Thomist answer: is this suicide?


#1

Note: I'm looking for explicitly Thomistic resolutions of these case studies.

Alright, from poking around Feser's blog, I get the feel that the litmus test for considering something to be suicide would be whether your goals in undertaking this action would still be fulfilled if you were made impervious to death.

Now let's get down to business. I think this particular case is a little edgy, so here we go.

Imagine you're on a high-tech sci-fi space station, with thousands living on it. It has just been attacked by terrorists, and is in danger of being destroyed if its systems are not brought back online pronto. The technicians are working their butts off, but they'll still need a few extra seconds, otherwise everything goes up.

The space station has been leeched dry of energy. The only way they could get an extra jolt of energy to keep the system stable for just a few more seconds is by chucking something into the mass-energy converter which is for some reason linked to the station's grid.

Unfortunately for you, you alone are right next to it. There is nothing else of sufficient mass-energy around you, and you've only got a few more seconds before disaster strikes. The only way to save the station is to chuck yourself into the converter, in a heroic sacrifice.

Which brings us to the question in the title: is this suicide?

On the one hand, this entails your destruction. It requires you to convert your entire body to mass-energy. You intend to destroy your body, so it seems to fail the Feser-derived litmus test.

But on the two hand, suicide is a sin because it indicates a total and utter despair and self-abandonment. And this can be resolved to be something a little like cutting off your arm to escape a Saw-esque trap, except far more extreme.

So once again, to all Thomists out there: is this suicide?


#2

It’s like removing a living man’s heart so that a transplant can be performed. It’s suicide.


#3

This is an old and classical dilemma, which has been bandied out many times under many names. One of these is the “famous violinist” dilemma.

See here:
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=482940

IMHO, if you were to protect another’s life, you would not be required to, but it would be the best thing to do for their sake.

There is a difference, too, between suicide and martyrdom. Suicide is the ending your life so that you might end the world. Martyrdom is dying so others might live.


#4

[BIBLEDRB]John 15:13[/BIBLEDRB]


#5

[quote="TarkanAttila, post:3, topic:328497"]
Martyrdom is dying so others might live.

[/quote]

No. That's not correct, at all. Martyrdom is being killed for the faith or for a righteous deed inspired by faith.

[quote="AlexPetrosPio, post:4, topic:328497"]
[BIBLEDRB]John 15:13[/BIBLEDRB]

[/quote]

Yet the Church prohibits live donation of one's heart.


#6

[quote="devoutchristian, post:5, topic:328497"]
No. That's not correct, at all. Martyrdom is being killed for the faith or for a righteous deed inspired by faith.

Yet the Church prohibits live donation of one's heart.

[/quote]

But maybe this situation is more like throwing oneself on a grenade? In which case, it would be permitted. The problem with the donation of one's heart is that the action itself of taking the heart out is a killing thing to do, so those doing it would be committing murder--there's no way of separating the act from a killing intention.


#7

One who was to throw himself on a grenade and who miraculously survives with no bodily injury has not had his purpose negated. One who tries to incinerate himself and who experiences no bodily injury has had his purpose negated. Thus the moral difference.


#8

This is one of those impossible cases, fortunately, but here goes.

Suicide is not some kind of "special sin." It is a sin because it is murder, period. With the difference that in suicide there is no repentance.

So a circumstance that negates the sin of murder would also negate suicide.

The key to this dilemma is that it depends on the physical nature of your body. The properties of your body that make the desired outcome possible also lead to death.

An example would be body-blocking someone from shooting another person. This works because your body will stop a bullet; the undesirable side effect is that you would die. This would be sacrifice, not suicide.

Likewise, the space-station example works because your body has mass; but would cease to be your body once its mass was converted. But death is not the goal; if another mass source were available, your death is not a desired outcome. Therefore not suicide.

ICXC NIKA


#9

[quote="devoutchristian, post:7, topic:328497"]
One who was to throw himself on a grenade and who miraculously survives with no bodily injury has not had his purpose negated. One who tries to incinerate himself and who experiences no bodily injury has had his purpose negated. Thus the moral difference.

[/quote]

Ah, yes, I see what you are saying. I don't know about the whole pirpose negation thing--I've never heard of that?--but I see the difference in the two acts: the saving in the grenade case does not *require *the destruction of the body but the space ship scenario does.

Thanks for clarifying that


#10

[quote="devoutchristian, post:5, topic:328497"]
No. That's not correct, at all. Martyrdom is being killed for the faith or for a righteous deed inspired by faith.

[/quote]

You are correct; I was wrong.

2473 Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude.

I was thinking of something G.K. Chesterton wrote about suicide and martyrdom (or it might just have been Dale Ahlquist) to that effect.

Yet the Church prohibits live donation of one's heart.

Let us catechism, shall we?

2296c - "It is morally inadmissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other human beings."

This is in reference to organ transplants. Does this apply to other deaths, too?


#11

In Aristotelian terms, the final cause of the first act is the absorption of a grenade blast, which has no bearing on the intrinsic morality of an action. The final cause of the second is the destruction of one’s body, which (devoutchristian says) makes it intrinsically wrong.

This is essentially the problem I was worried about. Does or does not the fact that this course of action involves the annihilation of one’s body make it intrinsically wrong? After all, GEddie is right to some extent; suicide is wrong because it involves murder (I’m fairly sure it’s even more wrong because it is self-annihilation, which is an action completely contrary to one’s nature and hence a worse offence under natural law, but let’s leave that question aside for now). But murder, which is intrinsically wrong, is the wilful destruction of another person, and there is more to a person than his body. Destroying a person’s body is not intrinsically wrong; surgeons do it all the time. But can this be extended to the destruction of a person’s body in its entirety?


#12

Surgeons do not destroy the body. Earthworms do that.

Surgery inflicts controlled damage on a body, ostensibly to preserve its life, but sometimes just to "improve" it (consider nose-jobs or limb lengthening for example).

ICXC NIKA


#13

[quote="aquohn, post:11, topic:328497"]
In Aristotelian terms, the final cause of the first act is the absorption of a grenade blast, which has no bearing on the intrinsic morality of an action. The final cause of the second is the destruction of one's body, which (devoutchristian says) makes it intrinsically wrong.

This is essentially the problem I was worried about. Does or does not the fact that this course of action involves the annihilation of one's body make it intrinsically wrong? After all, GEddie is right to some extent; suicide is wrong because it involves murder (I'm fairly sure it's even more wrong because it is self-annihilation, which is an action completely contrary to one's nature and hence a worse offence under natural law, but let's leave that question aside for now). But murder, which is intrinsically wrong, is the wilful destruction of another person, and there is more to a person than his body. Destroying a person's body is not intrinsically wrong; surgeons do it all the time. But can this be extended to the destruction of a person's body in its entirety?

[/quote]

You are correct that the annihilation of one's body is an end, but I don't think that it has a bearing on the morality of an act.

If a firefighter is fighting a fire, and the building falls on him, consuming his body in flames, there is no moral wrong, so the end of the annihilation of one's body is not a determining moral factor.

This question really is a variant of the already answered solider falling on the hand grenade question.

Is the annihilation of the body the desired end, or is it something else. In the case of the solider, if the hand grenade turns out to be a dud, was the soldiers end obtained, or was the desired end thwarted by the failure of the grenade to explode.

Likewise, in this case of the OP, if the person entering the machine triggered a failure of the machine and it consumed itself, providing the necessary power, but leaving the moral actor intact, was the person's goal achieved or thwarted?


#14

If it is immoral to directly cause the destruction of one’s bodily health in one way for the benefit of others, then it seems that it would be immoral to directly cause the destruction of one’s bodily health in another way for the benefit of others.


#15

[quote="Brendan, post:13, topic:328497"]
You are correct that the annihilation of one's body is an end, but I don't think that it has a bearing on the morality of an act.

If a firefighter is fighting a fire, and the building falls on him, consuming his body in flames, there is no moral wrong, so the end of the annihilation of one's body is not a determining moral factor.

This question really is a variant of the already answered solider falling on the hand grenade question.

Is the annihilation of the body the desired end, or is it something else. In the case of the solider, if the hand grenade turns out to be a dud, was the soldiers end obtained, or was the desired end thwarted by the failure of the grenade to explode.

Likewise, in this case of the OP, if the person entering the machine triggered a failure of the machine and it consumed itself, providing the necessary power, but leaving the moral actor intact, was the person's goal achieved or thwarted?

[/quote]

If the body of the firefighter or of the soldier were to be made invincible then there purposes would still be accomplished. If the body of the astronaut were made invincible then his purpose would be thwarted.


#16

Ah, but this is precisely my original concern. What is the significance of the invincibility of one’s body? Is it a litmus test for suicide?

In other words, is destroying one’s own body an intrinsically immoral end? Is it differentiated from suicide?

The rudimentary argument I have would be that no, because destruction of one’s own body is simply an extension of the act of damaging one’s own body, which is not intrinsically wrong. It is not intrinsically wrong to saw off your foot to escape a Saw-esque trap, as I hinted at in the OP. So therefore, the destruction of one’s body is not intrinsically wrong.

The counterargument would be that this sort of damage, which leads to death, is wrong by virtue of it resulting in your annihilation. But let’s say your body could regenerate after the damage was done. You would still be alive, and your purposes would not have been thwarted.

So I suppose it’s a question of whether the litmus test is if your body is impervious to damage or if your body can be regenerated to perfect health after taking damage.


#17

I would say that destroying one’s body would be an intrinsically immoral end. Cutting off one’s foot in that case is designed to benefit oneself.


#18

[quote="devoutchristian, post:17, topic:328497"]
I would say that destroying one's body would be an intrinsically immoral end.

[/quote]

Why?


#19

Because the deliberate destruction of one’s body necessarily constitutes suicide.


#20

newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article5

The closest example sited by Aquinas would be the case of Sampson:

Objection 4. Further, Samson killed himself, as related in Judges 16, and yet he is numbered among the saints (Hebrews 11). Therefore it is lawful for a man to kill himself.

....
Reply to Objection 4. As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 21), "not even Samson is to be excused that he crushed himself together with his enemies under the ruins of the house, except the Holy Ghost, Who had wrought many wonders through him, had secretly commanded him to do this." He assigns the same reason in the case of certain holy women, who at the time of persecution took their own lives, and who are commemorated by the Church.

I think the space ship example given is suicide. But I am not altogether sure. Christ did talk of laying down one's life for another.


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