‘What is the most ethical way to commit suicide?’

New on spiked: 'Ask Ethan'. Our columnist Ethan Greenhart answers your soul-searching questions about how to live the green and ethical life.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

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Dear Ethan,

After careful consideration I have decided to end my life. Things haven’t been going very well for me lately, but more importantly I am keen to reduce my carbon impact on the planet. Like the average Briton I probably produce around 9.3 tonnes of carbon each year. I am 26 years old, and reckon I could live for another 60 years; if I end things now I will save a total of 558 tonnes of carbon, for which I believe future generations should be grateful. But I have a question: what is the most ethical way to commit suicide? I don’t want my self-destruction to be destructive to the planet!

Yours faithfully,
Zach Montague

Dear Zach,

I empathise with your selfless decision. All responsible studies show that there are just too many people living on this planet for life to be sustainable. At least you have had the courage to do something about it, in a small and local way.

In fact your suicide could actually save far more carbon than you realise. Think of the children you might have had, and what CO2 vandalism they could have done. Your death will also reduce the carbon impact of friends and family members you leave behind – all those journeys they won’t make to visit you, unnecessary presents they won’t have to buy or wrap. I estimate that over 60 years your suicide will stop your loved ones from producing 583.2 kg of carbon from gift-buying alone. So your death will be even more generous than you know!

To your main question, which is a good one. As we know, many suicides are harmful to the environment. I often wonder about the state of mind of people who asphyxiate themselves with exhaust fumes in their cars – do they not know that every minute their car is chugging out up to 70g of CO2? As for people who jump off buildings, they seem to give no consideration whatsoever to the toxic cleaning products required to scrub the pavement. Suicides should take more time to think about the impact of their deaths on their surroundings.

I think the key to a green and ethical suicide is to leave no trace of your body behind. Selfish families will insist on holding a ceremony to dispose of bodies, often without a thought as to the environmental impact. A church funeral means people driving miles, maybe even flying to attend, not to mention the damage done by a gas-guzzling old hearse. It might be argued that once buried, human bodies provide food for other species, but as one brave EU environment commissioner reminds us, embalming fluids pose a danger to ‘living organisms’ – maggots and beetles that feast on the deceased – and should be banned. Will your family stop and think of the poor insects?

Even worse, they might opt for cremation. Did you know that 437,000 wooden coffins – the equivalent of 140 000 trees – are wastefully burnt in these self-regarding ceremonies in Britain EVERY YEAR? Cremation pollutes the environment with dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. All your good intentions in taking your own life could be undermined at the touch of an incinerator button.

So ideally your suicide should leave nothing to bury or cremate. A colleague in America advises eco-warriors who choose Carbon Suicide to throw themselves off a boat, so that the body disintegrates on the seabed and makes little impact on the ozone layer. However, I’m not so sure. Whales, dolphins and fish have a hard enough time with pollution and nets without having to avoid or swallow human carcasses, shoelaces, belts and buttons. If you do take the sea-suicide option, please remove all your clothing first (and post to a green charity shop prior to death).

In my view, probably the most ethical way to commit suicide is by self-cremation. Go deep into a forest, douse the body sparingly and set yourself alight. The ‘experts’ assure me that there is as yet no environmentally-friendly flammable liquid to match petrol. However, before turning to the Great Satan gasoline, I think a truly committed individual might experiment with vegetable oil and bio-fuels – after all, if they can power green cars, surely they can burn a green carcass! But even if you have to use a few (carefully measured) cups of petrol it will do far less damage to the eco-system than a conventional cremation. (Ironically, an obese over-consumer may burn more easily.) What’s more, the few remains of your body can be recycled by foxes and other small carnivores. So you will be sparing the planet from your 558 tonnes of carbon and literally giving a hand to Britain’s beleaguered wildlife at the same time.

My last word to you, Zach: don’t leave a suicide note. Even using a single sheet of paper contributes to the felling of trees for profit and the threatened extinction of many animals. Why ruin your selfless ethical moment? Post it on MySpace as a shining example to future generations of how to choose life by ending it all. Good luck!

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about green and ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}.

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Topics Politics


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