Public Hearing

Phenomenology of Death and Suicide Wishes



Death and suicide wishes are part of the complex phenomenon of suicidality. Nevertheless, a differentiated consideration of their interrelationship is necessary. Although suicidal desire can be interpreted as a concise expression of a wish to commit suicide, not every wish to commit suicide leads to a latent or manifest suicidality. On this basis, the German Ethics Council discusses in a public hearing the − possible − freedom of decisions to commit suicide.

On 22 October 2020, an event on “A right to commit suicide?” focused on normative questions of free responsibility. Now, the whole spectrum of suicide desires is considered in order to examine these desires more closely in selected life situations. In concrete terms, the Ethics Council takes a closer look at aspects of suicidality in children and adolescents, in connection with mental illness and in the context of palliative care, as well as at rational suicide. In addition to the internal motivations of persons that wish to commit suicide, the external influences are addressed. The aim is to identify similarities and differences in life situations.

The German Ethics Council discusses e.g. the following questions with experts and the audience:

  • What are the crucial criteria for a responsible decision to commit suicide in the context of suicide research?
  • Which (e.g. temporal) dynamics are to be considered regarding personal death wishes? How durable are these wishes?
  • What functions do suicidal acts have for the self-concept of a suicidal person? Can death wishes be determined with sufficient reliability and distinguished from one another with regard to suicidality?
  • What role do – both individual and cultural dominant – ethical and/or religious patterns of interpretation play in the articulation of death wishes?
  • Is there an empirically proven connection between suicide wishes and suicide acts on the one hand and the existence of legal suicide assistance (organisations) on the other?

A video recording and a transcript (both in German) are available on the German version of this website. The event is held in German.