We’re going to talk about suicide and medicine next, but first, one of the biggest questions about these topics is how much control a person has of their fate. Do you have to right to refuse a procedure that would save your life? We’ll talk more about suicide in a second, but do we have to right to deny medical treatment that can help us? If a patient has a condition that can be remedied or at least reduced with medical treatment, do they have the right to refuse it?


How a culture of autonomy can transform your workforce

At the core of those questions is bodily autonomy. How much control do we really have over our bodies? This also directly connects to abortion, which we already talked about. Bodily autonomy is the ability for an organism to decide for itself what happens to its body.

Now, a lot of times, people overlook just how simple this can be, just how much this encompasses. Yes, bodily autonomy affects both the suicide argument and the abortion argument. However, it also encompasses the very simple argument of aesthetic control. Aesthetic control is the control that we have to represent and express ourselves on our bodies, like with clothing, hairstyles, piercings, and tattoos. Before we can even talk about something as big as suicide and abortion, we have to talk about aesthetic control.

You have surely heard at some point or other that tattoos and unnatural hair colors are unprofessional, as well as unorthodox piercings like nose

\ piercings. In fact, these aesthetic manipulations have been discriminated against for a very long time. Back in colonial days, aesthetic manipulations like these were considered “savage” and “uncivilized”. But that’s all social and not necessarily ethical. Is there anything unethical about aesthetic manipulation? The no-harm principle says that it’s fine. Consequentialism would only discourage it because it is socially discriminated.

And yet, bigger forms of bodily autonomy and aesthetic control, such as plastic surgery, are perfectly acceptable. Why would we as a society discriminate against tattoos, which can easily be covered up and are rarely harmful to anyone, but have no qualms about a person completely changing the physical stature of their physiology? It doesn’t make sense. Ethically, plastic surgery is no different than a tattoo except for one thing – it’s more dangerous to the agent. That makes it even less sensical to be okay with plastic surgery but opposed to tattoos and piercings.

Here’s how aesthetic control breaks down: ANY alterations that an agent makes to their own body are a matter of that agent’s bodily autonomy. They are permissible so long as they are not dangerous to the agent or their surroundings.

So it’s okay to get a spider tattoo on your legs, but maybe not okay to turn your legs into automaton spider legs that could hurt other people (like in “Wild West”). In some ethical theories, it’s also not okay to do any alterations that are harmful to the agent, such as increasing your breasts so large that they cause damage to your back.

What’s particularly interesting to feminists in this argument is that socially, women have more freedom of aesthetic control than men do, but men have more freedom of bodily autonomy than women do. For example, if a man wears a dress, he’s viciously opposed by society because of it. It’s harmless. It can’t hurt anyone, but people will absolutely murder a man for doing it. Men are harassed for wearing jewellery, wearing makeup, wearing feminine clothes, and even speaking about certain topics like emotions and beauty (cuteness). Women are free to do all of these things and to do anything aethetic that men can do. However, men have more control over their bodies on a larger scale. They’re encouraged and praised for changing their body structures and using potentially harmful substances. It’s women who are vehemently opposed and judged for doing the same.

That’s why feminism is important for both men and women. Men are oppressed, too. It’s just that their oppression isn’t threatening their daily lives and livelihoods like women’s oppression is. That doesn’t mean that their struggle isn’t important, just that it’s not as pressing of a concern right now. Women need legally protected equal pay and bodily autonomy rights. Men need people to stop attacking them for expressing themselves outside of the toxic masculinity mindset of the 1940’s. Women’s struggles are legal. Men’s struggles are social. Both can be fixed simultaneously by working together.

Men need to stop attacking each other and let each other express themselves. Women need to stop attacking men for not conforming to toxic masculinity and support them when they break out of that mold (and acknowledge that men are domestically and sexually harassed and assaulted just like women are!). Men need to stop sexualizing and demeaning women, and give them a voice instead of mansplaining problems they know nothing about. Women need to stop attacking each other for not being Victoria Secret models and stop enforcing unhealthy beauty and domestic standards. And both men and women need to acknowledge that THERE IS A THIRD OPTION ON GENDER, and stop acting like everything a dichotomy. And everyone needs to stop genderizing arbitrary things like toys and clothing. Just because something’s pink doesn’t mean that it’s only for women. Fun fact: pink and red used to be men’s colors and blue used to be a feminine color. Then WWI happened. Now it’s flipped. That’s why a lot of Victorian things are red – it was a masculine color, and pink was the color for boys because it’s just watered down red. Boys can play with dolls and girls can play with tools. These social changes start in youth, and we all have to contribute to them.

A Sensible Discussion about Autonomy

That’s aesthetic changes. What about medical changes? Can I tie my tubes or amputate my pinky toe?

These are bigger issues and really a matter of bodily autonomy. If you truly have bodily autonomy, you can do whatever you want to your body. You can kill yourself, cut off your arms, give yourself cyborg eyes – no limits.

That’s why many ethicists argue we do not have full bodily autonomy. Of course egoists and hedonists say that we do, but others argue that it’s limited. Consequentialists look down on any changes that could have negative consequences later on, especially if other people are effected. Deontologists look down on any changes that impede upon one’s duty (but encourage changes that aid in the completion of one’s duty, so yes to cyborgs). Virtue ethicists warn of the dangers of vanity and superfluous use of resources.

Remember that ethics and the law don’t necessarily match. Ethically, you should be able to tie your tubes, and men especially should be able to do the equivalent procedure because it’s reversible for them. However, laws restrict women’s right to control their bodies.


For medicine, suicide is a big ethical debate. To start with, we must make a distinction between suicide by avoidance and suicide by choice.

·       Suicide by avoidance is when a person kills themselves to avoid a worse fate. For example, if you are kidnapped by a serial killer, you might choose to kill yourself before the torture in order to avoid it. Assisted suicide and death with dignity fall into this category as well.

·       Suicide by choice is when a healthy person chooses to end their life when there is no threat present to them. There are many motivations for this kind of suicide, including depression, stoic choice death, trauma, and fear. Psychologists like to say that suicide of this kind is irrational, but that’s an assumption. Rationality is determined by an agent’s ability to think clearly and make deduction choices. While depression, trauma, and fear can interfere with an agents ability to think clearly, not all suicide of choice is done with these interferences in play. Cato the Elder in ancient Rome killed himself because he was just finished with his life and didn’t care to wait for death. He wasn’t depressed or scared. He made a deductive choice in a clear state of mind. This suicide was perfectly rational.


Ethically speaking, the matter of rights is prevalent in discussions of suicide. Does a person have the right to end their own life? The rule of thumb in ethics is that a person can do something as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone – the No-Harm Principle. By definition, suicide hurts someone, but that someone is the agent. Some would argue then that the agent has the right to harm themselves, as long as they don’t hurt others. This includes inflicting trauma on others, so the “ethical suicide” methods are limited to those that don’t require a traumatic clean-up.

The problem with arguing that a person does not have the right to hurt themselves is that you are claiming that an exterior party has the right to govern how someone treats themselves. This becomes a slippery slope very quickly, leading to claims that a person doesn’t have the right to get tattoos, act as they please (without hurting others), or control their own bodies otherwise. If a person has the right to control their own body, then they have the right to take their own life.

Now, another application of the No-Harm Principle lies in the interpretation that this includes mental and emotional harm. If your best friend kills themselves, it hurts you. Thus, it is possible that a person does not have the right to kill themselves – not because they don’t have the right to their own body – but because they don’t have the right to cause those around them that kind of pain. This, naturally, means that completely isolated persons, such as an orphan with no friends, family, or dependents, who has no responsibilities to others, has the right to kill themselves because their death would go virtually unnoticed.


Let’s assume for a minute that a person has the right to control their own body and kill themselves. Are there any other arguments against suicide? At this point, it becomes a matter of theory.

·       A hedonist would say that an agent can only kill themselves if it ends perpetual pain and results in pleasure to the agent (possibly through some form of afterlife)

·       A consequentialist would say that an agent can only kill themselves if it produces the most pleasure for the most people. Thus, if your death causes your entire family grief, it’s not allowed. If it creates happiness (such as if your entire family inherits your vast fortune) then perhaps it is allowed.

·       A virtue ethicist would say that an agent can only kill themselves if they do so in the pursuit of virtue. For example, sacrificing oneself for others, or dying proudly rather than in a shameful way. However, ones’ death cannot perpetuate vices, such as dying in a rash manner, or for the sake of vanity. Specific to the Stoic, suicide is permitted when one has reached a point in their moral progress in which they are happy and have no further goals in life to pursue.

·       A deontologist would say that an agent can only kill themselves if doing so fulfills duties and doesn’t violate responsibilities. Thus, a parent cannot kill themselves, as they are responsible for their children. Your boss cannot kill themselves as it would violate their responsibilities to you, their employee. If a deontologist believes that they have a duty to preserve their legacy, dignity, and memory, then suicide becomes a very real option in times in which those things risk being marred.