Historically, suicide has been seen as a sin or a blemish on someone’s life. Some people see the act as a “cop out” and others see the act as being completely selfish and inherently evil. Christians have declared suicide the equivalent of murder and many consider it a one-way ticket to Hell. But new approaches to morality have made us as moral agents reconsider long-held beliefs. It is in this light that I wish to examine the arguments against suicide, debunk them, and then present further arguments in favor the position that suicide ought to be permitted.
Arguments Against Suicide
I. Suicide as a Sin
The traditional Christian point of view sees suicide as an unforgiveable sin earning the person an eternity in hell. Granted, if you are a serious Christian, I will most likely not be able to persuade you that suicide is acceptable. But also, if you are this person, you should not be considering suicide as an option, either, making convincing you a rather moot point. But for those more liberal Christians, there are two things I want to point out.
First, there is reason to believe that suicide is not prohibited by the Bible. Most people will say that the commandment barring killing would cover suicide without question. But consider two flaws in this logic: first, that the commandment is not as cut and dried as it appears. And second, that depending on the motive the suicide may be seen as acceptable. 
The words “thou shalt not kill” cannot be taken at literal face value. Clearly, we kill plants and animals anytime we need to eat, which happens multiple times a day. Revisionists will reply that the correct translation would be “murder” – limiting the sin to the death of humans. But both ancient and modern theology make exceptions for self-defense, killing in wartime, and in some instances executions (“an eye for an eye”). If Christianity can make room for exceptions allowing the killing of these people against their will (or, some might argue, with only implied consent) would it not be more acceptable to kill someone who is completely willing to end their life?
Some might still argue this is the intentional removal of God’s greatest gift to us (life) and therefore a sin. This is open for debate, but we can at least say for certain that God allows suicide if the motives are in His favor. This is called martyrdom – giving up our life for a just cause. Jesus committed suicide, after all. When put before the courts, he could simply not have acknowledged he was the king of the Jews and he would have been set free. His openly defiant act was the cause of his own death, and he knew this. While he did not personally hammer in the nails to his body, he was responsible for these actions. This is comparable to what is known as “suicide by cop.”
The argument that suicide leads to Hell has little Biblical support. Those who have committed suicide in the Bible (such as Judas Iscariot) were not said to have gone to Hell, when the author could have easily made an example of them. This is not to say there would be no Final Judgment (if you believe in such a thing), but to think that one final act would cancel out all the good that was accomplished in a lifetime seems improbable. We could list any number of verses that cite God as being “loving” and “forgiving” which would seem to be in contrast with a God that condemns a good-hearted man.
II. Suicide as Selfish
One of the more common arguments against suicide is the viewpoint that the act is selfish. But I think this is more of a personal attack on the person’s decision (and a scare tactic) than a reliably sound position. Especially once we consider what it truly means to be “selfish”.
Someone who is selfish only considers themself when they choose an action, or seek out options that favor themself. But we can argue that choosing life can be selfish and further that many instances of suicide are clearly not selfish at all.
Life in general is selfish because the primary drive human beings have is self-preservation. Our every breath, every meal, every hour of work we put in is ultimately for ourselves and to promote our own lives. Within these lives we might assist others or do truly altruistic acts, but the very foundation of human life relies on selfishness in order for us to go on living. This can even be said more so in Western civilization where the goal is always “more” and capitalism is the norm. Is suicide selfish? Perhaps, but in one way or another all acts we do are selfish, making this point moot.
And are all suicides selfish? Of course not. People who think of suicide as selfish generally picture young people who hung themself in a fit of depression, leaving families and friends to grieve for months on end. Whether or not this is selfish (and we could argue either side), this is not the most common suicide. In fact, suicides occur most often in the elderly who no longer have children relying on them. Most people do not want their parents to die. But, conversely, most parents want what is best for their children. When an illness is terminal, there will be a death coming (and hence grieving) in the near future regardless of how this death occurs. A parent could choose to struggle in a painful existence in a hospital bed for a few months, or they could pass away quietly in their sleep. The latter method is not only more comfortable for the individual, but would most likely reduce the suffering and worry of the children. And while this should not be a primary concern, the money saved on expensive medical bills can instead be sued for the family to accomplish goals the deceased would have wanted them to – such as sending little Sarah to college.
Some will still say I ignore or downplay the impact that one death will have on another in our society. And this is true. However, the grand picture is really a matter of perspective. We live in a culture of death that puts the emphasis on the passing of an individual rather than the life of that person. Perhaps the problem is not suicide as much as the problem is our culture? While in America we spend our time grieving and asking why, the Irish traditionally have a wake where there is much rejoicing and a celebration. Why focus on the death of anyone when we have their memories to share and live on inside us? 
An argument for suicide being altruistic in general was posited by musician Bobby Gaylor. While his argument was most likely not meant to be taken seriously, there is truth in his words. Deaths do often create job openings, apartment openings, and in general lower the overpopulated world we live in. The natural resources we destroy in a lifetime would not be destroyed, and neither would any that would have been used by our children and exponential grandchildren (if we off ourselves before procreating). Call this view dim or abstract, but in the grand sense we could easily say the benefits far outweigh the temporary negatives.
III. Utilitarianism Argument
William Godwin, an optimist, argued that suicide was always a mistake because living was more pleasurable than death. Any argument that weighs pleasure against pain is called a utilitarian argument. But by his own methods, Godwin was wrong. As mentioned above, there is little doubt death would be less painful than the suffering of some illness. And if we wish to continue the abstract Bobby Gaylor argument, we would say in the long run more pleasure is created than pain. So to say suicide is always wrong based on these premises is simply ignorant.
Arguments For Suicide
With the arguments against suicide set aside for now, we can turn to the arguments that are actually in favor of suicide (not necessarily encouraging the act, but at least allowing it to occur). Some of these arguments were talked about already as responses to the above ponts, including seeing suicide as an altruistic act or as a way to minimize one’s own suffering. But these alone are not the only positive views of suicide, as we will soon see.
I. Suicide as Honorable
When we say that suicide is generally thought of as bad, sinful, or wrong, we are assuming a Western viewpoint (essentially, a Christian position). The fact of the matter is that other cultures think of suicide as a possibly good thing. The Japanese, for example, consider suicide as honorable. If you have disgraced your family, there is no shame in offing yourself rather than having your stain blemish the entire family. In older days, Japanese Samurais practiced Seppuku – killing yourself after losing a battle. This was seen as more honorable than coming home (or back to the ruler) as a loser who did not fight to the end. The practice was such an honored tradition that an entire ritual was built around it. In many cases, seppuku was even respected enough by the enemy that they would give the samurai an opportunity to end themselves rather than be executed.
Seppuku was outlawed in 1868 as the Eastern world began to become more “civilized” or Western. This hardly stopped the practice and is often considered honorable even today in the minds of the people. General Nogi and his wife did it after the death of the Emperor in 1912. Author Yukio Mishima committed seppuku in public in 1970 after a failed coup attempt. And even as recently as 1999, Masaharu Nonaka, a 58-year old employee of Bridgestone in Japan committed suicide because his company had forced him to retire. This act created a whole new movement: risutora seppuku (seppuku due to corporate restructuring).
Many people in India also think of suicide as honorable and romantic under the right conditions. When husbands would be burned at their funerals, the wives would jump on to the flames and burn themself alive as a sign of devotion.  This practice, which has been illegal since 1829 but still occurs, is known as sati (named after Sati, the wife of Shiva, who killed herself in this manner). This would be considered an abomination in America, but in the right frame of mind the identical act conveys another meaning. Without the threat of eternal hell, society has little reason to ostracize a potentially beautiful human response.
II. Free Will
The most basic argument is the argument of free will, or the belief that we control our own actions. This, combined with the idea that we own our bodies (keep in mind, we are not our bodies but merely control them under the dualist tradition) makes free will a perfectly acceptable choice. If we can decide how we are going to live, why should anyone else be able to tell us how to die?
The biggest problem with this approach is that we ought to limit ourselves to doing things freely as long as others are not affected adversely (with some exceptions, of course). If you are a single mother of three boys, killing yourself will likely put these dependents in a poor situation. But weighing the options, if your choice is not disadvantaging others, there should be no moral objection (other than those refuted above) to your personal choice.
III. Existentialist Concerns
With an existential viewpoint, suicide always remains an option. In fact, Albert Camus famously stated with existentialism being the prominent viewpoint, suicide remains the only true philosophical problem. Essentially, existentialism denies that life has any “great meaning” and only has the meanings we as humans put into it. If our death does not matter, there is no reason to prevent it.
Furthermore, suicide might even be a more powerful concept under the existential viewpoint if we assign meaning to this act as well. There is little meaning to a man found dead in his bathtub – this happens every day around the world in any metropolitan area (suicide rates are far greater than most assume). But why not do the exact same thing in an area that would add meaning or symbolism? What was a private action becomes a political protest simply by being on the right street corner at the right time – without having to do anything differently. (Although I did not cover political protest as a reason that suicide might be positive, this is mainly due to the general audience and could well be considered an entirely separate topic worth exploring.)
IV. Nihilist Concerns
Nihilism takes existentialism a step further and denies that meaning exists at all. All beliefs are empty. All values are nil. Under this viewpoint, life is completely worthless. Although, at the same time, death is completely worthless, too. Suicide has no point, and life has no point. So a nihilist is no better off alive or dead. If you subscribe to this view and wish to commit suicide, there is no reason not to – you are not gaining or losing anything. I am personally not a nihilist, so there is little more I can say on this matter.
Suicide has long been considered as something wrong regardless of the motives or outcome. But this is simply not so, as we have now seen. Christians will still oppose suicide as this is contradictory to their confused moral values, but I hope for those considering the option (either literally, philosophically or academically) that the issue was presented in a more clear light. This centuries-old specter of dogmatism over the land has begun to be lifted, and with time and understanding of the facts, together we can make a brighter tomorrow through the freedom of both ideas and self.
 James Skemp has brought to the author’s attention that the second point apparently follows from and is dependent on the first. However, this is not how this was meant to be taken. While we could argue that once we create “wiggle room” in a commandment, this opens the gates for exceptions to the rule, that was not the point. The second point was that regardless of whether or not the commandment is forbidding suicide, there may still be times in which God is accepting of suicides.
 I think this aspect of our culture extends into relationships, as well. We are a culture that lingers about our losses and drinks our problems away rather than reflecting positively on our accomplishments. And while I am not against grieving or heartbreak, are these the emotions we should want to be engulfed in?
 Skemp does not see this as being a primarily sincere gesture, but rather one pushed upon the women as second-class citizens. He says: “Unfortunately, those who didn’t [commit sati] were ostracized [by society] or worse.” There is some merit to his point (the use of “drugs” or “social pressure” have occurred on occasion), though I do not believe fear of ostracism was the primary motive. Tradition is a powerful influence on its own, as can be evidenced by the fact Catholics today still practice cannibalism on a weekly basis.