Provoking the Desire For Death: Hope, Despair, and the Effect of Legalized Assisted Suicide
Benjamin Parviz, Ph.D. Student, Saint Louis University
Student Essay - First Place
Laws that permit physician assisted suicide are often defended on the basis of moral neutrality and individual autonomy. However, many critics of assisted suicide have argued that a patient's request for assisted suicide is often not autonomous, but the result of social and public failures that have pushed the patient into that decision. In this essay, I will explicate one way that society pushes a dying person who wants to live toward or into the decision to choose assisted suicide. By legalizing assisted suicide, society sends a message to dying people that denies the patient a final possible source of hope. In denying a dying person this last source of hope, society pushes him into despair and creates the desire for death. To make this argument, I examine two philosophical theories of hope: the so-called "standard account of hope" that defines hope as a desire and belief pair, and the account of hope from Gabriel Marcel, who describes hope in existential and relational terms, saying that to hope is to hope in an other as a source of transcendence via a relationship of love. Relying on Marcel, I show how patients who could qualify for assisted suicide according to present legislation in U.S. jurisdictions where it is permitted experience a challenge that is a temptation to despair, one that could lead to hope given sufficient relationships of love, or one that could lead to despair given a lack of such relationships. For those who are most vulnerable to hope on account of lacking relationships of love that could serve as a source of transcendence from trial, society's message that death may be good, that suicide may be rationally chosen on account of sickness, and that one’s society does not need him is a message that creates an experience of despair and that provokes the desire for death.