Philosophy of The Big Society

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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Is it a Human Right to take your own life?

A few years back, when I was on the NIMHE Eastern network, a debate took place about suicide. One person had very strong views that if, and when, they chose to take their own life that would be their decision and they would not wish the MH services to intervene.

Before I write about why I have been asking myself this question again, at the time of the previous debate I said that if it was in my power to prevent someone killing themselves or getting them to a safe place, I would, although I would be beating myself up whilst doing it. Lesser of the two evils in my eyes.

However, having read a posting on Mental Nurse about people with anorexia who are 'controlled' and, if necessary, force fed whilst in psychiatric care and also, oddly enough, having watched Star Trek Voyager opinion is rather different.

For information the Star Trek episode was about an immortal being who wished to end their life (out of boredom).

I still believe that people should be given support to continue to live (and asylum if they need it) and that suicidal feelings do not always equate to a definate wish/need to end one's life. I am just much less inclined to believe it is my right, any more than it is the state's right, to force people to live.

I do understand why MH services believe that force feeding is the right course of action for those people who will not eat, whilst in psychiatric care. Their role, ultimately is to save life and also to do the country's bidding. However, there are loads of grey areas for me. For example, if a person understands that not eating will lead to their death but still chooses not to that not their right? I summise if someone is going voluntarily into a unit, then they are made aware of the rules and, again I assume, those rules include being force fed when they won't eat. Then again if someone is going in voluntarily, they can walk out at any time (although often people are threatened with a section, or have one slapped on them when they threaten or try to leave).

There is something very chilling and rather extreme about force feeding. My mother was the one who told me about the Womens' suffragette movement and how they were force fed. I understand the difference between fighting for rights and someone who has an illness however the reasons equate to what those with the power believe are in other people's best interests.

The individual is lost..possibly because the system believes it has to be lost to be found but it is a case of dicating what is in somebody else's best interest.

Would I stop the force feeding if I had the power to make that decision? I'd like to think I would but I would also need to know what the success rate of force feeding people with anorexia is before I did. I would also need to consult with those who have anorexia and those who have recovered (or whatever the proper term is) from the illness on their views of what is the best way to treat their illness...what helps and what doesn't and if they believe that force feeding is appropriate and necessary.

In regards to the original question...yes it is a human right to take your own life just like it is a human right to have a decent quality of life. Ironically, it is the lack of the latter that often leads to the former.


  1. I believe that it is an individual#s right to choose to kill oneself or die if that is their intention. When I OD in past it was with the intention to die, I was not drawing attention to myself, I believed X pills would kill me- I was obviously wrong.
    The difficulty is that many do not actually want to die, they want an end to their problems or more help and support. these people need protecting. Often a person who has no intention to die, gets it wrong and their method becomes fatal and irreversible. How you determine between the two is the difficulty. I guess the ethos is- protect everyone for the sake of these people. those who really want to die, will always find a way anyway.

  2. I wanted to talk to somebody close to me about this today (in an open way) but they got really spooked by it. Which I understand.

    They did think that force feeding someone might be the only option, if the other option was that they would die but then made it clear to me that they did not wish to discuss it....and I realised it was too much for them and I felt quite sad and isolated.

    I wonder if there are safe places to talk about things.

    Or perhaps I want to discuss, with people I value, things that generally aren't seen as appropriate topics for conversation.

    Ho hum!

  3. Are you ok Mandy, not thinking of this right for yourself are you? or did you just want to discuss it hyperthetically with friend?

  4. No Lareve,

    Things are bad (actually stagnant is the word I would use) but I still have something keeping me going..hoping that when I've got to the bottom of the migraines I can start to do things that I the Floristry Course.

    I did want to chat some things through...but am learning that options for that are becoming less and less. I can't compartmentalise myself into other people's comfort zones.

    Dad and me used to chat, quite deeply about things, but he is far too fragile and I wouldn't dream of going near any danger zones with him.

    Seeing my Support Worker tomorrow. She isn't exactly a close friend but we have this open way of communicating and I trust her judgement. I might talk about it with her.

    I do think there is a difference between being ill/tortured in yourself and needing care and support which leads to taking actions (cries for help) and a conscious clear minded decision to end it all..although there is still that grey area about needing support and not getting it when needed and then ending it all.

    I will rattle I do :>)

  5. Well, I'm here if you need to vent or run anything passed me not the same I know but just an offer. Hope support worker is productive tommorow. I think my CC visiting tommorow may get more than she bargained for with my irritated mood

  6. Thanks

    The emails are pozzie connection for me.

    Good luck with CC tomorrow. I can't relate to my CC. She is well meaning but doesn't seem to have the remotest savvy when it comes to my agoraphobia. She offers me things which take place in venues miles away, with no idea of how I am going to get there!!! I guess she has a check-list of what she has to do or can offer and that is as far as it goes. My needs to match the checklist.
    Ah well...gonna try and get me head down. Been a funny old day.

    Then again, I am a funny old bird. :>)

  7. I cant think of a time in my life when i havent been constantly beset by suicidal ideation and in spite of a few overdoses and a lot of self harming in the past i've used up a lot of energy in recent years resisting taking my life with no deep philosophical conviction for doing so, much like the entity in the Star Trek scenario I guess.

    For that reason I believe being compassionate towards people contemplating suicide is the best we can do and the dillemas this throws up , some of which are touched upon in the main blog, just remind us how painful it is to be human . There arent any hard and fast right answers here, some of us just find life too much of a struggle and always have done , others are terribly injured , in grave pain or wracked by loss. Is the care out there anyway?

  8. Hi Anon

    I have come back from walkabouts with my Support Worker.

    Had to go to council offices to get a PDSA form stamped. We spoke about life. How some people find living relatively easy and certainly don't struggle on a day to day basis and others find most things difficult. The act of continuing to live difficult.

    I get from what you write, that, like me, everything (or most things) is/are a uphill one.

    Like today. I had to walk to the council offices..not only negotiating with my neuroris and fears but fending off a migraine. I did what I had to do but it never, not ever, gets any easier through doing it.

    I have long sussed out the whys for is the practicalities of living with the damage...either trying to rise above it or accept it and the debilitation I have from it and carry on.

    I mostly have a sense of deflated acceptance.I know there is an intelligent woman, inside me, screaming for something relevant to do. Problem is she is constantly fighting in order to exist. That can't be right but then again I am not sure what right is anymore. I know it is about having to live for as long as I live and making the best of the bum deal of being me.

    And now let us sing something by the Simple Minds :>)