Suicide as a Natural Right- Part III: The Externalities Argument

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Part I:

Part II:

Most legally mandated suicide prevention measures fixate on its impact on society. An individual assuming an externalities defense of the involuntary hospitalization of those with suicidal tendencies falls prey to a fallacy that all prohibitions of vices are subject to operating as a preemptive measure. Prompting the question, what is the committed offense outside of the state statutory code? What most Libertarians would refer to as victimless crimes. Enforcement of victimless crimes does not remedy the loss of property or harm to any non-consenting third parties. Rather, such laws have the unfortunate propensity of conflating potential consequences with actual damage done. Most arguments for maintaining the federal ban on illicit drugs emphasize prospective ramifications versus actual outcomes. Even drunk driving laws fail to meet the criteria for a violation of our private property rights. Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated only increases the odds of bodily harm and destruction of property, but it does not guarantee this consequence. 

US civil law no longer recognizes personal suicide attempts as a criminal offense. However, the criminality of physician-assisted suicide varies radically by state. Suicide is no longer a crime. Suicide prevention laws are completely constructionist inventions. More importantly, it also fails to fulfill the criterion for violating another person’s natural rights. Arizona has an involuntary commitment law codified under Title 36 of Arizona Revised Statutes. If there is no crime committed, can detention be perceived as lawful?

Such fits the definition legally sanctioned form of kidnapping. The basis of the logic of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments provides fodder. If it were not for Title 36, it would be considered unlawful confinement. The only rational inference is that these mandates are the illegitimate byproduct of legal positivism. The standpoint drove by a “moral” concern for potential externalities. Codifying morality is never a justifiable reason for exercising the authority of governing institutions!

Suicide as a Natural Right- Part I

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The act of suicide is a serious matter that has a litany of inseparable moral, physiological, psychological, and societal considerations. Unanimously, the institutional consensus is that intervention is imperative in addressing the issue of suicide. Although little consideration is given to whether intervening in every alleged suicide attempt is ethical. In most cases, intervention entails involuntary commitment orders placed upon “suicidal” individuals. There is often a wide degree of digression allotted to mental health professionals in determining who is a danger to themselves. The nuances within these laws vary state by state. It should be noted the majority of states have involuntary commitment laws. As noted in a recent Supreme Court decision has indicated that the reasonableness for involuntary commitment under due process has already been established. Citing Addington v. Texas   , O’Connor v. Donaldson, and Foucha v. Louisiana. Do the despondent nature and impending bodily harm of a suicidal person warrant them being held against their will? Despite any ethical counterarguments, the law of the land indicates that such measures are justified.

All because a specific policy is codified in statutory law or is validated in case laws does not make it moral. Our law ought to reflect a sense of justice, however, this normative ideal is seldom achieved. Often many laws appear to be a capricious byproduct of overextended digression. If the Lockean proviso people do own themselves, at the very least involuntary commitment laws present a conflict between the legal statute and our natural right of self-ownership. From a Libertarian perspective, this is a right that should not be infringed upon. The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume wrote:

A man who retires from life does not harm society: he only ceases to do good, which, if it is an injury, is of the lowest kind. All our obligations to do good to society seem to imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society, and therefore ought to promote its interests; but when I withdraw myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer? But allowing that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they have certainly some bounds. I am not obliged to do a small well to society at the expense of great harm to myself. Why then should I prolong a miserable existence because of some frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me?

This short excerpt from the large corpus of Hume’s work encapsulates the issue with mandatory commitment laws; suicide presents little harm to society. In contrast, hold a man against his will for committing no crime would be quite damaging. It also should be noted that “suicide” across the board is not universally condemned, but is permissible based upon a qualifying context. For instance, some argue that elderly people suffering from chronic illness(es) have the right to end their own lives. Predicted upon the basis that they no longer owe anything else to society and are no longer a stakeholder. If membership to a community is voluntary, then withdrawal through either suicide or self-isolation should also be voluntary, making anything else coercion. The preference towards the norms of suicide towards the elderly and sick are also reflected in our laws.  As of 2019, eight states allow for physician-assisted suicide this privilege is only permitted for those suffering from a terminal illness. There are two interrelated flaws with the logic behind only allowing the terminally ill to have legal permission to end their own lives. The first concern is that this undermines the severity of mental illness. Through sanctioning such procedures to those suffering from physical illness, a double standard has been created. For years we have heard that mental illness is also an illness, however, mental health professions do not even vindicate their own words. These individuals are actively allowing for physical illness to hold a privileged legal status over mental illness. The second fallacy is that one of the prevalent arguments for intervention in suicide attempts is that the person’s thinking is impaired by psychological distress or intoxication. To allow the chronically ill to do the same is hypocritical under this very same line of logic. Those who are terminally are generally on psychoactive pain killers or are in intense pain. Couldn’t their capacity for reasoning be questionable at best under such debilitating conditions? If mental illness is an illness couldn’t it be terminal in its own right? These are two discrepancies that few pundits in civil society would have the courage to address honesty.

If we own ourselves, we have the implicit right to kill ourselves without any interference. That does not necessarily provide a moral justification for a suicide attempt but is moral condemnation obstruct this right. Analogous to how soliciting a prostitute may not necessarily be moral, but to utilize legal institutions to disrupt this exchange is unquestionably immoral. If under Arizona statute ARS 13-1304 sustains that holding a person against their will is illegal, then the same can be said about involuntary commitment. The difference is due to a pedantic technicality than a justifiable ethical argument. 

Can Adam Smith Help Us Recover From COVID-19?

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Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely turned society upside down. Plagued by uncertainty the entire planet was alarmed in went into full panic mode. Leading us to the immediate question of how do we contain a novel virus when its origins are shrouded in mystery? Many of these reactionary policies may have modestly slowed down the spread of COVID-19, however, most of the state-sanctioned restrictions ended up causing unforeseen problems. The shelter-in-place orders resulted in the highest recorded rate of job loss since The Great Depression. The economic ramifications of various lockdown measures go beyond the immediate consequences. There was a November 2020 study conducted by USC projecting an overall GDP loss of $3-4 Trillion over the next two years.

Lengthy book treatments could be composed to fully detail all of the intricacies of the economic carnage of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the fall-out of the pandemic reaches well beyond the economic repercussions. Our overall health has been impacted. Not necessarily by the direct symptoms of COVID-19, but by a result of the lockdown orders. People have been less active leading to weight gain, which may lower an individual resistance to the virus. While physical health may be most salient to us because it can be observed by the naked eye, what about mental health? It is well documented that social isolation is a contributing factor to depression. A multitude of stories has been published describing the psychological struggles of Americans during the pandemic. The hardnosed statistician may be quick to dismiss these narratives as being purely anecdotal. However, many of the risk factors for suicide have been magnified since the beginning of the pandemic. There has been a notable increase in the suicide rate from 2019 to 2020.

The pandemic has also fractured relations between us and our fellow citizens. Clinging to our inner circles to avoid spreading COVID-19, we begin to become more tribal. The trust we once held for our neighbors has become eroded over the past year. Anytime someone sneezes we give them the side-eye. Fostering a climate of distrust and paranoia. This distrust has manifested itself in actual hate crimes and discrimination. Some reports estimate that hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased by 150 percent in 2020. What does this have to do with COVID-19? Quite a bit. It is speculated that the outbreak originated in the Wuhan province of China (p.2). Leading some to erroneously blame people of Asian ancestry for the spread of the virus. Creating friction between various communities across the country and only serving to make an already tumultuous situation worse. Asian Americans much like all other Americans have been grappling with the stresses of the pandemic. Adding racial tensions to the mix only serves to create more division and distrust. We need trust to have a stable society. 

Could a voice from the past help us navigate these difficult times? Provide us direction in helping us heal from the carnage caused by a global pandemic? I would argue yes. That voice of reason comes from no other than The Enlightenment-era moral philosopher Adam Smith Many readers are probably thinking to themselves “… isn’t this the guy that told us to follow our self-interest. In other words, to be selfish?”. In a sense, yes. However, limiting the body of Smith’s work to the following passage is nothing more than a caricature of his overall contributions to economics, never mind moral philosophy.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but their advantages. (The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 456, para. 9)”

The above paragraph may be the most famous one ever written by Smith, but it does not wholly define his breadth of work. Smith believes that markets and morality were inseparable, and you could not have one without the other. At the crux of voluntary trade is interaction. If we treat each other poorly and do not foster a good-working relationship trade cannot take place. To foster strong relationships, we as a society need a firm moral backbone. Morality provides us with the precepts to facilitate just and fair interactions despite conventional wisdom, this is crucial to success in business. If you are not running your enterprise justly your client will eventually find out and choose to do patronize another vendor. 

Business ethics and social morality are intimately interconnected, one cannot exist without the other. That is why the two great works of Smith were meant to be read in tandem. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) addresses social morality and The Wealth of Nations (1776) details the inner mechanics of economic exchange (catallactics). Both books dovetail together so well, reading one leaves you with a missing piece of the puzzle. COVID-19 has unquestionably harmed society economically and socially and both books contain the wisdom to help us get back on the right track. I am a great admirer of economist Don Boudreaux, but I do have to take issue with his recent assessment of Smith’s possible perception of the impact of social isolation resulting from COVID-19. Dr. Boudreaux states that Smith could certainly empathize with and rationally understand the distress caused by social isolation. I do not disagree with his inference, but I would surmise that Smith would want us to draw lessons from his work. To apply the concepts in both books to help us as a society overcome the hardships imposed by COVID-19. His work was not intended to be confined to the postulations of lofty ivory tower discussions, but also for practical application. What good is moral philosophy if it is never put to practical use? Why not look to the works of Adam Smith for guidance and solutions to help us navigate the uncertainty that is the COVID-19 pandemic?

Suicide As A Property Rights Issue- Part II

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The moral argument for a right to suicide is firmly grounded in property rights. To many readers the very notion that suicide and ownership of tangible objects are interconnected is farfetched. Upon a superficial assessment of the premise, it is easy to jump to this conclusion. Once we get to the philosophical taproot of the concept of ownership the overlap between the two concepts becomes much more apparent. Fastened to the pillar of natural rights, the right of ownership is crucial in establishing all other rights. The ability to retain, transfer, and exclude others from one’s property lays down the framework for all other negative rights we cherish. For example, if a dinner guest offends us with an off-color joke at our house, we have the right to ask them to leave. The right of excludability. If the dinner guest is aware, we are offended by specific kinds of jokes, they fully consent to the conditions of the dinner party by opting to attend. Due to this variety of informal rule creation, there is no need to implement laws prohibiting offensive speech. Individual property owners can decide what types of jokes or language will be tolerated in their household.

The basis for ownership of tangible items goes back to an even deeper principle of self-ownership. If we do not own ourselves how can we possibly possess physical property? Either in the title or tangible form. The philosopher who bridges the gap between self-ownership and ownership of objects, locations, and intellectual property is no other than the great John Locke. At the most rudimentary level, we must own ourselves before we can possess any additional property. The extent to which this self-ownership is applicable is debatable. We can legally own ourselves. We have autonomy over (in most cases) our corporeal vessel that holds our inner organs. An individual can also exert control over their mind. Where does the right of an individual to own one’s self arise from?  This merely the abstract pontification of an out-of-touch philosopher? Most who have read Locke would staunchly disagree with the prior inference. Locke developed a concise explanation linking self-ownership to an unwavering natural right.

In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689) he further expounds upon the natural basis for self-ownership. Arguably laying down the nascent substrate for the ethical arguments against slavery later on in the 19th century. The right to self-ownership is the result of divine providence. In Locke’s view, God gives us life and we are born free. For those who have more of a secular view of the world, it could state we are born free by our humanity. There is no grand authority that we must oblige by involuntarily transferring self-possession to as a result of cohesion.  

“…Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. (p.11)..”

Locke establishes that no one person has the right to own another human being. The implications of the above quote go beyond the abstract conceptualization of self-ownership. Due to a person owning themselves they also possess the fruits of their labor. If you work and toil to harvest lobsters in the icy waters off the coast of Maine, whatever you catch is rightfully yours. Providing you are not capturing so many lobsters that you are preventing others from having a chance to obtain the seafood delicacy. Nor are you procuring so many they will go to waste (p.12-15). Through self-possession and possession of our labor and the results of our labor, the natural rights argument for property ownership is pithily conveyed.

John Locke was correct about all people being born free and having possession of overall commodities, lands, and intellectual property that they have rightfully obtained through their labor. Where he went astray was asserting that natural rights are inalienable. Regardless of whether we procure these rights from god or as a result of our personhood, you can alienate these rights. Whether or not it is ethically justifiable is completely contingent on the consent of the individual. We have a natural right to free speech for example. While at work we temporarily or indefinitely suspend (for the duration of our employment) our right to unfettered speech as a condition of employment. There is nothing illegitimate about this arrangement because it expresses a form of tacit consent.  If you truly disagreed with the rules of the company you otherwise would not accept the job offer. Agreeing to conditions of employment can operate as a form of selling our natural rights. If we truly own ourselves and possess all of the natural rights we are guaranteed in the Constitution, why couldn’t we sell the title to our rights to other people? That is effectively what we do when after signing an employment agreement. Our natural rights cannot be transferred or relinquished unless we willingly agree to conditions or arrangements that nullify these rights.

One particularly controversial example of this concept was formulated by the Austrian economist and political theorist Walter Block. Dr. Block postulates that voluntary slavery is not incompatible with individual freedom. Such a position sounds antithetical to liberty, however, understanding the context is key. There is a difference between being forced at gunpoint into slavery and choosing to be a slave. Why would anyone choose to be a slave? They or a family member may owe an astronomical amount of money to a private individual and the only means of making restitution on their debts would be a lifetime of unpaid servitude.  It highly unlikely that anyone in modern times would consent to such an arrangement. Being able to sell one’s self to another person demonstrates an unfettered view of self-ownership. The laws prohibiting voluntary slavery are essentially are equally as unjust as keeping involuntary slavery legal. We can’t say that we truly own ourselves if we cannot do as we please with our bodies. That includes opting to sell ourselves into slavery.

The question becomes how does the argument for voluntary slavery apply to suicide? Logically it is predicated on the very same principle of self-ownership. If you truly own yourself and no one else has possession of your body and mind, then you have a right to kill yourself.  As jarring as this statement maybe it is nevertheless true. If we truly possess an object or an idea we can do as we please with it. We can sell the item or bit of intellectual property, or we can dispose of it. Nothing is stopping us from purchasing the latest iPhone at full retail price and then upon receiving the device, abruptly throwing it into a trashcan. While by the assessment of convention sensibilities such an action would irrational or foolish, no one has a right to prevent this behavior from occurring. Regardless of the perception of others, the notion of ownership prevents others from intervening. Some may criticize this example because it is comparing a replaceable item with the irreplaceable essence of human life. This critique is a fair one, however, that does not make this a false analogy.  The operative condition is the concept of ownership not what the individual is choosing to dispose of.  Regardless of the origin of where we obtain our natural rights from we do own ourselves. Much like anything else we own we have a right to dispose of ourselves. This is not making a moral judgment about the act of suicide in-of -itself. Nor is this a tacit endorsement of suicide. However, legality is no measure of morality. Nor is pressure to conform to societal norms.  If we legalized heroin use and prostitution tomorrow, these activities would not necessarily be moral.  But they would be legal. While these activities may be immoral, inferring an individual’s right to poison their body or engage in infidelity is also immoral. Immoral on a grander scale. When victimless crimes have codified sanctions, they are generally backed by the threat of incarnation, fines, or state violence.  

The decision to commit suicide is a deeply personal decision that should not be felt in the hands of doctors, psychologists, and especially nor legislators.  Attempts to intervene in suicide attempts are naturally transgressive against the individual’s property rights.  If indeed, we truly possess self-ownership.

Suicide As A Property Rights Issue- Part I

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The act of suicide is an action unconscionable to most people. Committing suicide violates one of the most basic tenants of human biology, the innate drive for self-preservation. Human beings are wired to avoid death at all costs. This proclivity towards instinctively evading peril is physiologically manifested in our internal fight-or-flight response. If our biologically ingrained will-to-live isn’t compelling enough to make the prospect of suicide perplexing, there are also normative reasons for finding the practice baffling. Some of these cultural norms have developed out of divine prescriptions. In the Abrahamic religions, for example, there are textual prohibitions against suicide. This divine restriction is even extended to instances of medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill. However, the philosophic obligation to live is not limited to a purely religious context. There are philosophical; traditions that shun suicide as an abdication of duty. One of the most salient examples of this is presented in the corpus of Immanuel Kant’s work. It can be argued that we have a duty to our family, friends, co-workers, and community to not kill ourselves. Some people love us deeply and count on us. How could we be so egotistical to not consider the radius of the fallout from such an act? The externalities of one person committing suicide stretch well beyond the victim.

Then again, this reason could be easily inverted. Who has the authority to mandate that suicide is a selfish act? God? Perhaps. Does divine prescription or other moral conventions give us a moral duty to intervene in suicide attempts? A resounding majority of people would unequivocally say, “yes”. Many would go so far as to advocate for codifying measures in formal statutes and ordinances to safeguard those with suicidal inclinations from harming themselves. This is substantiated by the fact that most states have laws that require mandatory involuntary hospitalization for suicide attempts. However, much of the conventional wisdom that surrounds the subject of suicide is quite perverse. Beyond the stigma that is attached to it, societally we have the wrong perspective on it. If people can subjectively determine the value of goods that they choose to buy daily, why can’t they do the same with their quality of life? Couldn’t we also extrapolate the same concept of marginalism to an assessment of individual wellbeing? Even the parameters set in place in jurisdictions where medically assisted euthanasia is permitted are too restrictive. The doctor tasked with ascertaining whether a terminal cancer patient should be able to end their own life is draconian. Involuntarily transferring this right to an authority figure by a matter of jurisdictional law. Who would be a better judge of the patient’s quality of life, than the patient? The judgment of the physician at best a partial informed inference. Lacking the all if qualitative sensations of anguish characterizing most terminal illnesses. 

While medical-assisted suicide may be legalized in some regions for those at the end stages of palliative care, it remains taboo to permit suicide for those suffering from psychological distress. This discrepancy in logic is quite puzzling. In recent years there has been a plethora of campaigns to have mental illness be publicly recognized as an illness. Generally done so in a top-down and highly pedological manner (naturally the experts curing the ignorance of the commoners). Generating a myriad of various pithy slogans so succinct they could fit on a bumper sticker. There is some glaring hypocrisy in these initiatives. While yes, I agree that mental illness is an illness. In most cases, there is even a biochemical basis for the mental illness. For example, serotonin deficiencies resulting in depression. If there can be a terminal stage of physical illness, why wouldn’t there be a terminal stage of mental illness? Who would determine this arbitrary line in the sand? This unpleasant and inconvenient fact is conspicuously absent from the mental illness is an illness movement. That is unfortunate because the tendency of sugarcoating serious issues does little to solve significant problems. Trivializing this mental health movement to caricature of what it could be. Reducing it to a mere humanistic feel-good movement. Nevertheless, if as a society we aim to treat mental illness on an even field with physical illness, it is only reasonable we allow those with mental illness to commit suicide if they see it fit. This may sound callous or even cruel. The same could be said for forcing someone to live who does not want to. 

Hume v.s. Kant- Thoughts on the Act of Suicide


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The act of suicide most likely has been around since the dawn of human history. The reasons that an individual chooses to take their own life run the gamut. Suicide much like other decisions has a litany of moral considerations. It should be noted that many religions actually have prescriptions explicitly against the act. Any steadfast contrarian would question whether suicide can be ethically justified. Some thinkers would even be so bold to address whether or not we have the right to commit suicide.


Two marquee names of the 18th century European Enlightenment were bold enough to expound this morbid topic. Although, both came to very different conclusions about ethical considerations of suicide. German philosopher Immanuel Kant viewed suicide to be unquestionably immoral. In contrast, Scottish thinker David Hume struggled to find the immortality within the act. Both taking on diametrically opposing views.


Kant not only found it impossible to rationalize the act of suicide. He expresses the utmost censure for those who dared to commit such an atrocity. Kant believes since we were created by God we belong to him. Operating on the understanding that our life is not ours to dispose of on our whim. However, Kant took it one step further by equating the victim of suicide to the level of a lowly beast.

Man can only dispose of things; beasts are things in this sense; but man is not a thing, not a beast. If he disposes of himself, he treats his value as that of a beast. He who so behaves, who has no respect for human behavior, makes a thing of himself.”[1].

Unrelentingly harsh.  Certainly, a severe assessment to make. Especially considering most people plagued by suicidal thoughts are generally psychologically tormented. Kant’s thinking is notorious for being complex and nuanced, but he was quite rigid in the realm of morality. The topic of suicide is no exception.  From Kant’s perspective, if you killed yourself you would no longer be able to engage in moral acts. This highest duty to our self, due to all other duties being contingent upon being able to be moral [2]. If an individual dies of natural causes he did not choose this path. If an individual dies in combat defending his country this is a valiant act of bravery. From Kant’s perspective, the soldier sacrificed his life to spare his fellow countrymen from such a fate. In contrast to selfishly taking one’s life. May alleviate the victim of suicide, but does not help society in any way. It could be argued that suicide inflicts more harm on society making it immoral.

Kant’s perception of those who have committed society is quite brutal. The opposing views of David Hume provide more clemency towards suicide victims. Rather than morally browbeating them. David Hume expressed his views on suicide in the 1755 essay Of Suicide expressing some of the logical fallacies implied in arguments against suicide.  Hume suggests that God allows us to control other aspects of nature, for example harnessing and collecting natural resources. So why would suicide be the one exception (Hume, 1775, p. 3) [3][4]. Beyond that point :

…. divine order’ is meant simply that which occurs according to God’s consent, then God appears to consent to all our actions (since an omnipotent God can presumably intervene in our acts at any point) and no distinction exists between those of our actions to which God consents and those to which He does not. If God has placed us upon the Earth like a “sentinel,” then our choice to leave this post and take our lives occurs as much with his cooperation as with any other actions we perform [5].


Hume has addressed the theological concerns of suicide.  But what about the duty to ourselves and others?  The way Hume saw it, you do not harm society by taking your life. You only “.. cease to do good..” (Hume, 1755, p.8) [6]. Almost perceiving the act without any further context is morally neutral. Considering how drastic the act of suicide is this is kind of a far-fetched notion.  Odds are whatever moral contributions we have to offer society are minuscule. It is absurd to stay alive to provide a mere “frivolous advantage” to the public (Hume, 1755, p.8) [7]. Hume also argues that suicide isn’t necessarily an abdication of duty to ourselves.  If affiliated with sickness and other ailments synonymous with advanced age, what is the point of living? To a certain extent, you are existing to endure more misery (Hume 1755, P.8-9) [8]. With such health conditions, you could only prove to be a detriment to others. This could result in more mental anguish.  Making staying alive merely for its own sake fruitless.


To conclude, I see some profound problems with both perspectives.  Kant is far too judgmental and rigid concerning suicide. The last thing you should ever do is deride someone for having suicidal proclivities. Chances are it will only exacerbate the problem rather than persuade them to not commit suicide. Also, suppose the scenario where you and your child are held at gunpoint. You are told by the assailant “either take this gun and shot yourself or I am killing your kid”. It may be debatable if this scenario would constitute suicide. If we argue it does, clearly killing yourself would be more moral than continuing to live. While there is a clear distinction between right and wrong, Kant’s moral absolutism can prove to be problematic.

On the other hand, David Hume is far too flippant about the subject as a whole. There are profound consequences that result from committing suicide. I am a fierce defender of individuality. But suicide impacts people other than yourself. The impact is not isolated to you and you only. Friends and family of the victim will be devasted by the unexpected turn of events. People at work depended on the victim. Believing that suicide is morally neutral is a fallacy. I would advise against codifying the moral considerations of suicide in law. End of life decisions should be left to the individual. Especially if they are suffering from a terminal illness. Making something legally accessible doesn’t make it right. Many states have annulled anachronistic laws prohibiting adultery. That does not excuse the moral failings of adultery. However, to humiliate and denigrate those with suicidal thoughts is also wrong. Downright cruel!