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In a fictional, alternate-reality Earth world, where euthanasia is a human right, as well as the choice to abort your own life (suicide), there are cheap, painless, widely accessible, publicly available suicide booths (as shown in Futurama (see below)). perhaps there are stringent security measures like fingerprint scan or another form of identification, and perhaps there are other medical/legal requirements like an age restriction, psychoanalysis, having your financials in order (e.g. a will) etc.

If such a society where this freedom is nigh ubiquitous were proposed to a person from our world, what would be the ethical and legal, and even moral concerns raised?

enter image description here Futurama, more info on the Wikipedia article

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming they organize it properly, I can't think of any. I wish we could be a bit more like that civilization. $\endgroup$ – Erik Nov 23 '16 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ Putting suicide booths on the streets is incitement to suicide, and that will never be a good thing. $\endgroup$ – JackIta Nov 23 '16 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ Different people from our world could raise hundreds of different concerns, ranging from "all machines are evil" and "suicide is a sin" to "they can be misused". Would you like to get as many concerns as possible, or the most "logical" ones, or the most widespread ones? $\endgroup$ – user8808 Nov 23 '16 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Legal objections are pretty meaningless when you are talking about creating a new society. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Nov 23 '16 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @notstoreboughtdirt That's totally right, it's why the premise is "If it were proposed in our world". Quote: "If such a society where this freedom is nigh ubiquitous were proposed to a person from our world, what would be the ethical and legal, and even moral concerns raised?" $\endgroup$ – Ghoti and Chips Nov 23 '16 at 17:28
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How can you be certain that a person is choosing to die truly of their own free will, rather than because someone wants them out of the way?

Is the old CEO really choosing to end his life on a high note, or has his scheming VP tricked/coerced him into it? Is the old lady dying because she doesn't want to live any more, or because her son wants to inherit the house? Does this person really have terminal cancer, or did their doctor lie to them to get a buzz?

How can you be certain the person understands what they're doing?

Did this child truly understand what 'dying' means? Did this teenager just want to show off to their crush? Is this person suffering from depression which will respond to treatment, are they in a low point that will resolve naturally if they wait? Is this person suffering from delusions that lead them to make a bad decision?

How cheap is human life?

Even when we grant someone the right to end their life, should it really be possible to do it casually? Death is the final, irrevocable choice; shouldn't every other option be explored before that is even considered? 'Stringent' security checks like fingerprinting aren't anything like enough - the process should be long and drawn out, with opportunities to withdraw at every step, right up to the moment of actual death.

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    $\begingroup$ I was going to say how much the Mafia would love this. Who needs cement shoes and acres of body-hiding ground when you have society handing you an easy way to explain an untimely death on a silver platter? $\endgroup$ – Trevortni Nov 23 '16 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ "bout of depression that will end naturally" = -1 never, ever encourage anyone to hope depression will simply end. This is illness like others. Possibly fatal if untreated. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 23 '16 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Yes, I know. I suffer from major depressive disorder. And I'm really glad there weren't easy suicide booths around for me to step into while I was in a depressive state that ended naturally. Depression is a chronic illness that needs to be treated; a bout of depression is a state that you cycle through. (Having said that, I see how what I wrote could be misinterpreted - I've edited for clarity). $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 23 '16 at 18:10
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You have to look at the irrational, and criminal, applications.

Suicide booths make killing yourself easy, which is a bad idea. People who are transiently depressed, feeling very guilty, or otherwise not in their right minds could use them. People who were very drunk would toy with them as a matter of machismo, and some of them would get it wrong. And so on.

Suicide booths make killing other people easy, too. Whatever the security mechanisms, people will work hard to get round them. Doing so allows you to kill more or less with impunity, so it's a route to all kinds of criminal power.

And if you have a body on your hands, through some embarrassing "accident" that you'd rather not explain in court, a suicide booth is an excellent way of disposing of it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, it seems my comment to Werrf's answer should have gone on this answer. $\endgroup$ – Trevortni Nov 23 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ You can delete your comment and re-create it here. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Nov 23 '16 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ How about I leave it there _and_recreate it here? It's not exactly inappropriate where it already is either, which is why I put it there. $\endgroup$ – Trevortni Nov 23 '16 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to say how much the Mafia would love this. Who needs cement shoes and acres of body-hiding ground when you have society handing you an easy way to explain an untimely death on a silver platter? $\endgroup$ – Trevortni Nov 23 '16 at 17:27
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Unfortunately at one point in my life it became necessary for me to know about this sort of thing. I'm going to give you two (for now unsourced) statistics:

  1. The most common factor in successful suicides is "access to lethal methods"
  2. What survivors of jumping off bridges almost universally say is that on the way down they realised that everything in life can be fixed, apart from the fact they've just jumped off a bridge.

Access to lethal methods

This is a very strange term, it literally means "having some way to kill yourself" but it's stronger than that as it often refers to also having the expertise with which to use said method. Vets have the drugs, farmers have guns, these are two of the highest risk groups in the UK for exactly this reason. Normal people (in the UK) very rarely actually have a reliable accessible method with which to kill themselves. Success rates including attempts and methods USA 2012(pdf) note the effectiveness of firearms attempts (90% success) followed by hanging (83% success) (BMJ)

What your booth does is give everyone access to a way of killing themselves. By providing it you have effectively killed a large number of people who wouldn't otherwise have had a method of doing so.

Jumping off bridges

This is a key statistic, it goes with people taking overdoses then taking themselves to hospital. Far more people attempt suicide than succeed and one of the key factors in survival of an attempt is whether it's possible to stop halfway through. If the method chosen allows the person to abort, often they will.

You're wanting to give them a quick, easy, reliable, painless method, but that's precisely what society works to take away. Suicide level crises are generally brief.

Method

There's another factor to preventing suicide I'm going to mention because I think this question needs it. Most people who are seriously considering suicide have a plan. That plan is fixed, it's an already solved problem that's fixated on, if you take away that method they often won't find another way to do it.

Ask if they have a plan, take away access to that method of suicide and often they won't find another way.

Given the background information above, here's the actual answer to the question

Legal

Suicide is legal (in the UK), but only since the suicide act of 1961. Prior to that you could be imprisoned for the attempt or your family could be prosecuted if you succeeded.

Moral

By providing the booths, and in light of the information above, the provider could be considered culpable for every single death that occurred as a result of their use. That's around 960,000 additional premature deaths a year in the US alone. When someone is seriously considering suicide, just like any other person who is sick or injured, we have a duty to help them. Handing them a loaded gun with the safety off is not the help they need.

If they step into that booth and they're going to be in there for 4-6 hours, possibly even going to far as to have to book an appointment a couple of weeks in advance, talking to a counselor, putting their affairs in order, leaving messages for their family, having a decent meal, and free to walk away at any point, then perhaps this could be done. Then you could be said to have done what you could to help someone in need and that this is a person who has made a definite clear and conscious decision to die. A simple push a button and it's done for 25p, you'd have some questions to answer, mostly about reckless endangerment.

Suicide Prevention, how to help.

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The actual existence of a suicide booth would not change things all that much. We actually already have them in virtually every city in the nation.

Automo-suicide machine

They even come in a "lite" version, which statistics have shown is actually 4 times more effective than its full-sized bretheren.

Suicide-lite

(Don't worry, he's having a good time! No motorcyclists were harmed in the making of this picture)

Now I am no expert in suicide, but what I have read suggests that it's not easy to commit suicide. It's not a mere matter of no longer wanting to live. The human body has too much standing in the way for that. One truly needs to want to not live to overcome that. Access to ways to do it plays a smaller part than the desire to actually make it happen. Otherwise, we'd see a lot more people driving their gas powered coffins into walls at 100mph.

The more insidious question is what ethical and moral questions arose to create a society which wants to make it easy. What you describe is not the painful ritualistic Sepuku of the Samurai, but a button press to end it all. What sort of culture would want to encourage that?

One potential rationale would be the collapse of society as we know it. As food becomes difficult to come by, people may resort to extremes. If enough people were wasting valuable resources on their suicide attempts (man! that phrase tastes horrible in my mouth!), the government may want to step in with a less resource intensive process.

Another distopia might be one where humans have gotten so opposed to doing anything for themselves that they truly only ever press buttons to tell the robots to do things. In such a world, the lack of practice in actually doing something yourself might spur the invention of all sorts of disturbing buttons to press. Of course, at this point, ethical and moral questions regarding suicide take a back seat to the ethical and moral questions that lead to such a broken humanity.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is a very large difference between driving in a car or on a motorcycle after practice and qualification and intentionally ending a human life. I would reevaluate that comparison - $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 23 '16 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra You may be missing my point. The only thing which prevents a car from qualifying as a suicide booth is that the car has to reach 80+mph to guarantee a painless death, while the suicide booth does it at a stand still. My point is that we already have easy access to tools that are more than capable of the level of self destruction needed. The ones we have just aren't dedicated to the task. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 23 '16 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ These days you would generally have a hard time finding something solid enough to hit even at that 80 mph. The big, solid objects that would make a quick death are generally protected by various guard rails etc. On the other hand, I'm 20' from a nearly 300' drop as I write this. Few adults would have any real difficulty getting across the safety barrier in front of it. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 25 '16 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ The issues are: a) Finding a wall which is straight after a long stretch of a road b) Making sure the car's safety features (or random luck) won't leave you disabled rather than dead. In short, it's not fool-proof and potentially extremely painful. $\endgroup$ – JonathanReez Dec 6 '16 at 15:51
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I think that the legal concerns are the most important. To make sure no one is coerced, they could have to make an appointment at the local donation centre. (In not necessarily this order.)

1)They have to give up any/all viable organs. 2) They have a waiting period and make an appointment. 3) The reason for death has to be not about getting away with non-payment of debt or providing money for loved ones or for payment or follow through of a bet. 4) If the medical professional who examines the patient feels this is about temporary depression or a fixable problem and there is still available help, suicide would be prevented by admission to a program -- but I also think that if a person has tried for years and still wants to die, they should be allowed to. 5) They have a will and are not abandoning children or pets without making arrangements for them. 6) They have to be adults or have adult/parental or caregiver permission.

I think adults should be allowed to make their own choices about suicide. For me, it is not MY moral issue -- it is theirs.

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  • $\begingroup$ IOW, process and red tape. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 5 '16 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ of course, do you see legal suicide and an easy method happening without them. I am expanding on the question. "perhaps there are stringent security measures" $\endgroup$ – WRX Dec 5 '16 at 12:43
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Your question necessarily includes one of two extremes: either people in the present day who should not commit suicide can, or people in the present day who arguably should be able to commit suicide can.

For the former case: consult any existing literature on how it's wrong for most people to be able to commit suicide. Most obviously mental disorders like depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD, often undiagnosed at first, should not be given trivial access to suicide. As a society we have generally taken the stance that it is better to treat and support these people.

For the latter case: consult any existing literature on the PAS for terminally ill movement. In my opinion and to my moral understanding, any increase in suicide availability for the subset of ill patients who deserve it is good.

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