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Review of Fatal Freedom The Ethics and Politics of Suicide by Thomas Szasz
Metapsychology (2005)
  • Matthew Pianalto, Eastern Kentucky University

Dying voluntarily is an option that all cognizant human beings possess. To intentionally bring about one's own death is to enact suicide. In Fatal Freedom, Thomas Szasz calls attention to the fact that although suicide is not a crime, thinking about it, attempting it, or failing to perform suicide successfully all prompt psychiatric interventions and often involuntary institutionalization, which Szasz refers to as "coercive psychiatric suicide prevention" (CPSP). Szasz explores the historical connections between suicide and depression--a diagnosis which is purported both to explain (psychologically) and to excuse (morally) suicide--and reveals that the psychiatric perspective has gradually diluted the concept of suicide as an intentional act and has increasingly led us to characterize suicide as a disease which needs to be treated. Implicit in this view is the assumption that suicide is never rational or preferable (if there is a difference between the two), which leads us to the irresistible conclusion that anyone who contemplates or attempts suicide is incapable of rational deliberation. The person who commits suicide is not responsible for doing so, as this "happening" (suicide) occurs as a result of a disease (depression). We are then left with the claim that the person who commits suicide does not actually commit suicide, because the presence of depressive illness as a cause of suicide trumps the attribution of intention and choice, which are essential to the definition of suicide. Suicide comes to represent, on the psychiatric view, not an act of human agency, but a loss of agency.

Publication Date
January 4, 2005
Citation Information
Matthew Pianalto. "Review of Fatal Freedom The Ethics and Politics of Suicide by Thomas Szasz" Metapsychology Vol. 9 Iss. 1 (2005)
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