DIY executions: before recent developments could you, morally, be your own executioner?


In thinking about recent refinements in Catholic teaching I wondered about this: if, at least until recently, it was morally justified for the state to kill a criminal guilty of serious crimes, and the site could appoint an executioner for the purpose, and the executioner was morally guiltless, could the state appoint the criminal to be his or her own executioner and would the subsequent suicide be morally acceptable?


I’m not sure about his objective guilt, but that’s technically how Socrates went.


Well that produced a maelstrom of posts!


Well, they can’t all be hits


What differences do you think exist between a third-party executioner and the convicted criminal himself, with regard to the taking of the life?


I would say, yes. The convicted person would be acting in obedience to a legitimate authority.

However, it would be immoral if the prisoner took his own life without having been so instructed.


I would say in a vacuum theoretically yes, since public authority has (and always will have) the authority to punish proportionate crimes with death to serve the common good and this power is generally delegated to a specific person or persons. By as Annie mentioned, the delegation would need to be there.

That being said, I can see how this would be fraught with practical and other secondary problems that would make it extremely imprudent.


Perhaps it would make good material for a farcical one act play. I can imagine the scene:

Executioner: “Have you any last words?”
Executioner: “Yes; I am innocent!”
Executioner: “That is of no concern to me. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Executioner releases the guillotine blade, screams


Plato’s Apologia (I think) would cover this, altho it’s not a farcical onea-act play. It is a surprisingly easy read, tho.


In the first case they are not the same person.


Sure you can execute yourself for a mortal crime. I think they call it “sewer-side.” Actually, Judus did it. However, there is some measure of remorse involved or a measure of avoiding guilt or even a measure of cruelty intended to punish friends, family, or deprive society of ‘justice.’. All kinds of reasons to decry self-executions.


That is surely the key. Without having analyzed it in detail, I suspect that self-execution violates some big principle. Maybe it is contrary to the dignity of the person. Maybe it goes against the nature of all living things, which favors survival. I think it would create an irreconcilable conflict within the person, precluding peace at the moment of death.

Of course, all these arguments could be applied just as well to execution by a third-party executioner.


Socrates was an interesting case. On one hand he was wrongfully executed (most of the charges against him were trumped up, and the ones that were real were not warranting death), on the other hand he had a chance to escape but chose death out of loyalty to Athens.


In Judas’ case it was simply despair and suicide. Not a legitimate execution.


On the contrary, I think yourlast point (1st para) is a key difference between self- and 3rd-party execution. It is clearly possible (albeit probably very uncommon) to be at peace at the moment of execution. Many martyrs were. Would that have been the case if they had hypothetically taken their own lives (as “executioner”)? I think probably not.


what “power” could the “state” employ to “force” someone to commit suicide? ; other than a ’ promise’ that if “YOU” , don’t do it yourself; “WE” will


As capital punishment


Ōishi Yoshio was sentenced to commit seppuku in 1703

While the voluntary seppuku described above is the best known form, in practice the most common form of seppuku was obligatory seppuku , used as a form of capital punishment for disgraced samurai, especially for those who committed a serious offence such as rape, robbery, corruption, unprovoked murder or treason. The samurai were generally told of their offense in full and given a set time to commit seppuku, usually before sunset on a given day. On occasion, if the sentenced individuals were uncooperative or outright refused to end their own lives, it was not unheard of for them to be restrained and the seppuku carried out by an executioner, or for the actual execution to be carried out instead by decapitation while retaining only the trappings of seppuku; even the short sword laid out in front of the offender could be replaced with a fan. Unlike voluntary seppuku, seppuku carried out as capital punishment did not necessarily absolve, or pardon, the offender’s family of the crime.


Um, confiscation of property otherwise left to family; imprisonment or execution of family members, torture, public humiliation, …


I’m surprised that we have not heard any actual teaching or moral theology. The point must have come up in real life (death) in the past.


I think all the real Moral Theologians have left the forum or been suspended. Gone fishing perhaps.

Me? I’m just the janitor and I make up the answers as I go along.


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