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Reflections on Ethics 34
Laws Against Suicide Absurd and Ridiculous.

by: Robert G. Ingersoll

An 1895 Interview with Robert Ingersoll as published in the New York Journal

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QUESTION: Do you think that what you have written about suicide has caused people to take their lives?

ANSWER: No, I do not. People do not kill themselves because of the ideas of others. They are the victims of misfortune.

Q: What do you consider the chief cause of suicide?

A: There are many causes. Some individuals are crossed in love, others are bankrupt in estate or reputation, still others are diseased in body and frequently in mind. There are a thousand and one causes that lead up to the final act.

Q: Do you consider that nationality plays a part in these tragedies?

A: No, it is a question of individuals. There are those whose sorrows are greater than they can bear. These sufferers seek the peace of death.

Q: Do you, then, advise suicide?

A: No, I have never done so, but I have said, and still say, that there are circumstances under which it is justifiable for a person to take his life.

Q: What do you think of the law which prohibits self-destruction?

A: That it is absurd and ridiculous. The other day a man was tried before Judge Goff for having tried to kill himself. I think he pleaded guilty, and the Judge, after speaking of the terrible crime of the poor wretch, sentenced him to the penitentiary for two years. This was an outrage; infamous in every way, and a disgrace to our civilization.

Q: Do you believe that such a law will prevent the frequency of suicides?

A: By no means. After this, persons in New York who have made up their minds to commit suicide will see to it that they succeed.

Q: Have your opinions been in any way modified since your first announcement of them?

A: No, I feel now as I have felt for many years. No one can answer my articles on suicide, because no one can satisfactorily refute them. Every man of sense knows that a person being devoured by a cancer has the right to take morphine, and pass from agony to dreamless sleep. So, too, there are circumstances under which a man has the right to end his pain of mind.

Q: Have you seen in the papers that many who have killed themselves have had on their persons some article of yours on suicide?

A: Yes, I have read such accounts, but I repeat that I do not think these persons were led to kill themselves by reading the articles. Many people who have killed themselves were found to have Bibles or tracts in their pockets.

Q: How do you account for the presence of the latter?

A: The reason of this is that the theologians know nothing. The pious imagine that their God has placed us here for some wise and inscrutable purpose, and that he will call for us when he wants us. All this is idiotic. When a man is of no use to himself or to others, when his days and nights are filled with pain and sorrow, why should he remain to endure them longer?