"Stay", Jennifer Michael Hecht on Atheists Talk

After losing two friends to suicide just over a year apart, Jennifer Michael Hecht was looking for answers. As she usually does, she turned to philosophy, but she found herself dissatisfied with the reactive individualism of Enlightenment and modern secular philosophy. Out of that dissatisfaction came Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It. Stay chronicles the history of Western reasons for committing suicide and the reasons philosophers have given for people to hang on through bleakness and despair.

Hecht joins us this Sunday to talk about the book and to talk about why would should be grateful to those who chose to remain with us.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation

"Stay", Jennifer Michael Hecht on Atheists Talk

5 thoughts on “"Stay", Jennifer Michael Hecht on Atheists Talk

  1. Ed

    Aside from the distinct issue of people with terminal illnesses, I’ve never encountered any significant support for suicide on philosophical grounds.

    Most people naturally desire to live and if they don’t, it usually means they are dealing with major depression or some other serious emotional suffering.

    This whole paradigm of supposed pro-suicide bias in the culture vs. the moral duty to live is weird and likely to be extremely unhelpful to anyone struggling with the urge to commit suicide and those who care about them.

  2. 2

    Eric MacDonald had a well reasoned disagreement with Hecht a few years ago, but he’s since quit blogging so I can’t find it at the moment. You recall that Eric’s wife, who suffered from advanced MS, ended her life in Switzerland at the Dignitas clinic in 2007.

  3. AMM

    In the aftermath of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide, I saw a lot of posts arguing that people (in this case, trans youth) should not commit suicide. “Suicide is not the answer,” they kept saying, though they didn’t offer a better one. As someone who has struggled all their life with the urge to die, I felt that these arguments were not only beside the point, but kind of victim-blamey. Like most suicides, she did it because the pain and despair overcame her desire to live. Pain and despair can’t be reasoned or argued away, any more than bleeding to death can be. If you actually want to keep someone from bleeding to death, you stop the bleeding. If you want to keep someone from killing themself, you have to do something to reduce their pain, you have to do something to give them hope. (And, no “It gets better” ad campaigns don’t count as giving someone hope, any more than billboards saying “Jesus loves you” do.)

    All the arguments I’ve seen against suicide have one fatal flaw: they look at things from the survivors’ perspective. Don’t kill yourself because it’ll make us (=me) unhappy. Don’t kill yourself because my moral code (or my value system) says it’s wrong. Don’t kill yourself because I’ll say you were being “irrational.” Don’t kill yourself because you’re just making a mountain out of a molehill. None of them look at it from the point of the person who is so miserable that not existing seems preferrable. I remember my mother used to say that people who killed themselves were so “inconsiderate” because they made the people left behind feel so guilty. I never told her (or anyone) about my daily suicidal thoughts and urges, but I got the message: if you kill yourself, make sure you succeed, because if you don’t, you’re going to get guilt-tripped big-time for the rest of your life.

    I haven’t looked at Ms. Hecht’s book, but your intro has not given me any reason to believe that her book and her arguments are all that different from what I’ve seen before. Especially since her qualifications are that she’s known other people who’ve committed suicide, but there’s no mention of her struggling with the urge to do so herself.

  4. 4

    While I enjoyed Ms. Hecht’s work in Doubt, and am sorry for the losses that led to the writing of Stay, several of the Amazon reviews highlight what sound like well-reasoned concerns about her approach in this book.

  5. 5

    I’ll try to write a review soon, but for now, I’ll leave it at this. I went into the book with concerns similar to those expressed by people here and in the reviews noted. I have personal experience with the topic, and I’ve argued strongly against punitive or shaming approaches. I think Hecht did a good job with this book recasting these arguments in a way that addresses my concerns. When she said in the introduction to our show that she had also struggled with suicidal thoughts, something she didn’t mention in the book, I wasn’t surprised. It’s a damned difficult topic, and I’m glad she didn’t leave it to the philosobros who treat arguments like these as mere intellectual exercises.

Comments are closed.