life does not have to be the choice when it is not appropriate for them. Life is not always good, death is not always bad.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faye.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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