Sacrificing oneself for others always moral?

Before you scratch your head how sacrificing oneself for others could be immoral consider the classic dilemma, of too many people in a life boat when a storm approaches or similar ones, which deal with the issue of killing someone innocent to save others. According to catholic teaching this is immoral, as killing an innocent is always evil and therefore cannot be outweighed by any good one might think to achieve by the act.

Now the problem:
If just one person leaves the life boat it would be enough to save the rest. While still thinking about the problem, one declares that its better that he dies than that all die and readies himself to leave the boat for certain death.
By that he still takes the life of an innocent to achieve some greater good.
Is it nonetheless moral and why?
Should the others stop him?

Similar cases do happen, for example i read about a situation in Iraq, where a grenade was thrown into the midst of some soldiers and one of them jumped upon it. We might not know the exact motives, but it seems to be the case of killing oneself so others can survive.

What about a mentally ill person, who commits suicide to avoid doing further harm?
E.g. a serial murderer realizes in a short period of clarity, that murder is wrong, that he is capable of tricking the court system and the psychologist to let him out of prison and that he will sometime in the future will forget his realization that murder is wrong and will commit murder again given the opportunity. He then decides not to waste his moment of clarity to commit suicide, so that the chance he will murder further people is reduced to 0.

The problem with the boat is that it is not known that it is in fact certain death for everyone if no-one leaves; neither is it known whether it is or is not certain death for the one who leaves; it is not necessary to cast oneself adrift totally either, people could take turns wearing all the lifejackets and being tethered to the boat by a rope. Actually, this would act like a sea anchor and might be helpful in stormy weather.
Basically, in the boat scenario there really is no need for anyone to die so its hard to say that dying would be the correct course of action.
The soldier with the grenade acted heroically if he acted to save life.
The serial killer is probably possessed by satan, I mean, can there actually be a clinical disease where you just cannot help killing people. I don’t think a moment of clarity necessarily results in suicide, it might have no effect or any effect. But whether his suicide is correct, the answer is no. Satan probably gave him that option as an only choice, while other better choices exist, like giving himself up to the police or locking himself to the proverbial radiator and then calling the police.
When the Apostle St. Paul was caught in a storm on board a ship going to Rome his preferred option was of praying for a safe journey for everyone in the boat.:slight_smile:
I understand this might be avoiding the question.

But this does not allow for distinction to the cases of killing someone else. If a soldier could not throw himself on the grenade, but push someone else upon it, he would still do it to save life and yet it would be immoral.

And the out-of-boat jumper and the serial murderer both also act with the intent to save life, with the sole difference, that the chance is greater that they are mistaken about this being the only way to prevent the deaths. (In case of the serial killer he would not save anyone in case he is mistaken about potential future relapses and his skills to trick his way out of jail/psychatric clinic.)

No, this is actually relevant.
Though asking God to make storms disappear might not be the best plan, because it seems that such outright miracles are not prominent in the current part of His plan, praying for gelp to stave of the madness could help,as praying influences certainly the mind.

So the serial murder should try praying. Problem is, what if he concludes that praying seems to be unrealiable to prevent further relapses?

(I already assumed that the murderer has good reasons to think the normal authorities to be incapable of protecting the society from him. )

I think you are obliged to take every opportunity first before sacrificing your life. In the boat case this would just mean not jumping overboard because you cannot tell the future. Sometimes you can only go so far. And in this case, I think, you can only do everything short of throwing yourself or others out of the boat to die.
The soldier cannot pust someone else, in my opinion.
The serial killer has many imaginative options short of suicide.

Consider a story where there are no options left and every recourse has just been exhausted, even to a request to a divine creator to avoid a fate. That then is sacrifice which is moral, as the alternative, not sacrificing oneself, is death and eternal suffering to every human who ever lives. In this case every option to avoid the sacrifice was taken, short of abandoning the cause to save the humans.

The serial killer has the simple option of turning himself in and pleading guilty. The was one man who refused to appeal his death sentence; he said he was guilty and deserved to die. (this was not suicide btw but an acceptance of the authorities over him)

The man who gives up his life to save others… who throws himself on a grenade for example, is not killing himself. He is killed by the grenade blowing up.

Whether this solves the problem depends on the quality of the authorities. I think there was a case of a sexual offender, who explicitely asked to be kept in prison/psychatric clinic for longer, but who was still set free, because the psychologist assumed he would do fine. He commited crimes again.

Important distinction, the soldier had not part in putting the grenade there.

But one could come up with situations where the sacrificing person is responsible for the danger that then makes the sacrifice necessary. E.g. a criminal sets some bomb or so and then to sudden remorse tries to prevent the damage that might be caused by sacrificing himself.

That is no distinction to sacrificing someone else, as then also or even more every alternative would certainly have to be tried.

If I understand you correctly, you cannot sacrifice someone else’s life. Your life is yours, it belongs to you; someone else’s life belongs to them. And you cannot take their life without being guilty of theft of their life and murder. Prohibition against theft, murder and the lauding of self-sacrifice all belong to the same set of moral principles or Commandments.

But commiting suicide not to save others is likely a mortal sin, so my life is not mine. Otherwise it would not be sinful if i take it.

I guess the reason lies in that the owner of my life (God) sees self-sacrifice as something positive. Therefore self-sacrificial suicide can depending on circumstances be moral. But sacrificing others is not self-sacrifice and the owner of the others life (also God) detest sacrificing others so much, that he sacrificed himself to avoid having to sacrifice any of us(though it might have been to some extent in vain if we all reject him, which we could as we are free willed).

Self-sacrifice and suicide are different things so they have different names. Self-sacrifice is moral because it puts the love of others before the love of self. Suicide is immoral because it comes from despair, it says the love of oneself is greater than ones love of others.

The case of St Maximilien Kolbe springs to mind. He volunteered to take another’s place at a Nazi camp and so elected to starve to death. Far from being decried as a suicidal sinner, he was declared a saint and a martyr.

But then the jump-out-of-boat person and the ensure-i-harm-no-one serial killer would both not commit suicide as their motive is about saving others. (Though of course they might have sinned because they did not carefully think and pray.)

Self-sacrifice (soldier jumping on a grenade) is moral because his***intent ***is not to commit suicide,but to save his comrades. He certainly hopes not to die.

Suicide on the contrary is immoral because the intent is to take one’s own life.

Suicide comes from despair. Despair is a sin. Jumping out of the boat is unnecessary because you cannot know what will happen in the end or if your action will help or hinder. At worst it is foolish but not a sin, at best it is misguided but the heart was in the right place.
The serial killer is a bit different because the motive for killing others may be turned on himself, one does not know, possibly only God knows. But at best you could say it is misguided as there are better options available and suicide to save others is dangerously close to despair. Where there is life there is hope.

Ever hear of St. Maximilian Kolbe? Maximilian Kolbe, Saint For Our Times

I know this is an old thread, but I think there’s still plenty to discuss.
So we say that it’s immoral if a man jumps out of a lifeboat because it can’t carry everybody’s weight.
Well, what about a Titanic sort of situation, where there are too many people and not enough lifeboats? There are stories of people who chose to stay behind on the sinking ship so that others could have those spots on the lifeboats.You don’t hear anybody condemning their actions, but I fail to see how getting on and then climbing out is that much different from not getting on at all.

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