Rational Suicide in the Mentally Ill

Sandra Dawson


In this thesis I assume that suicide can be a rational and a moral action in certain circumstances. However, I argue that the traditional arguments in favour of rational and moral suicides that exclude the mentally ill are mistaken. I begin with an examination of the usual arguments for rational suicide. This examination includes the criteria used to test for rationality, the constituents of rational decision making, and the types of cases usually accepted as rational or rejected as irrational. I discuss alternate perspectives to the equation of mental illness with irrationality and irresponsibility. I criticize the 'medical' model conception of mental illness, its practice, and its communications model. I propose that an alternative model could provide different information and different conclusions as to rationality. I introduce J, a person who has committed suicide. I apply the usual criteria for rationality both to the general case of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and to J's experience in particular. In the last chapter, I examine the concept of a right to suicide and suggest the conception of suicide as a component of a fundamental right to life. I conclude that the 'mentally ill' are not incapable by virtue of being mentally ill and can sometimes make rational and moral decisions including the decision to commit suicide. I also conclude that they hold the same fundamental rights as any other person, including a fundamental right to suicide.