The narcissism of assisted suicide

This article was published on August 11, 2015 by Spiked.

A shocking case that shows that assisted suicide is about more than alleviating suffering.

Dr Kevin Yuill

Dr Kevin Yuill

By Dr Kevin Yuill, an academic and an author.

In his sharply observed book The Culture of Narcissism, the American social critic Christopher Lasch remarked that, in modern life, ‘The usual defences against the ravages of age – identification with ethical or artistic values beyond one’s immediate interests, intellectual curiosity, the consoling emotional warmth derived from happy relationships in the past – can do nothing for the narcissist’. 

In a generation that has forgotten that it stands in the midst of a long line of past and future generations, Lasch noted, many live ‘for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal wellbeing, health, and psychic security’.

As Lasch later lamented, his exploration of narcissism was widely misunderstood. In his writing, narcissism referred not to a confident self-centredness, but to the inability of an entire culture to see beyond the corners of itself, to understand the self’s place in history, or to believe in its ability rationally to control the future. Lasch claimed that the survival of the self – not self-improvement – had become the highest aspiration.

There is more than a whiff of narcissistic survivalism in the openness of many Western societies to assisted suicide. This was best symbolised by the trip Gill Pharaoh, a healthy, 75-year-old retired nurse, took to the LifeCircle suicide clinic in Switzerland. Pharaoh, who died on 21 July this year, was not ill, but wished to die. She noted in her final blog that she wanted ‘people to remember me as I now am – as a bit worn around the edges but still recognisably me!’.

This ‘snapshot’ sentiment, whereby we preserve ourselves for posterity, is surely illusory. We can neither control how people remember us nor can we preserve a moment in time. There is no perfect moment or ideal physical presence, no ‘real me’, because life is a process, constantly unfolding. We continually learn and change, and the ‘authentic’ self cannot be captured at one specific time. Nor is a ‘perfect’ or merely ‘good’ death meaningful to the deceased. Killing oneself does not preserve anything – it destroys the prospect of further experiences and interactions.

Link to the full article