An Unanswered Question on the Economics of Suicide
By Bryan Caplan
What don’t more people with painful, terminal diseases commit suicide?
Religion dissuades some of them – that’s the point of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. But most people quickly ignore religious teachings when they seriously cramp their style.
Some people might worry about hurting their families. But is suicide at the end of a life well-lived really harder for your family to bear than watching you die a slow, horrible death?
As an economist and a movie buff, the explanation that naturally appeals to me is that people refrain from suicide so their families can collect the life insurance. But the idea that life insurance won’t pay on a suicide is largely a myth. My friend in the industry and all the sources I can find say that the suicide exclusion only applies for the first two years after the initial purchase of the policy.
The only explanation that I can’t easily reject: By the time you want to commit suicide, you can’t do it on your own anymore. That’s the premise of The Sea Inside, and it makes some sense. For this story to work, people have to be extremely impatient, unwilling to sacrifice their last good days in order to avoid horrible pain in the foreseeable future. But I can buy that.
Update: Several people point to the evidence that people with severe disabilities still have pretty high life satisfaction. But as far as I know, these are studies of people who have lost capabilities, not people who live in constant, severe pain. I can believe that people get used to being a quadriplegic. I can’t believe that people get used to physical suffering. Furthermore, if you check with the GSS, subjective health does have a strong effect on overall happiness.