I was saddened to learn of the recent death by suicide of Chris Capel, known here as pdf23ds. I didn't know him personally, but I was an occasional reader of his blog. In retrospect, I regret not having ever gotten into contact with him. Obviously, I don't know that I could have prevented his death, but, as one with mental-health issues myself, at least I could have made a friend, and been one to him. Now I feel a sense of disappointment that I'll never get that chance.

Having said that, I must say that I take his arguments here very seriously. I do not consider it to be automatic that every suicide is the "wrong" decision. We can all imagine circumstances under which we would prefer to die than live; and given this, we should also be able to imagine that these kinds of circumstances may vary for different people. And if one is already accepting of euthanasia for incurable physical suffering, it should not be that much of a leap to accept it for incurable psychological suffering as well.

Of course, as Chris acknowledges, this doesn't imply that everyone who is contemplating suicide is actually being rational. People may for instance be severely mistaken about their prospects for improvement, especially while in the midst of acute crisis.(Conceivably, that could even have been his own situation.) Nonetheless, I think many of the usual arguments that people use to show that suicide is "wrong" are bad arguments. For example, consider what is probably the most common argument: that committing suicide will inflict pain upon friends and family. It frankly strikes me as absurd (and grotesquely unempathetic) to suppose that someone for whom life is so painful that they would rather die somehow has an obligation to continue enduring it just in order to spare other people the emotion of grief (which they are inevitably going to have to confront at some point anyway, at least until we conquer all death).  

Ironically, society's demonization of suicide and suicidal people has negative consequences even from the standpoint of preventing suicide itself, as Chris points out

I passionately hate that all of the mental health people are obligated by law to commit me to an asylum if they think I’m about to kill myself. They can’t be objective. You know, if they could talk to me without such stupid constraints, they might have prevented this very suicide

It seems to me very possible that our society's fervor to prevent suicide may result in denying severely depressed people the compassion they need. This could theoretically be worth it if it prevented enough suicides that turned out to be worth preventing, but cases like Chris's raise doubt about this, in my mind. (From both angles: if Chris's decision was the right one for him, then the system is saving people it shouldn't be saving; if on the other hand it was the wrong decision, then we clearly see how the system failed him.) 

Although I'm inclined to be sympathetic to Chris's view -- perhaps because I haven't always been maximally enthusiastic about my own existence myself -- there are some arguments that do worry me. Such as: if you think of future versions of yourself as separate agents, then suicide is a form of homicide. However, usually suicide is carried out on the belief that the future selves would approve of their nonexistence; and all of our decisions have consequences (often irreversible) for our future selves, so this is a general ethical problem that transcends the specific issue of suicide.

This post is a place to rationally discuss the ethics and rationality of suicide, as well as our attitudes (on an individual level, and as reflected in our institutions) toward suicidal people and, more generally, those suffering from psychological conditions such as depression. 

I'm sad that Chris won't be able to participate.

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As a kid, I was sometimes suicidal. I thought I didn't like being alive.

It turned out I just didn't like being a kid. I simply had nothing else to compare it to until I attained and got to try out being an adult. (Which is awesome.)

This wasn't so much about failing to have hope as it was failing to realize that there was a thing to be hoped for. I didn't have anyone telling me that being an adult was really really cool and would make me happy, so I didn't expect it as a kid. So, I guess my statement is that there should be black-swan hope for things no one has bothered to put forth as happiness-inducers.

As a general note to whom it may concern: I consider it (deontologically) wrong to bring mental health professionals into the life of a non-dangerous-to-others person whose sanest available preferences indicate that they don't want such professionals. I am not a professional of any stripe myself, but I am willing to converse with (a non-overwhelming number of) sad people if they want someone to talk to.

It turned out I just didn't like being a kid. I simply had nothing else to compare it to until I attained and got to try out being an adult. (Which is awesome.)

Hasn't worked out very well for me... maybe I just still haven't managed to achieve adulthood in spite of having lived for 28 years? (I'm still dependent on my parents for food and shelter and feel limited in my ability to refuse demands they make of me.)

I'm the same age as you. Personal autonomy, as in "I can do whatever the fuck I want whenever I want and not justify myself to anybody", is one of my biggest sources of happiness. I distinctly remember the jump in happiness that I felt when I moved away from my parents and started renting an apartment with a girlfriend. Some years later we broke up and I started living alone, and I got a big pleasant shock from that too (outweighing the pain of breakup and then some). What's more, the joy of autonomy doesn't seem to wear off for me, I still feel happy about it every day. YMMV.

If by any chance you'd like to become more self-supporting by finding a programming job, lately I've been getting more and more experience in advising people how to do that, so I can try to help out. (That also applies to everyone else reading this, of course.)

It's also probably useful to note that this kind of freedom seems to bring happiness even if one doesn't actually use it for anything particularly interesting, which is not so obvious when one is in a position of not having it.

Just being able to consider pants entirely optional and ice cream with bacon on it to be dinner and 4am to be an entirely reasonable bedtime (or 6pm a reasonable bedtime and dinner optional and your favorite tea as an anytime drink, or whatever) is enough, in other words. You don't actually have to go skydiving or build the next Google on top of that - unless you want to, of course.

Moving out from my parents' house would require me to get a job. It seems to me as though the result would be trading subservience to my parents for subservience to a boss. For example, I wouldn't be able to have a 4AM bedtime if I had to be at work at 8:00 AM.

For me, putting up with parents was way worse than putting up with a boss. When I lived with my parents, I had no personal space but didn't know it. I thought my room was my "personal space" because that's what they told me. But it was only true for a very stretched definition of the word "personal". When you begin living on your own, you feel the difference.

Also, putting up with a boss is easier in some kinds of jobs, e.g. if you're doing some startuppy thing and everyone shares the same goals. I don't remember ever feeling subservient to a boss in my life, because all my jobs were interesting and that provided enough motivation.

One very significant difference between having to put up with parents and having to put up with a boss is that your boss doesn't live with you - outside of work hours, you don't have to answer to them at all.

If you think you're going to want a 4am bedtime, don't apply for jobs that start at 8am. You do have a choice in that matter. Sometimes it's not an ideal choice - if your preferred job is one that does require you to be there at that hour, you might have to decide whether your preferred bedtime or your preferred job is more important to you. The important bit is that this is your choice to make, though, and that isn't changed by the fact that the choice is less than ideal. You can choose to go with a less awesome job, if you want to go with the more awesome bedtime, and that is the important bit.

I can flip that around; my parents both work, so I don't have to answer to them during standard work hours. What if you want even more flexibility than that from your "job"? I don't know of too many ways to earn income where you don't have to commit to some specific schedule in advance and can also take unpaid vacations at will, without notice - and those that I do know of (fiction writing, online poker, day trading) aren't ones that I think that I can make a living at. :(

I can flip that around; my parents both work, so I don't have to answer to them during standard work hours.

... so long as you stick to things that can be hidden from them, which is a pretty major limitation.

ETA: Also, this situation requires that you keep their preferences in mind, which may be significantly detrimental even if you're generally able to work around them. Not carrying that particular cognitive burden seems likely to be a significant part of it, and with a regular job and boss, you only have to carry that burden during set hours and don't have to worry about it the rest of the time.

What if you want even more flexibility than that from your "job"? I don't know of too many ways to earn income where you don't have to commit to some specific schedule in advance and can also take unpaid vacations at will, without notice - and those that I do know of (fiction writing, online poker, day trading) aren't ones that I think that I can make a living at. :(

They do exist, they're just rare and hard to find. (I have one, but I don't know how to find another.) Or you could do temp work. Or, you could change your definition of 'make a living' - I wanted to run this by... (read more)

I had to smile because of Adelene's offer. This is a great idea! The ETA from above also made me aware that the lifestyle advice on Less Wrong is quite unique in its sophistication.
If you do something that your parents would dislike that you'd have the freedom to do while living alone when they are at work (i.e. rearrange furniture like a poltergeist, not do the dishes for weeks, paint the walls) they can hold you responsible when you get home. If you do something that your boss wouldn't like while you're not on the job (get in a heated argument with someone, make a mess) your boss won't know or care. There's a big difference between the type of "answering" you have to do to a boss vs. a parent. It can be the case that parent's are more lenient, but it is also the case that their authority is everpresent. I do agree that highly flexible jobs are difficult to find; I will note that my experience is that waking up early (I prefer a 2am bedtime, arbitrary sleep; I currently wake up at 6:30 am twice a week) is unpleasant (my alarm is set for 6am... I am usually late) but worth it for the autonomy/moneybuxx; but I don't mean to generalize from one example too much.
This is not necessarily true. For example, I've recently read about a campaign to remove a public school teacher because she also writes romance novels that contain sex scenes.
Public school teachers are public figures in a way that most employees aren't; at least at the lower grade levels, their primary job is arguably to keep the sixty-odd parents of their charges happy despite the vast tarpit of bias that makes up our childrearing instincts. Much of the depth of that tarpit relates to cultural values, so I'd say your example is very much a special case. It's hard to imagine the same campaign being aimed at, say, a NOC tech for Amazon or a sandwichifex at the local Quiznos. True, it's not exactly unheard of for managers to take some interest in their employees' personal lives, and the rise of social media makes this easy to do if the inclination exists and hard to beg out of. But despite this, I'd say magfrump's got it about right on average: the ways in which your boss will try to manage your life generally don't have very much intersection with parental behavior, and if they do I'd suggest looking for another job.
There are indeed downsides, but my feeling is that if you got a job and moved out, you would afterwards ask yourself "Why the hell didn't I do this sooner?!" One concrete point in favor of being self-supporting is that even if your first job is crappy, your next one will be marginally better, and so on. Right after high school I worked at a fast food restaurant. Then I worked in a bookstore, then doing telephone tech support, and now I'm a computer programmer. (I don't have any degree.) By the way, I worked in that fast food job for four years. That was too long, but at the time I was too lazy and too scared to look for something else.
My experiences with jobs have been pretty bad. The "technical" jobs I've had were rather unpleasant experiences, and the two times I had "menial" jobs, I was fired in under a week.
Keep trying! Technical job pleasantness has a very large standard deviation.
Yes yes yes, that's exactly what I wanted to say!

Wow, this is insanely relevant to my life.

In particular, it clarifies the cause of my increasing frustration with a certain associate.

Deliberately avoiding details, much of my interaction with this person feels like moving backwards in terms of autonomy. I've been feeling slightly guilty about my growing resentment, because they are (truly, from their perspective), "just being helpful".

This comment matches my experience extremely well; reflecting on the periods in my life when I've felt the best, they were often precipitated by a (sometimes involuntary) increase in autonomy - moving out, moving to a foreign country, etc.

Your comment has made my emotional state less opaque. So thanks!

I'm the opposite. If I can delegate any decision to anyone, I will. I couldn't care less about personal autonomy.
Do you expect that that would continue to be true if you were in a situation where you had no choice but to accede to others' decisions? Choosing to avoid making choices looks like personal autonomy to me.
Probably. If they went crazy with it, I'd eventually dislike it, but if they made the same choices I would have made, I'd be fine. When other people do make choices for me, I won't try to find out how much they're willing to force the issue unless I'm planning on doing something else.
Does this apply to tasks as well as decisions (e.g. you don't care how the laundry is done as long as you don't have to be involved) or are you just really amenable to instruction?
I would also like people to do things for me if that's what you mean, but given that I have to do it myself, I'd prefer someone else tell me what to do.
The second happiest time on my life (and the longest time of extended happiness) was the first 3 weeks or so after I moved out of my parent's home and into my own unit, first job, supporting myself. (For the record, the happiest was a week-long beachside holiday with an extended group of friends. Social interaction is really, really good.)
For me, at least, it's less about being able to avoid demands (I got pretty good at that while I was a kid, actually) and more about being able to make meaningful choices and not having to convince other people to go along with everything I want to do.
I'm the same age, and in a similar situation to you. I'm not self-reliant yet, but I'm living in my grandfather's house who recently passed away, so now I'm going through the transition process of living on my own. My problem is trying to find a job and an apartment where I can sustain myself. This seems to be impossible without a college degree.
For several years I was working entry-level jobs (retail; telephone tech support) and living by myself. The "trick" was that I shopped around for a place with low rent. (This may be harder where you live. I'm in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.) Right now I'm a computer programmer, despite not having any degree. Good luck (and sorry about your grandfather).
Yep, that's what I'm looking for doing at the moment. There are places around here for around $400/month; but first I'm trying to find a place with a somewhat higher wage.
This is very relevant to my life! It really seems like pretty much all my mental health issues boil down to not feeling autonomous and agentic, and not doing stuff. Or feeling lost in the middle of how much stuff I might do. But the way to try and solve that is to try a bunch of things until one gets a better idea of what part of the world one wants to focus on.
I had a brief time when I thought suicide would be a good idea. It was when I was a kid with little personal autonomy, my life sucked, and I believed in an afterlife. But I wasn't depressed enough or determined enough to go through with it, and since then all three of those circumstances have improved. Now life is awesome. Edit for clarity: There was very little chance I was going to do it. I don't have a biological tendency to depression, and I don't expect to ever be that depressed again.
Kids who are "sometimes suicidal" should learn a bit about option pricing theory.

Kids who are "sometimes suicidal" should learn a bit about option pricing theory.


An option gives you the right but not the obligation to buy a security. Imagine you have an option to buy a stock in five years for $10. You are better off the higher the variance of the stock because you get all of the upside but in five years you are no worse off if the stock is worth $10 compared to anything below $10. Consequently, "black-swan" events raise the value of the option.

If today the stock is worth $4 and you believe it will probably be worth less than $4 in five years then the option still has value if there is a non-zero probability that the stock will be worth more than $10 in five years time.

Because of your future ability to commit suicide you have an option on your future life. This option value reduces the expected gain to you of committing suicide even if you would be better off today if dead than alive and you think that your life will probably be worse five years from now than it is today. Knowing you can commit suicide in five years, consequently, should make you much less willing to commit suicide today.

The analogy of life to an option isn't perfect because with an option you don't suffer while you wait for it to expire.

The analogy of life to an option isn't perfect because with an option you don't suffer while you wait for it to expire.

I would say that's a fundamental and critical flaw in the analogy. Living five more miserable years and then committing suicide leaves you five miserable years worse off. All that you really need to calculate is the expected utility of staying alive.

I'm not sure I followed this. Is there something more to it than 'wait a while, things might get better and you can always go through with it later if they don't'?

No, but option pricing theory is the math behind that logic.

Yes, the higher the variance of what might happen the more you should be willing to wait. Also, even if you think things will probably get worse option value means you might still want to wait.
I'll just let you two talk amongst yourselves....

(anonymous posting as what I did may be illegal in my locality)

My mother committed suicide a few years ago. Her first attempt failed, and there was about a 2 month period where she was honest with my brother and me about the fact that she intended to try again. I decided to accept her decision and spent the time with her well, instead of fighting with her or attempting to get her institutionalised.

I think her decision to commit suicide was rational. Three years before her suicide, she'd become addicted to pethidine, an injected prescription opiate. She was in a profession that gave her ready access to prescriptions. After about a year of addiction the professional body found out about her abuse, and action was taken against her. Ultimately she failed to comply with their regulations and was banned from practicing her profession.

At the time of her suicide, she was in her late 60s, with no savings, unable to work, and in deep despair over what had come of her life. She was in poor health and had alcohol and codeine dependencies. Her assessment was that she could not see what she had to look forward to. I reluctantly agreed.

I loved my mother, and she achieved a great deal in her life.... (read more)


I was saddened to learn of the recent death by suicide of Chris Capel, known here as pdf23ds.


Fuck indeed

ETA: Warning - Link may be devastatingly depressing.

Fuck double indeed, since I had been around to help.
I was nose to the grindstone in the middle of March and totally missed that discussion post.

The saddest thing is it could have been prevented. His suicide note got posted to his blog early, and linked to from here. I (and I think other people too) ran a whois on his domain, found his address, and reported it to his local police department. I'd have done more, but was somewhat limited by being many thousand miles away. Presumably the police were unwilling/unable to act on reports by email from another country :-/

I called them by phone, from a different state in the U.S. They didn't promise me anything (for all they or I knew, it was a hoax, or maybe an out-of-date whois), but I got the impression they were taking it seriously. But there are limits to what the police can do to people who have not committed a crime and aren't obviously and immediately dangerous to themselves or others.
Was that true in this case? The post on suicide dates from 2009.
But this one is from less than two months ago.
Reading this made me cry, because I suspect we are very similar, with only slightly different circumstances. I wish I could have saved him. I wonder if I could have saved him.
Yep, that's the one to which I was referring. It was brought up at http://lesswrong.com/lw/4u6/suicide_note_of_an_lw_user/

I once talked an individual I was very close to out of committing suicide. He had experienced a number of rather terrible situations, with severe psychological and physical issues, that were causing him a great deal of pain. He was utterly hopeless, and firmly reiterated to me several times that there was no way to fix his life.

After getting him to calm down a little bit, I had him talk to me about what his problems were. I asked him why he thought it wouldn't ever get better. We talked for a while, and I realized that there was a solution that had just honestly never occurred to him. It would take several painful months before his life started improving, but there was a third alternative that would almost certainly improve his life drastically. He decided not to kill himself, seeing that this other choice, although it would be painful and difficult, was significantly better than suicide.

Now, in this case, he had mentally searched for a third alternative for months, ever since he first started contemplating suicide, and I genuinely think he would have accepted one if he had found it. He was just not able to find the way out. Chris argued in his post that it is possible for someone... (read more)

Just to point out that I agree with this (now quite old) comment.    Took me four years to understand why I was depressed and couldn’t see a way out of it ; and now I can, and I’m no longer depressed! Focusing on the virtue of empiricism is definitely good for that, especially as that’s the main thing a depressed and suicidal person won’t do. But perhaps it’s something you can only do well after having done some work on the virtue of finding a good therapist to start dealing with the depression, though :-) At least that’s how it worked for me.

I can't recall the name of it, but I think there was documentary about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. The filmmakers interviewed a bunch of people who had survived their attempts, and most or all of them regretted jumping as soon as they were airborne. I'm in favor of a right to suicide (not to be confused with thinking it is a good idea in the vast majority of cases) but I think anyone who is really set on going through with it should be encouraged to do so by means of a slow-acting poison that has an antidote, or some analogous method, just in case they discover an unexpected revealed preference for living after beginning to kill themselves.

I think you're right, but there's a possible selection effect. The ones who survived but didn't regret jumping could have successfully committed suicide later. Then they wouldn't be around for any interviews. Some quick searching doesn't give me any useful stats about the likelihood of survivors re-attempting.


"The Bridge". There was one person who survived and said he changed his mind once he was airborne. My recollection of the movie is that most of the people who jumped had been wanting to die for most of their lives. Even their family members seemed at peace with it for that reason.

The problem is, they didn't learn anything after they jumped. They hadn't changed their priors. They hadn't changed their desires. The were being irrational before they jumped, irrational after they jumped, or both. With out knowing which is true, we can't say when their decision should count.

The problem is, they didn't learn anything after they jumped.

I assume you mean 'they didn't learn anything by jumping', which doesn't seem obviously true to me: They could have made predictions in the form of "when I jump, I will feel X" or "when I'm no longer in a position to plausibly feel responsible for taking care of X, I will feel Y" or "when I am certain I will die, I will feel X", and had those falsified.

I guess "didn't learn anything relevant after they jumped" would be most accurate. Unless they actually killed themselves for a few seconds of relief.
I think an important question is why did they change they minds? Do they feel better about life? Are they happier somehow? Or did coming so close to death simply boost their survival instinct? But I haven't seen this documentary so maybe that question was covered.
Perhaps some kind of simulated near-death experience?

My gut level ingrained belief that people on the Internet don't die is badly shaken.


This is a troubling thread. The ethical and rational issues raised by the death of poor pdf23s are not as urgent as the practical issues.

There are suicidal folks and badly depressed folks more generally who read less wrong -- we now have awful proof. I do not think this is a great opportunity to pinpoint and record those situations that would be so horrible as to make suicide understandable. The next marginal "less wrong suicide" is not likely to be a person facing such a horrible problem. They are quite likely to be someone of a depressed temperament hit by a period of intense but temporary emotional distress.

It frankly strikes me as absurd (and grotesquely unempathetic) to suppose that someone for whom life is so painful that they would rather die somehow has an obligation to continue enduring it just in order to spare other people the emotion of grief.

I don't grieve for strangers but I often empathize with them. To those writing veiled and bald allusions to their own suicidal ideas: I wish I could communicate the empathy behind my contrary wishes. Don't do it brothers, sisters.


I remember in Influence how there was a whole chapter about increases in suicides after highly-publicized suicides, and even increases in apparent accidental deaths after highly-publicized accidental deaths. I'm surprised no one else has brought it up. Has this been debunked in some way, or is this thread a really terrible idea?

Has this been debunked in some way, or is this thread a really terrible idea?

Those are not the only two alternatives.

If minimizing the number of suicides were the only consideration, then you might have a (weak) argument that this post is a bad idea. (But note that gimpf's link specifically discussed television coverage; more generally, the "copycat effect" is generally considered to be a result of sensationalizing or glorifying suicide, not merely discussing it.) However, there are other, competing, values involved, such as:

  • not having taboos
  • finding out in what circumstances suicide is and isn't rational
  • finding out to what extent our society's approach to combatting suicide is ethical
  • acknowledging the death of a LW user ("one of our own"), and expressing sadness at the loss of a valuable member of the human species

and in my judgement these outweigh whatever tiny increase in the probability of some future suicide you're worried may result from this post. Not to mention the possibility that some people reading this post and the comments here might be less likely to commit suicide than they otherwise would have been. (Even if a significant copycat effect applies to this kind of discussion [unlikely], the LW readership is an atypical population, more likely to be moved by argument, and more likely to be regretful of Chris's death in particular.)

Yeah, I figured someone would call me out on the false dilemma. Of course if there were other major benefits to the discussion, it could still be worth having. But my disagreement with you is as follows: 1) I think the increase in probability of suicides is non-tiny, 2) I don’t value “not having taboos” particularly highly, 3) I think there are better ways to express regret than by saying, essentially, “So did he do the right thing or what?” If you somehow found out that someone had decided to kill themselves because of this thread, how confident would you be that they made the right decision? Would you feel glad that you had helped them think it through rationally? Or would you say “Oh shit”? Edit: Hey guys, I have a bad habit of snarking people into hardening their positions. Sorry for being kind of a jerk here.
What would be the mechanism linking this post to future suicides? (See also below.) That would certainly help to explain your reaction. I, however, value it very highly indeed, and think that taboos are incompatible with rationality and "enlightenment" values (such as freedom of speech) more generally. (There could be exceptions, but they must always be considered, and never knee-jerk or uncritically inherited from general society.) You have misunderstood the post. It does not ask whether Chris did the right thing. It invites readers to consider the rationality of suicide in general. It also invites them to critically examine society's attitude (of which you evidently happen to be an exponent). It does so as a tribute to Chris: this is a discussion that I think he would have wanted to see happen, and I feel he deserves to have his fellow aspiring rationalists pay some attention to this issue before he is forgotten. So far as I am aware, my post does not contain any argument in favor of any particular person committing suicide. It is therefore difficult to imagine that anyone could rationally decide to kill themselves "because of" it. And I do not accept the Orwellian idea that we can (or should) prevent irrational suicides by avoiding discussion of the issue. Even if the effect were non-negligible (which I don't particularly believe), I would not consider it worth the censorship cost. In short, while I may very well say "Oh shit" in response to such a suicide, the significance of that exclamation would not be any different than if the person had committed suicide in response to any other LW post I had written (on any other topic).
From the book Connected: 1. M.S.Gould, S.Wallenstein, and M.Kleinman, "Time-Space Clustering of Teenage Suicide," American Journal of Epidemiology 131 (1990): 71-78. 2. D.P.Phillips, "The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect," American Sociological Review 39 (1974): 340-54. 3. Centers for Disease Control: "Suicide Contagion and the Reporting of Suicide: Recommendations from a National Workshop," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review 43, no. RR-6 (1994): 9-18. 4. E.Etzerdsorfer and G.Sonneck, "Preventing Suicide by Influencing Mass-Media Reporting: The Viennese Experience, 1980-1996," Archives of Suicide Research 4 (1998): 67-74. 5. M.S.Gould and others, "Suicide Cluster: An Examination of Age-Specific Effects", American Journal of Public Health 80 (1990): 211-12. 6. C.Wilkie, S.Macdonald, and K.Hildahl, "Community Case Study: Suicide Cluster in a Small Manitoba Community", Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 28 (1989): 918-24. 7. D.A.Brent and others, "An Outbreak of Suicide and Suicidal Behavior in a High School," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 28 (1989), 918-24. 8. P.S.Bearman and J.Moody, "Suicide and Friendships Among American Adolescents," American Journal of Public Health 94 (2004): 89-95. 9. P.Hedstrom, K.Y.Liu, and M.K.Nordvik, "Interaction Domains and Suicides: A Population-Based Panel Study of Suicides in Stockholm, 1991-1999," Social Forces 87 (2008): 713-40.
Debunking social contagion. I'm not going to say this is definitive, but it's at least a story worth watching.
Many more links.
Interesting, thanks. Looking at those articles, it seems like the main criticism is that some of the authors' analyses fail to distinguish between homophily and contagion. Several of the reports cited in my quote seem too extreme for homophily to be the main factor, and they're much older and by other authors. So although Connected should be taken with a grain of salt, suicide clusters still seem like a real phenomenon.
I only did a very short Google Scholar search and just glanced at the abstract of something on JSTOR, and it seems that this effect is not an urban legend. However, I doubt that such results cross over to this type of discussion, context, style, etc.
From the abstract: This here is not an emotionally hyper-laden evening news program. This group of readers is very self-selected. The level of discussion around this topic is far better and, at the very least on the surface, emotionally disconnected than nearly all discussions IRL. (edit: Not that these are implicated as the causes in the abstract, but I think it illustrates where the idea comes from). And then there is some wrong-headed fatalism: if even this type of discussion screws us, we should give up already. It will be impossible to improve matters if mentioning problems always makes them worse.

I regret not killing myself a few years ago, after losing the things that made me happy and getting further away from other things that could make me happy. This actual future self wouldn't mind being murdered. At the time I was rendered psychologically incapable of even trying to help myself, and was also incapable of applying my knowledge that it probably wasn't going to get better with my then-strong motivation to die.

I'd felt suicidal before I was happy, but wasn't certain it was a good idea. So I picked someone who would listen and understand, and tried to get a second opinion. She couldn't take the pressure and I preferred not to torture her, so that stopped. Apparently people don't want to deal with suicide as an issue, and that may also lead to ineffective attempts at prevention.

And I have this other friend who, like me, isn't in any particular pain most of the time, but would choose to opt-out of life if it were convenient to do so. Thanks but no thanks, reality, we'll have no more of this. For us, inflicting pain on others from our suicides is relevant. That may be the only reason she's still alive. At least I have someone to text "opting out kthxbye" to, just i... (read more)

At least I have someone to text "opting out kthxbye" to, just in case.

A suicide note written in lolspeak. That's one way to show your contempt for reality!

I am interested in hearing about your reasoning here.

Yikes. This post strikes me as harmful and irresponsible. Less Wrong is less of a community than I'd like -- less there for its members, less mindful of what effects each person has on the others and on the rest of the community.

I agree, actually, that all subjects are fitting subjects for rationality. But if you’re going to talk with someone who is suicidal and unstable about the detailed pros and cons of killing themselves, you risk having seriously bad consequences. Saying “but free speech is good, and thinking through all subjects is good” just isn’t enough of an answer to that. Talking about some subjects brings responsibilities -- responsibilities for thinking carefully through who you might harm, and how you can support them during the discussion. Offering help.

LW has a number of seriously depressed people.

Since this thread is already up -- let's make an effort now to reach out to anyone who needs reaching out to, to increase the odds that depressed LW readers have social support. That is: if you know a LW-er online or in person who is depressed, make contact with them. If you're a good listener with a couple of free hours in your life, echo Alicorn's offer of help. If you have a bit of spare money and a good CBT book to recommend, offer to mail it to someone who'd read it. If you have useful well-being tips and can write, consider making a front-level post (on happiness tips or CBT or the like, not on topics that might prime suicide).

Yikes. This post strikes me as harmful and irresponsible.

On the other hand this attitude - and the associated active suppression of such conversations is one of the contributing factors that Chris cited in his parting note. And not without good reason.

Suicide is a subject about which there is much cause to be cautious. It is, after all, a matter of life and death. Yet looking over this post specifically it does not appear to fit the category of harmful or irresponsible. I am glad to see that it was received positively and not the victim of a typical knee-jerk downvote spiral.

I really don't understand your objection to this post specifically. I tried to craft it in the most sensitive way possible, it wasn't directly addressed to suicidal people themselves, and you agree that all subjects are fitting subjects for rationality. Furthermore, many commenters (including yourself) have in fact used it as an opportunity to reach out to those in the community suffering from depression. What aspects of this post are so harmful that you think they outweigh the benefits, and how could it have been better written so as to allow the topic to be discussed while minimizing harm?
I don't think your post was irresponsible, but it does frighten me. Your reaction to the suicide -- to try to put yourself in the man's shoes, to understand the mindset and grievances of a person who might make such a decision, and to withhold the judgement that his decision was a mistake -- is clearly borne of kind and humane impulses. But I suspect that you're depressed yourself, and that your depression has hijacked and perverted those impulses. Many commenters here have reacted to the suicide not with "how must he have felt" but with "how can we prevent more such things from happening?" It seems you think this reveals a lack of empathy or respect, and that someone who understood better what it's like to "not always be enthusiastic about their own existence" would approach the issue differently -- in the way you're approaching it. I wonder if it's occurred to you, and I hope that you'll consider it, that your understanding of what depression is like might actually be poorer than those making the banal and maudlin point that this was a tragedy and a mistake, precisely because depression can rob you of perspective.

But I suspect that you're depressed yourself

I am not, in fact, currently depressed, although I have been in the past. But I (in my non-depressed state) respect the feelings, wishes, and preferences of my depressed self, just like those of someone else like Chris.

Many commenters here have reacted to the suicide not with "how must he have felt" but with "how can we prevent more such things from happening?" It seems you think this reveals a lack of empathy or respect

I haven't said much of anything in response to most comments here; you seem to be extrapolating from things I said in the post. But there I was criticizing specific bad arguments, ones that are encountered in the general culture and not necessarily here ; the remark about lack of empathy was in specific reference to the argument from grief of friends and relatives.

the banal and maudlin point that this was a tragedy and a mistake

That it was a tragedy is certain; unfortunately, that doesn't automatically imply that it was a mistake.

However, it may very well have been a mistake in Chris's case. I'm not sure he realized how close he was (a few keystrokes by him or someone else, like me) to the ... (read more)

You know... many people on LW seem likable, but I don't feel as if anyone here is actually my friend. I'm not saying that to express disdain or reject the idea of forming relationships; I'm observing that it is surprising. I ordinarily get attached to people quite easily (I send cookies to people I used to play World of Warcraft with years ago), but that just hasn't happened at all here. So I don't know who might actually be in trouble, or how to help. There are a few people I'd say I've gotten a bad vibe off of, but nothing strong enough to really act on. If anyone is reading this and would like someone to listen to them, just generally be nice to them, or help in some other way, I hope they'll send me a message. But I'm afraid they probably won't.
WOW is a virtual war, and war creates camaraderie.
If you have access to an internet connection, offer to send them a link to an electronic source of a CBT book.

I passionately hate that all of the mental health people are obligated by law to commit me to an asylum if they think I’m about to kill myself. They can’t be objective. You know, if they could talk to me without such stupid constraints, they might have prevented this very suicide.

This is a serious problem, but I should inform people that it's not as much of a catch-22 as it sounds. A sane therapist can tell the difference between "I'm going to shoot myself tonight" and "I wish I were dead a lot of the time, but I know it would wreck my family if I went through with it," and he won't hospitalize the second person. It may take a little gentle probing to see if your therapist is sane, but such people do exist; it is possible to talk to someone even about very dark thoughts without being committed. If you're very, very risk-averse about such things, there are suicide hotlines.

Suicide hotline operators will sometimes call the police on you...

Western society has long suffered from what we might now call Schiavism, a desperate clinging to the idea that "only God gives and takes life". I suspect Schiavism plays a large role in holding back changes in attitude and legislation regarding cryonics, assisted suicide, euthanasia, but also medically assisted procreation, contraception and a host of other issues.

On the other hand, just because there exists a pervasive and ill-considered belief that people's lives aren't in their own hands, doesn't mean every such decision is automatically correct. In particular, depression tends to skew your judgements of self-worth systematically in the wrong direction.

In Chris' case there is evidence that he had amply considered what many here would consider the most rational option, cryonics, and reluctantly rejected it because society's Schiavism, and US laws in particular, make it inapplicable. He seems to have been aware of all the relevant facts: the biases introduced by his condition, the prospects for recovery, the probabilities of a change in attitudes or legislation. He and only he was able to weigh the scales of joy and suffering in his life, subjectively.

Chris' decision str... (read more)

The views of Leon Kass, Bush's bioethic's chairman, were particularly odious examples of this attitude. I'm not sure if he has attacked cryonics, but I've read attacks by him on every other item on your list, and on non-cryonic life extension as well. As nearly as I can tell, he opposes anything that extends people's choices.
I'm curious what people are finding so objectionable about the above to give multiple downvotes (this was at -1 at one point, then went from 3 to 2).
I did not down-vote, but for me "the outcome certainly isn't rational" makes me extremely confused. Especially the certainly.
Rephrasing: someone died irreversibly who had expressed an interest in cryonic suspension instead; it would have been better for him, and no one else would have been worse off, if his preferences had been respected. In this instance the law leads to a less than optimal outcome.

The NYC LessWrong group has a standing offer of something called "rationalist therapy" that any member can request.

Here's how it works. You don't have to have a problem that most people would seek "therapy" for, though it's okay if you do; in the past people have asked for rationalist therapy related to bad relationships, problems with family, worries about career/education, social isolation, and other common problems. You explain what's wrong; your friends and fellow rationalists try to troubleshoot it. If you're miserable, chances are you're miserable about something, and there may be a way to fix it that you haven't thought of. It's not focused on "aw, feel better" so much as on "hey, we can come up with a plan to address your problems."

I think it's a good idea. It's best done with a group, but I'd give it a shot with anybody who needs it.

I always feel sad when I hear about suicide. Wasted potential. But then I think about all wasted potential and suicide just becomes one of many very depressingly true things that I can't pretend away.

Goodybe Chris. At least your not hurting anymore. I'm not sure what to feel or even think about the rest of it.

It makes me want to go to sleep, and not mind so much if I wake up or not. Not in a depressed way. Just in a 'This-is-all-there-is' way. Guess I'll just try my best and enjoy it. Wouldn't be much else to do around here anyway :)

Ironically, society's demonization of suicide and suicidal people has negative consequences even from the standpoint of preventing suicide itself, as Chris points out:

I passionately hate that all of the mental health people are obligated by law to commit me to an asylum if they think I’m about to kill myself. They can’t be objective. You know, if they could talk to me without such stupid constraints, they might have prevented this very suicide

Does it overall cause more suicides than it prevents? I don't know. However, speaking as someone who has a history of clinical depression, if I'm ever in circumstances where I am contemplating suicide, I want people to commit me. Because when I'm functional I'd consider suicide to be completely and utterly awful. So where is the line here? When do we decide that someone is rational enough to decide on their own to end their existence and when not? These are certainly difficult questions, but it does seem that the majority of people who attempt suicide and do not have terminal illnesses are being essentially irrational. On the other hand, preferences are hard to break down here, and if the technology doesn't exist to cure someone then should they have a right to end it now rather than waiting years? Another thing to consider is that from a utilitarian perspective, committing suicide generally makes everyone around you absolutely miserable, and will then always cause pain for them. In that regard, committing suicide is either misguided or selfish.

from a utilitarian perspective, committing suicide generally makes everyone around you absolutely miserable, and will then always cause pain for them. In that regard, committing suicide is either misguided or selfish.

Not necessarily; it depends on whether the pain they will experience is enough to outweigh the pain that the suicidal person will experience by staying alive.

Sure. Hence my use of the term "generally". When one is depressed, existence really sucks. But one also massively underestimates how much other people care and benefit from having one around.

When I'm functional, I find the notion of being committed awful.


My experience (as someone who worked on a psychiatric ward for two years, in the middle of the last decade) is that after a short time 100% of those who were involuntarily brought in for attempting suicide were grateful for it, or at least claimed to be.

People in that situation would have every reason to lie to you, though, wouldn't they?

Which is why I said 'or at least claimed to be'. However, I have also met various ex-patients since I left that job, at a point where that power relationship was almost completely gone (of course there might be residues of it, but I had no actual power over them) and they've volunteered the same information. Also, I have several friends with psychiatric problems who've said the same kind of thing about their own experiences, and who haven't ever been patients anywhere where I've worked. (Also, in my experience, patients trusted me with confidences with which they didn't trust the other staff members - I was better at building up trust relationships with patients than most staff were). On the whole I think that even allowing for the strong motivation to lie, I think that a minimum of 75% of those who said they were grateful actually were grateful. And while I am in principle in favour of people being allowed to kill themselves, I think saving the lives of three people whose (if you like) CEV is actually that they don't want to be dead is worth the temporary inconvenience to the fourth who really does want to be dead and who is not mentally ill. (I actually think the numbers are skewed far more towards those who don't really want to die).
People tell lies just to make you feel better; even depressed people will do this.
True, but it's unlikely that someone would, for example, see me across the street (when I have obviously not noticed them), run across and thank me for all the help and tell me how much their life has improved unless it had, in fact, improved.
I'm not convinced of this. Some form of self-deception could be in play. There's some evidence that in some aspects depressed people are more realistic and rational about their surrounding world. A person who is no longer depressed might simply have convinced themselves otherwise. I consider this to be unlikely but it is worth considering in this context.
In many cases, you have to claim to be getting better or they don't let you out. I've spoken with multiple people who've been committed and had to "fake a recovery" to be released. Personally, the first thing I would do after being released in such a situation would be to cut out of my life whoever it was that committed me, as legally and finally as possible, so that they could never do something like that again.
Agreed, and I'm confident enough in this belief that I actually make a point of telling people that even if I'm suicidal, they are to keep in mind that any stated preference to avoid being committed is endorsed by non-suicidal!me. I find it quite plausible that this preference varies significantly from person to person, though.
4Paul Crowley
I would definitely prefer it to being dead!
Given the choice of present-me not existing, or 17-year-old-me spending that year in a mental institution - which could fairly easily have happened if I'd gotten unlucky with a psychiatrist or two - I would prefer the former. I'm at significantly less risk of that kind of thing coming up now, but I expect future versions of me to agree with this assessment. It's probably notable that I've read several accounts of peoples' experiences in institutions and also worked in a nursing home for four years - this is not an uninformed decision. Institutions suck.
This is my experience too. There may be circumstances where it is rational to commit suicide but I don't think major depression is one of them.
Is there such a thing as "high-functioning depression"? Because the thoughts I have when feeling really bad seem just as reasonable when I'm not feeling bad.
As far as I can tell, misery and inertia/paralysis are semi-independent factors.
First, look into http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia . Second, large parts of my family consider emself to be hardwired to be just not very happy, on the left side of the hard-wired-to-happyness-bellcurve. We pretty much resigned to it. Third, are you sure, by written review of your mental states, that your thoughts are consistent? There can be really really subtle differences; when I review my mental state I need to use more criteria than reasonable/unreasonable.
Have you considered that you might be partially depressed all the time?
What does that even mean? If all you mean is "can check off enough boxes on DSM IV" then certainly it is possible but since that is baseline, the baseline performance measurements won't tell you anything helpful. If the question is "could he have debilitating depression all the time" I guess we'd only know for sure if he experienced a remission and performance measures changed.
Does being aware that your depressed self is irrational change your thinking while being in a depressed state? It should! But I suspect it doesn't.
For some value of 'thinking', it can, though I suspect that most people can't easily do the thing I have in mind. During my last round of depression, about two and a half years ago, I had a brief period of suicidal ideation - the first time I'd experienced such a thing. I recognized it for what it was, assumed it would be temporary, and basically responded with variations on 'so what?' from there: Yes, I want to walk in front of this bus. So what? That's not what I'm going to do, so it doesn't matter that that's the case. (This is very similar to how "even if killing babies is the right thing to do, it's still the wrong thing to do".) I suspect that fighting with the part of my brain that was generating those thoughts - trying to get it to stop doing so - would have been counterproductive. Instead, I took it as a valuable communication that things really had reached emergency status, got myself out of the situation that was causing the problem (yes, I was lucky to be in a situation where that was a relatively easily implemented option), and was fine. The elephant-and-rider metaphor is relevant here. Just because the elephant is panicking and trying to roll over or run away doesn't mean that the best answer is to beat it.
It's almost like having two consistent, rational versions of yourself and switching between them. (I say "almost" because it's more like a gradient.) When you're in the depressed state, you have no access to the functional state. When depressed I tend to feel hyper-rational and gravitate towards ideas that allow me to dismiss other aspects of my life as illusory.
Sometimes I call that "an attack of the bleaks".
What scientism said is congruent with my experiences. I tried one time while being on the strongly-irrational/strongly-depressed-side to fight the irrationality. I refused the negative emotions to be accurate and trained myself to flag and consciouly counter all irrational thoughts with the accurate, positive thoughts. I described it then as a civil war inside my body. It was highly exhausting, my body and brain ached as if overworked, hands trembled, and I was highly agitated. I reported it then as a really good feeling, but the depression was lurking in the depths and attacking every few minutes or so with a "depressive" thought. It was like a two-day episode of being manic. Since then I did not investigate its reproduceability, it was rather frightening, costed a lot of willpower and, luckily, I have not been so deep into depression again.

if you think of future versions of yourself as separate agents, then suicide is a form of homicide.

It seems like that argument also implies that failing to bring into existence as many people as possible is comprable to homicide, since doing so would be depriving potential people of their lives. So, if you don't believe it's a moral responsibility to create more people, you shouldn't accept the argument that suicide is a crime against your future self either.

This is true if your future self is a separate entity that doesn't exist yet, but not true if your future self is a continuation of your current self and is thus the same entity; an entity that already exists.
Hmmm. Why the downvote?

If you think suicide is irrational, consider this hypothetical. Let's assume you could aquire 10^5 additional average (not superhappy, just average) human life-years for yourself, but as a cost, you have to agree to be personally tortured severely (all with probability 1).

Would you take the offer?

This is relevant for anyone who claims suicide is irrational, while the decision of staying alive is not. I'd argue that, for any one person on the planet, the probability increase per year of continued survival for severe torture-like suffering, is higher than 10... (read more)

How long does the torture last? Presumably much less than 100000 years, since those are specified to be average-happy. For reasonable values of torture time: HELL YES. What's your method? If it's something like "isolation so that nobody can murder you", it's not very fair because you get tortured all the time, and you can't be prevented from killing yourself in the middle of it (which is pretty likely due to discounting and limits to willpower). And... yeah, kiddo, you're objectively wrong about your preference not to be stabbed with a needle, just stick it out and enjoy your extra years of healthy life and your lollipop.
Downvoted for disrespectful communication style and misrepresentation.
Bwuh? What's wrong with "pain for long life is worth it, whether the scale is 'vaccine' or 'longevity for torture'"?
We don't use 'And... yeah, kiddo' as a status move here. We need to be more subtle.
I'm assuming you don't mean that the preference is objectively wrong - that makes no sense. Your meaning is that that the actual preferences are not understood?
It could be both, but I do think suicide interventionists usually imply that there is something objectively wrong with rejecting suffering - or at least some suffering or small probabilities of strong suffering - for the sake of more average human life. This assumption has to be a part of why suicide is labelled a mental health symptom. If I "threatened" suicide based on this exact argument, with this exact reasoning, the police would still forcibly enter my home and drag me to the mental health institutions, where my human rights would vanish the second the door would close behind me. The problem here is that there is nothing logically wrong with rejecting suffering for the sake of average human life. There isn't even anything wrong with rejecting suffering for the sake of 10 trillion years of life as a demi-god. There is no objective fact of the matter that suicidal people are somehow wrong about/in their preference, but non-suicidal people aren't. Why don't we kill people without consent to make sure they're not wrong about their decision to continue living? Because it's a preposterous transgression, right?
The length of time that the torture lasts is undeterminable by you until the torture is over, every second is agony, and you can tap out at any time and choose to lose out on those happy-years. That's the offer on the table for your suicidal person. It's an easy thing to say you would take this offer, but I'm pretty skeptical that the average person would actually be able to make it.

Given that we are Beyond the reach of God it's perfectly possible that a human being is born (or tortured) into a situation where life is not worth it. Suicide would be completely ethical all other things being equal.

At the same time person can be so messed up that they just cannot see a way out, even if it's right in front of them, or (even worse, if that is possible) their fears are illusionary. They can also be very convinced of this, and even convincing to others. This is why we tend to err on the side of discouraging suicide, since it's an irreversible option.

At the same time person can be so messed up that they just cannot see a way out, even if it's right in front of them, or (even worse, if that is possible) their fears are illusionary. They can also be very convinced of this, and even convincing to others. This is why we tend to err on the side of discouraging suicide, since it's an irreversible option.

I'm going to try to explain the inside perspective here:

If you cannot see or act on a way out, it isn't a way out, even if you cognitively know it's there.

If you're sufficiently dedicated to rationality, living with constant suicidal depression really, REALLY helps you understand the shortcomings and limitations of your own brain like few other things will.

If we all agree that minds are simply the physical result of brain-states and not some mysterious, ontologically basic 'second substance', then it seems to follow that a mind can be constrained or limited in the same way that any other physical system is constrained or limited.

Imagine that someone is stuck down a well, and you lower a rope to pull them out. If you hear them shout up from the bottom of the well, "my hands are broken, I can't grab the rope", you will no... (read more)

This is a disaster.

just in order to spare other people the emotion of grief (which they are inevitably going to have to confront at some point anyway, at least until we conquer all death

It is the emotion of shame that others are spared. (As you note, the grief is going to come anyway.)

I've gotten the impression that the grief of having lost someone to suicide is considerably stronger than losing them to old age, say. Losing someone to old age is something that people expect will happen eventually, and they'll usually have the time to mentally prepare. In contrast, suicide can be sudden and unexpected, even if a person's depression may give something of a warning. Someone's suicide also involves grief about the things the dead person will never have a chance to see or do that they would have if they'd lived to a natural death, grief about not having seen it earlier and done something about it, etc.
I've lost agemates to accident, to homicide, to suicide, and to disease. And I've lost people a lot older than I am to accident, to suicide, to disease, and to old age. FWIW, I agree that having time to prepare is useful; unexpected death is harder in some ways to deal with than expected death. I've been a lot angrier about the suicides, but I haven't grieved them more. I've grieved the loss of young people more than the loss of old people. All of this is very noisy generalization, since of course the specifics of my relationship to the person matter way more than any of that stuff.
Consider hyperbolic discounting: grief now is far worse than grief later. Also, in addition to shame there is anger and a sense of betrayal. See Jonathan Franzen's recent essay in the New Yorker on, among other things, David Foster Wallace's suicide.
I don't know whether DFW is different to the people I know who attempted or commited suicide, or if I'm different to Franzen, but I didn't feel those sorts of emotions when a friend killed herself or my dad was in hospital on a pill overdose. I've got depression and have occasional suicidal urges, so maybe I assume they're like me and were just suffering from anhedonia and pessimism about their future enjoyment of life rather than anything to do with people they know. I feel bad that I didn't realise and couldn't have tried to help in some way, but more in that I would rather it not have happened rather than feeling ashamed and betrayed.

People may for instance be severely mistaken about their prospects for improvement, especially while in the midst of acute crisis.(Conceivably, that could even have been his own situation.)

At the risk of sounding callous, because I did not know Chris or understand the suffering he was going through, I believe that Chris was wrong about this. I'm not sure that one can have enough certainty over (the lack of) future happiness that one can reasonably decide to cut one's losses.

There is a great deal of uncertainty and randomness in life. Good things (and b... (read more)

Is there a list of cryonicist-approved suicide methods? That could prove helpful.

Unfortunately cryo organizations have to stay a million miles away from this sort of thing or bring on a PR disaster.

Mike Perry wrote an article for Alcor Magazine earlier this year discussing VSED (voluntary stopping eating and drinking) as an option for brain-threatening disorders. That's not quite the same as depression-related suicide though.
Yeah. I imagine looking like a suicide cult is almost literally the last thing anyone involved in cryo wants.
Please don't let this influence your decision. Cryonics outcomes are still so uncertain that for them to enter your calculus right now is probably irrational. Live as long as you can before having to roll the dice. That said, you want something that is physically recoverable and also legally permissible (autopsy free, access to body etc). This is very tricky and you will need better advice that I can offer.
I recall a conversation somewhere which considered the options of a hypothetical terminally ill patient who wished to cryopreserve himself before his brain was further damaged. Finding a country that allows euthanasia and having a cryo team on site seems like the best option! Failing that I expect drowning in a partially frozen water source (with an observer nearby to secure the body) is probably a reasonably good option. Don't shoot yourself in the head or jump off a cliff. Oh, I just noticed you are the same user who was casually ambivalent about the suicide option in another comment somewhere about here. That changes the connotation from pure theory somewhat towards practical advice seeking. I probably should clam up now and play the signalling game!
Oh you beautiful countersignalling master, you.
Dammit; all the good ways to die are slow and painful. Might as well live. But nitrous oxide would be fun. Signalling against suicide makes a lot of people want to kill themselves, but I'm not one of them. Bunch of whiners...
MDMA, acid and meth are probably all more fun. :)
I do have a couple grams of adderall... om nom nom. MDMA is a legit treatment option I should probably try; I wouldn't want to influence public opinion against it.
If considering illicit treatment options look into ketamine too. :)
I second this. There are certain circumstances under which it would make sense to get preserved asap. You probably don't have them.
From what I've read, hypothermia, hypoxia, starvation, and dehydration are commonly proposed as they would induce cardiorespiratory death criteria rather than neurological criteria. Starvation would probably be preferred as the reduction in fat makes it feasible to cool faster. Nonetheless, if your condition is not causing literal brain damage over time, I don't think it is rational to consider "suicide" for cryonics purposes. Science is constantly progressing, and if you wait longer you are more likely to make it to a point where your depression is curable and actuarial escape velocity is reached. Furthermore there will tend to be better cryonics later on (a process you can likely impact by promoting cryonics related discourse in the here and now). In the mean time, do everything you can to a) reduce suicide risk, and b) reduce feelings of depression. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, hang out with people with positive attitudes. Get professional help if you haven't already. Things will get better.

What upsets me the most is that, as far as I can tell, he didn't take out a life insurance policy before killing himself.

Suicide is covered? That's surprising. It seems about the same as getting fire insurance and a can of diesel. Which just gets you arrested.

(It is probably a good thing that suicide is covered. It just eliminates the incentive to suicide in a plausibly accidental way. 'Deliberate accidents' are far more likely to hurt others unless they are really well planned.)

According to U.S. law, life insurance companies have to cover suicide once you've had the policy for two years. (In at least one state, it's one year.)

(And as a suicide prevention measure, "if you're going to kill yourself, you should wait two years" might be more convincing to some depressed people than the usual "killing yourself is bad, we can help you" message.)

There's a post on some econoblog somewhere about how suicide bombers could sign up for life insurance a year before they kill themselves so their organizations could take advantage. (I'm not interested enough to google it for you).
It's amusing enough to blog about despite being altogether unrealistic. The biggest difference you could expect that to make is giving the government a slightly larger pool of assets to seize (after the horse has bolted). This doesn't rule out the possibility of splitting your fanatics up into groups who suicide for cash and groups that blow stuff up. If there are enough people fully dedicated to the cause it could be a lucrative source of revenue.
4Paul Crowley
My cryonics life insurance doesn't pay out for suicides in the first year of cover.
Yes, you usually have to wait two years for suicide to be covered.

I've been diagnosed with chronic major depression as well, and I find that I agree with most of what was said in the linked argument. In the last several years I've gotten to be less bad, and I do have hope of a sort that things will eventually be bearable or even good. However... if easy euthanasia was available, I would have used it as soon as I hit majority or earlier if possible.

I don't know how many other people are like me in this regard. I don't know what the future will bring. I have hope, and sometimes I hate that fact.

Edit - please disregard this post

I 100% want a right to suicide if I need it. But I'm extremely wary of the consequences of such a right. I suspect the best course of action is to keep the "official" rules saying "automatically commit people who attempt to kill themselves", but give some behind-the-scenes leeway to doctors who help patients who really need it.

Your proposed policy has some significant problems in practice, since doctors are not automatically good at being unbiased judges of who 'really needs' to be allowed to commit suicide vs. who should be given other kinds of support. That kind of policy is also very hard to implement without giving doctors enough leeway to actively or passively kill people who actively do not want to die - often people who are disabled or very old, and who society says 'should' want to die, but who in practice do not.

This is, in fact, an actual issue in society right now: I actually know someone who has narrowly avoided being killed more than once because of it.

I'd like to know more.

She doesn't blog about the personal instances often, but a brief account of one is in the 7th paragraph here and another mention is in the 6th paragraph here. Searching her blog for the word murder brings up entries about the general phenomenon by medical caregivers and parents.

Those incidents are scary. Particularly the one involving blackmail (we'll keep doing the lethal thing unless you accede to our wishes elsewhere.) How can you prevent that sort of thing without removing leeway and installing cameras in every room?


I've been thinking about this, in the context of having worked in a nursing home for four years. I came to two conclusions: One, her experiences don't actually surprise me all that much; two, it seems quite reasonable to me to estimate that there were probably between one and three murders or attempted murders (using a definition that includes intentional negligence but does not include legally-actionable accidents) per year in the 200-some-bed facility where I worked - and the place where I worked was not actually bad as nursing homes go.

Institutions suck in general, and it seems to me that there might be some low-hanging fruit to be picked in terms of figuring out what it is about them that tends to make peoples' moral systems break down. (And I'm speaking from experience there, too. :( )

I don't have a lot of intimate experience with suicide, beyond a few aquaintances and a few phases when I was younger.

The various links are dead for me, and I would be interested if anyone could provide them.

Also, Wikipedia said that a many people that commit suicide have metal health issues. I also don't know much about mental health, but I think it might be fair to say that many people who commit suicide may have been much better off staying alive due to the possibility of future treatment or cures that might result in a situation of not wanting to commit suicide, in these cases.

It's only a guarantee that staying alive indefinitely for a chance at a cure is worth it if if you assume that the value of the pain that they'll go through until then is zero. Most suicidal people disagree with that assumption. For example, if your depression is so bad that every day is agonizing, is it really worth it to live for a 2% chance of that it would be curable on the day of your 80th birthday?

My main problem with suicide is that more often than not, rationality is not employed in the decision to commit the action. Most people who attempt suicide and fail regret the attempt almost immediately after jumping off the bridge, or taking the pills, or cutting their wrists. A depressed person is not necessarily the best, unbiased judge as to whether his life is futile.

As for the role of suicide in society, it may be an issue, but there seems to be little we can do about it. If a friend of mine comes to me saying he feels suicidal, my first call will be... (read more)

I was saddened to learn of the recent death by suicide of Chris Capel, known here as pdf23ds.

That is sad. I was hoping to find out if he had any success using modafinil to manage his sleep disorder.

Well, at the very least you should increase your prior that it has harmful side effects.
Unless, of course, he attempted to get a prescription for modafinil and was refused - further increasing frustration and contempt for the medical system.

Deleted because of accidental double-post.

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Like Chris I think I have a pretty strong rational case for killing myself. Of course, this kind of thing can't be brought up in polite conversation - people are shocked and instinctively go into Emergency Survival Hero mode, in which they try to apply the verbal equivalent of CPR

This is strange, firstly because to me, the idea of my death is no longer 'a big deal' (the name "alt.suicide.holiday" neatly encapsulates the banality of it). It takes some effort for me to keep in mind that others don't share this view. [It's all too easy for me to att... (read more)

When is suicide without cryonics ever rational, aside from rare situations where altruism demands it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of any personal situation with zero possibility of improvement. Chris's suicide, like the vast majority of suicides, was irrational and sad.

The demonization of suicide by society and the effect that that may have on the suicide rate is a separate issue, and is less clear. It would be interesting to see a study on this effect.

If you, reader, are thinking of committing suicide yourself, please don't. Things will improve. There's no way things won't improve.

When is suicide without cryonics ever rational, aside from rare situations where altruism demands it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of any personal situation with zero possibility of improvement.

Neither can I. Nor does a lottery ticket have zero chance of winning.

There's no reason, in a world fundamentally unmoderated for fairness, that a miserable life must be destined to get better, or even be more likely to get better than worse.

I've personally talked two people down from suicide, because I was convinced that given their prospects, they were indeed better off alive than dead. I promised one of them, with whom I am very close, that if I ever truly believed that her prospects were bad enough that she was better off dead, I would assist her suicide.

She told me it was a great help, knowing that, and to the best of my knowledge given her promise that she would call me if she was ever considering it again, hasn't considered suicide since.

When considering suicide without cryonics, death, as far as we can tell, is permanent. Suffering is not permanent. Since random events raise and lower suffering in an unmoderated world, it would take a world fundamentally moderated for unfairness for a miserable life to always stay miserable, and even if a world were fundamentally moderated for unfairness, that world need not be fundamentally moderated for unfairness forever. I don't see the relevance of the lottery ticket example. Your example regarding talking two people down from suicide is interesting as it relates to the demonization of suicide by society. Telling those people that you would assist their suicides if necessary appears to have been helpful, but you would be wrong to actually assist a non-altruistic suicide without cryonics, since no one is ever better off dead aside from in a situation where altruism demands it. ETA: khafra has convinced me, here and here, that suicide is rational in overwhelmingly rare cases, at least.
Rare? Most of us are eventually going to die of illnesses with fairly miserable end states (some heart disease, most cancers, stroke, Alzheimer's). I'd be quite surprised if the expected utility for the last couple of months of a typical life isn't negative. Do you really think that this situation is rarer than, say, 25%? For the 25% of us with the worst last two months in the populations as a whole, do you think that the utility of those two months is actually positive? (I'm picking two months as the time interval from watching two relative's deaths from Alzheimer's and pancreatic cancer respectively. It seems like a conservative estimate of the amount of time spent with net negative quality of life in their cases. It seems like a reasonable guess at a conservative estimate for typical terminal illnesses.)
I'm considering the possibility of an experimental treatment becoming available during those two months that could save the terminally ill patient from dying of that illness. Being alive would then allow the possibility of new life extension treatments, would could lead to a very long life indeed. This would be a conjunction of possibilities, so I realize that the overall possibility of a terminally person transitioning to a very long-lived person is slim, but even a slim chance of living for a very long time is worth almost any degree of suffering. If no experimental treatment becomes available during those two months (the likely outcome), cryonics upon death is the next best legal option. If suicide + cryonics were legal, it would make sense to try that if no experimental treatment were even in the research pipeline, but it's not legal, and so no cryonics organization would go through with it. Also, as a transhumanist, I don't accept that most of us are eventually going to die of illnesses with fairly miserable end states.
It seems extremely unlikely that an experimental treatment will appear as a surprise within two months. If it's actually new, then there will be trials of it first, and I think research could turn up that information.
Huh? Are you applying any discount rate to the value of living a very long time? The tradeoffs you are describing sound like they are calculated with the current utility of a very long lifespan being almost unbounded. For someone with a discount rate of 1% annually, an infinite lifespan has a net present utility of 100 years of lifespan. If, for instance, there was a 0.1% chance of the conjunction of a cure and an indefinite lifespan it wouldn't be worth -0.11 lifespan-years of utility, and a miserable two months could easily match that. It isn't desirable, of course. Nonetheless, looking, for instance, at the rather modest progress since the "war on cancer" was announced 40 years ago, it seems like a plausible extrapolation. Of course, a uFAI is perhaps plausible, and would technically satisfy your claim, a paperclipped population doesn't get cancer, but I don't think that is what you intended... What do you intend, and what is your evidence?
There is a substantial reason to assume it will get better: regressive effects. If you've been rolling a twenty sided die, and the last three rolls have all been 2's and 3's, what is the probability that your next roll is going to be higher than a 2? Life events are fairly random. We may be able to estimate a range of how good or bad the next major thing that happens to us may be, but within that range we can't easily predict how things are going to turn out. On average, each major life event is going to have an average effect on your life. If you've gotten unlucky rolls for a while, and things are bad enough that you're contemplating killing yourself, the odds are still stacked greatly towards a future improvement in your life.

Most people who're suicidal aren't even subject to particularly harmful experiences, rather, they're in a depressive mental state where their baseline level of satisfaction is extremely low.

People experiencing random negative events are likely to regress to the mean, and people suffering depression may be treated or spontaneously recover. Most people who survive suicide attempts end up being thankful that they did, and I would never argue that suicide is not usually a bad idea in cases where individuals are considering it. But there's nothing that prevents a person from having systematic causes of unpleasantness in their life, which will not simply regress to the mean and cannot readily be treated.

I agree, except that I'll mention that suicide with cryonics is the answer to systematic suffering, not suicide without cryonics.
I agree, at least in principle, but on the face of it, the logistics of killing oneself in such a way that one will likely be found and preserved within the time limit, without inflicting information death on oneself or alerting others who may stop you that you are preparing to commit suicide, seem rather difficult.
Difficult, sure, but usually necessary for the suicide to be rational.
Very true. Things like biochemistry can cause people to have pervasive problems, and sometimes the drugs we have right now don't help. In those cases, suicide might be the best available option. My own recommendation to a person like that, though, would be to commit "suicide" in a way that lets them be frozen, with instructions to only revive them when we have developed medications that will work where the drugs they've tried have failed. If their problem is something else that is truly systematic, then suicide might be a viable option as well, but in the heightened emotional state of someone suffering from that much pain, I genuinely do think that it is doubtful they can be as rational as we would like. They may easily overlook simple solutions that are out of their search space. That doesn't mean there aren't cases where suicide genuinely is a better option, rather, it means that if possible, those people should probably try to get help from as many people as possible to see if they can solve the problem, before they start considering suicide as an option.
That sounds like the sort of thing House does about once every dozen episodes. Glad to hear it actually works!
Well, I know her very well; I'm not sure it would be a good idea to say that to just anyone contemplating suicide.
I wouldn't say it because I know myself. I'm not helping anyone kill themselves. That sounds traumatic and unpleasant. If they want to be dead so much they can do it themselves.
The requirement for rational suicide is not that strong. If the probability of improvement, multiplied by the utility of that improvement is not greater than the utility gained by ommitting the suffering that the agent would necessarily undergo before that improvement could be realized, suicide is rational.
No! You are not taking into account option value.
Option value is not a good analogy here. In fact, it ignores the very basis for the point khafra is making.
Option value isn't everything but it is something. It should be taken into account although not something that by itself should be determinate. By not taking it into account Khafra overstated the expected benefit of suicide.
Imagine a life graphed according to utility over time. In the stock market analogy, utility is a function of the price at a particular point (y value at a particular x) whereas in the life graph, utility is the area under the curve. If the life has negative expected utility beyond a given point, total utility is greater if it's cut off at that point. The ability to cut it off at a later point doesn't change the calculation, because what matters is area under the curve; it doesn't matter if the variance is high and the temporary utility sometimes hits positive values if the average is still negative. If you're being genuinely rational, and you expect that your future has a negative average utility, then you must either expect that you will also expect in the future that your future has negative average utility, or you must expect that the near future negative utility is greater than the far future positive utility, or you must expect that the far future negative utility outweighs the near future positive utility. In the last case, it would be rational to continue living until you reach the point of negative expected utility, but you almost certainly aren't contemplating suicide yet in any case. In the first two, expected utility is lower if you postpone suicide than if you do not. The key problem with suicidal individuals attempting to follow this model is that people contemplating suicide are almost invariably biased with regards to their predictions of future utility.
Consider two people identical in every respect except that starting tomorrow the first person will always be watched and will never be capable of committing suicide whereas the second will always be capable of committing suicide. Do you contend that their rational calculation for whether they should commit suicide today is the same? Or, are you saying that a person should kill himself if and only if doing so would increase his expected utility? I don't think, however, this was implied by khafra's post
That's exactly what I'm saying, and as far as I can tell, exactly what khafra was saying as well. Whether you will be able to kill yourself in the future doesn't affect the expected utility of that future, except insofar as things which would prevent you from killing yourself would affect its utility.
Expected utility is basically defined as that which a rational person maximizes.
Thanks for saying it much more clearly than I did. That is exactly what I meant, and I plan to write fewer run-on sentences and use concrete examples more often.
The suffering experienced while waiting to exercise the option is what I specifically referred to. Dollars are not utilons.
This is correct, but I consider non-altruistic suicide with cryonics to hold a probability of improvement multiplied by the utility of improvement overwhelmingly greater than the utility gained by omitting the suffering that the agent would necessarily undergo before that improvement could be realized in an overwhelming proportion of cases. There are probably some exceptions, but they will be overwhelmingly rare. I haven't heard any examples of exceptions. You are right that I was wrong to use "zero possibility of improvement" as my requirement.
Why the downvote?
I didn't downvote you, but zero is not a probability, and suicide can be rational if it calculates expected utility in a proper manner.
I understand. Thanks for correcting me!
Yes, if we think of depression as a sort of temporary state from which we eventually revert to the mean level of happiness. However, I think in a state of depression one tends to believe it to be a permanent, unchanging state.
One may tend to believe depression to be permanent and unchanging while in a state of depression, but that belief is wrong. No state of depression is ultimately untreatable, and if any state of depression is untreatable at present, suicide with cryonics is a solution superior to suicide without cryonics.