Porto Forum: Philosophy and debate on Suicide

The 23rd EFPT forum took place on the 22th June 2015, with mental health professionals and researchers coming from all over the world to the most beautiful and charming city in Portugal. At that time, I was a 2nd year psychiatry resident in the Hospital de Magalhães Lemos. Psychiatry holds a particular advantage when compared to other medical specialities: it encompasses different, sometimes distantly related, sciences and schools of thought (one should think about the contrast between phenomenological and biomedical methods), constituting a privileged field of inquiry. Having said that, I have been always interested in philosophy so I took this opportunity to deliver a short oral communication about suicide. I have done part of this work under the supervision of Prof. José Meirinhos (FLUP).

Usually considered under the medical model in psychiatry, suicide remains a philosophical problem from stoicism to contemporary philosophy. I compared and contrasted philosophical arguments from the Classic Age (mainly Seneca), the Middle Ages (Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas) and Francisco da Vitoria. From the Classical to the Middle Ages, suicide’s epidemiology markedly changed. This occurrence is likely to mirror the philosophical paradigm at that time: the teachings of Seneca were outlawed and replaced by Scholasticism, which prohibited suicide, a condemnation mainly based on theological arguments.

My secondary goal with this presentation was to stimulate a response from the audience with open questions that have no easy right or wrong answer, such as: can suicide be the result of logical reasoning? Is suicide a civil right? Should psychiatrists always carry the duty to prevent suicides? That goal was, at least partially, achieved and I have learned a lot from this discussion. To some people, for some observations, I am indebted. Good luck to all of you.

Gustavo Santos
Hospital de Magalhães Lemos, Porto, Portugal