The courier. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1894-1903, September 22, 1894, Page 6, Image 6

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A few weeks ago The Courier published the larger portion of an
article written by R. G. Ingereoll on suicide, being a defense of self
murder. The wide publication of this article throughout the
country was followed almost immediately by an epidemic of suicides
and this still keeps up. Col. Ingersoll's glorification of suicide
aroused a storm of comment, and he has been criticised by eminent
divines, literary men, scientists and humorists. In answer to certain
of his critics he has now written a second article as follows:
First. In the article written by mo about suicide ground was
taken that "under many circumstances a man has a right to kill
This has been attacked with great fury by clergyman, critics and
writers of letters. These people contend that the right of self-destruction
does not and cannot exist. They insist that life is the gift
of God and that he only has the right to end the days of men; that
it is our duty to bear the sorrows that he sends with graceful
patience. Some have" denounced suicide as the worst of crimes
worse than the murder of another.
The first question, then, is:
Has a man under any circumstances the right to kill himself? A
man is being slowly devoured by a cancer, his agony is intense, his
suffering all that nerves can feel. His life iB slowly being taken. Is
this the work of the good God? Did the compassionate God create
the cancer bo that it might feed on the quivering flesh of the victim?
The man suffering agonies beyond the imagination to conceive, is
of no use to himself. His life is but a succession of pangs. He is of
no use to his wife, his children, his friends or society. Day after
day he is rendered unconscious by drugs that numb the nerves and
put the brain to sleep. Has he the right to render himself uncon
scious? Ib it proper for him to take refuge in sleep? If there be a
good God I cannot believe that ho takes pleasure in the suffer
ings of men that he gloats over the agonies of his children. If
there be a good God, he will, to the extent of his power, lessen the
evils of life. So, I insist that the man being eaten by the cancer a
burden to himself and others useless in every way, haB the right to
end his pain and pass through happy sleep to dreamless rest. But
those who have answered me would say to this man: "It is your
duty to be devoured. The good God wishes you to suffer. Your
life is the gift of God. You hold it in trust and you have no right to
end it The cancer is the creation of God, and it is you duty to fur
nish it with food.'
Take another case: A man is on a burning ship, the crew and the
rest of the passengers have escaped gone to the life-boats and he
is left alone. In the wide horizon there is no sail, no sign of hope.
He cannot swim. If he leaps into the. sea he drowns; if he remains
on deck he burns. In any event ho can live but a few moments.
Those who have answered me, those who insist that under no cir
cumstances a man has the right to take his own life, would say to
this man: "Remember where you are. It is the desire of your lov
ing, heavenly Father that you be clothed in flames that you slowly
roast that your eyes be scorched to blindness and that you die in
sane with pain. Your lire is not your own; only the agony iB
yours." I would say to this man: "Do as you wish. If you prefer
drowning to burning, leap into the sea. Between inevitable evils
you have the right of choice. You can help no one, even God, by
allowing yourself to be burned, and you can injure no one, not even
God by choosing the easier death."
Let us suppose another case: A man has been captured by sav
ages in Central Africa. He is about to bo tortured to death. His
captors are going to thrust splinters of pino into his flesh and then
set them o'u fire. He watches them as they make the preparations.
He knowB what they are about to do and what he is about to suffer.
There is no hope of rescue, of help. Ho has a vial of poison. He
knows that he can take it and in one moment pass beyond their
power, leaving to them only the dead body. Ib the man under obli
gations to keep his life because God gave it until the savages by tor
ture take it? Are the savages the agents of God? Are they
servants of the infinite? Is it the duty of this man to allow
them to wrap his quivering body in a garment of flame? HaB he
no right to defend himself? Is it the will of God that he die by tor
ture? What would any man of ordinary intelligence do in a case
like this? Is there room for discussion? If the man too' the poison,
shortened his life for a. few moments, escaped the tortures of the
savage, is it possible that he would in another world be tortured for
ever? Suppose another case: In the good old days when the Inquisition
flourished, when men loved their enemies and murdered their friends,
many frightful and ingenious ways were devised to touch the nerve
of pain. Those who loved God, who had been "born twice," would
take a fellow man who had been convicted of heresy, lay him upon
the floor of a dungeon, secure his arms and legs with chains, fasten
him to the earth so that he could not move, put an iron vessel, the
opening downward, on his stomach, place in the vessel several rats,
then tie it securely to his body. Then those worshippers of God
would wait until the rats, seeking food and liberty, would gnaw
through the body of the victim. Now, if a man about to be subject
ed to this torture had within his hand a dagger, would it excite the
wrath of the "good God" if with one quick stroke he found the pro
tection of death?
To this question there can be but one answer.
In the cases I have supposed it seems to me that each person
wouldhave the right to destroy himself. It does not seem possible
that tho man was under obligation to be devoured by a cancer; to
remain upon the ship and perish in flame; to throw away the poison
anJ be tortured to death by savages; to drop the dagger and endure
the "mercies" of the church.
If in the cases I have supposed men would have the right to take
their lives, then I was right when I said that "under many circum
stances a man has the right to kill himself."
2. I denied that persons who killed themselves were physical
cowards. They may lack moral courage; they may exaggerate
their, lose the sense of proportion, but the man who
plunges the dagger in his heart, who sends the bullet through his
brain, who leaps from some roof and dashes himself against the
stones beneath, is not and cannot be a physical coward. The basis
of cowardice is the fear of injury or the fear of death, and when that
fear is not only gone, but in its place is the desire to die, no matt- r
by what means, it is impossible that cowardice should exisf. The
suicide wants the very thing that cowardice endeavors to escape. So
the man, forced to a choice of evils, choosing tho less, is not a
coward, but a reasonable man. It must be admitted that the sui
cide is honest with himself. He is to boar the injury of it alono.
Certainly there is no hypocrisy and just as certainly there is no
physical cowardice. Is tho man who takes morphine rather than be
eaten to death by si cancer a coward? Is the man who leaps into tho
sea rather than be burned to death a coward? Is the man who
takes poison rather than be tortured to death by savages or "Chris
tians' a coward.
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