Rational suicide: uncertain moral ground


  • Karen L. Rich PhD (c) RN,

  • Janie B. Butts DSN RN

Karen Rich,
School of Nursing,
The University of Southern Mississippi,
2701 Hardy Street,
MS 39406,
E-mail: krich00@att.net


Background.  The ambiguities involving end-of-life issues, such as physician-assisted suicide and voluntary stopping of eating and drinking, have caused a blurring of the definition of rational suicide and have prompted rich dialogue with moral deliberations that seem to be on disparate paths among bioethicists and other health care professionals. With the evolution of advanced medical technology extending life expectancy in older, disabled, and terminally ill people, rational suicide has become a critical issue of debate.

Aim.  The purpose of this article is to address the ethical positions supporting and opposing rational suicide and to consider whether coherence can be achieved through an ethic of care.

Findings.  Attitudes towards suicide have been controversial, varying from acceptance to non-acceptance depending on social, political and religious influences. Nursing attitudes are no different from general societal attitudes and, consequently, nurses are treading on uncertain moral ground.

Conclusion.  Nurses who have not reflected on the moral issues involved with rational suicide may be unprepared psychologically and professionally when working with patients who may be contemplating such actions.