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Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide Paperback – November 21, 2014
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Sarah Perry is a housewife who lives in San Antonio, Texas.
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Perry accurately points out that this prohibition is not directly carried out by jail sentences and fines. Rather, we have subtly given the reigns to the medical complex who, working in conjunction with officials, confines and medicates a potential suicide against his will ( or, later, confines and medicates him post-attempt). Operating from the assumption that taking one's life is inherently irrational, the suicide is automatically given the status of an insane person. For me, this is the crux of the entire debate. The majority of people, drilled with lay speak about the sanctity of life from the time of birth, cannot extract themselves from that cocoon of thought. In this country and beyond, how are we to have an intelligent discussion about suicide when it is so broadly looked at as an act of insanity? Collectively, we are so wounded by the prospect of death that we cannot fathom another's desire for it. We cannot accept that many people choose non-existence while sound of mind. This places us, intellectually, in about the sixth grade.
And your antiquated statistics? Depression is the leading cause of suicide? Suicide contagion prevails? Debunked piece by piece. Perry makes especially resonant points about predictors for taking one's life, and they are not the nice and neat ones we've tied with a bow. For instance, social death, or the shunning of one by others, is far more likely to lead to a suicide than is generalized depression. I recall reading something to this effect in the nineties in a psych periodical, but it was poorly elucidated and passed over for more shocking (and less accurate) data. Social withdraw, which is not necessarily chemical depression, can potentially lead to a rational state of hopelessness. If the human experience is that we are most content in the company and acceptance of others, then it is possible that in the absence of those things we become rationally desperate. Can we accept that a suicide is often done logically, thoughtfully, as an antidote to being cast out?
Your ability to relate to this book is dependent on your ability to shed some very common misconceptions. For most, it will entail disregarding the stock quotes and armchair optimism that swirled around your childhood and adolescent environments. Even for those who attended college and felt themselves in the presence of free thought, these are perspectives likely never addressed. Under it all, though, is compassion for the very real misery of many.
Every Cradle Is a Grave carefully and logically addresses, as the subtitle suggests, the ethics of birth and suicide. This is a topic that will be difficult for many people to be open-minded about. We live in a all-life-is-good-all-the-time-let's-have-more-babies-and-prevent-extinction culture. If we consider the possibility that creating new lives is unethical, we have to consider the possibility that our parents were unethical, or that we were unethical (if we have kids). If we consider the possibility that suicide should be a safe, legal option for most people, we then will likely worry that people we care about will exit the world sooner than we'd like. However, in my opinion, whether or not you agree with Perry's conclusions are not that important. What is important is the questions she is raising.
For example, I've read several articles about de-extinction (the possibility of bringing to life species that previously existed, but have gone extinct). The ethical questions tend to be things like 'should humans play God in this way?' or 'what effect will it have on the ecosystem?' What I have never heard is anyone ask a question like 'would it be good for the animals themselves to be brought to life?' Almost everyone just assumes that it would be good for the animals to exist. Relatedly, consider the lengths that conservationists go through to prevent species from going extinct (even doing some seemingly awful things to them -- see, for example, the Raising Crane episode of Radiolab).
I especially enjoyed the chapters in the book on free disposal, experience machines, and the burden of life. I would love to include some of my favorite quotes and arguments from the book, but doing so would lessen the joy of reading it in context.