death: suicide, euthanasia and the death penalty. Looking at certain aspects of each and discussing the issues concerning society. Also providing a sociological out look and economic basis for the arguments.
Death: Three Chances
Suicide is not a new phenomenon it has been around as long as mankind. The causes of suicide have been discussed on many occasions, and different theories have merged regarding the reason for which someone would commit suicide. There have been many studies undertaken in order to understand the phenomena in greater detail. Certain social factors were identified as being causal or contributing to this phenomenon, and suicides was broken down into different types, with different causes.
Henslin just as Durkheim before has looked at suicide, which Durkheim defined as any action which, leads subsequently to the death of the individual, either through positive action, such as hanging oneself or shooting oneself, or by way of negative action, such as refusing to eat.
In the book ' Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach' by Henslin we can see a broad range of approaches to the discipline of sociology. In applying them to the subject of suicide we can apply different approaches.
If we first consider the structural functionalist perspective. This is where the family is seen as the key to maintaining social order. The family is a unit that fulfils the critical functions for both society as well as individuals, giving protection and security in practical as well as financial terms to members of that family as well as acting as a regulator on behavior.
If we consider that suicide rationalized by Durkheim as a result of the way the individual fitted in with society, and that of that we need to consider the idea of regulators that he introduced theorized about. These regulators are an integral part of society and act as a regulating influence on both the physical instincts and the moral instincts and feelings. (An example of a social regulator is the institution of marriage. These regulating factors have a definite impact with the individual and in society as a whole. The way in which these regulators effect the moral feelings of society would fit in with the structural functionalist approach. Questions that may then be considered would be issues such as what was the family background of the suicide or potential suicide, how did they fit in with their family and how were their personal relationships. This could lead to theories being undertaken in terms of the reasons behind the suicide. The four types of suicide classified by Durkheim were egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide, anomic suicide, and fatalistic suicide. Each of these has their own set of characteristics. Each can be seen as emanating from a different type of person. Durkheim looks not only at the family but also 'patterns of behavior that characterize a social group' Henslin, 2000).
Egotistical suicide was as a result of too little or poor levels of social cohesion, whereas altruistic suicide is an excess of social integration and a lack of individualization. Therefore the family background may be seen as pertinent to this level of enquiry, however there are some aspects that structural functionalism does not consider which may also be relevant in the study of suicide. However, as Henslin tells us we must also be careful in any conclusions we reach as "A spurious correlation is one where the apparent correlation between two variables is actually caused by a third variable" (Henslin, 2000).
If we consider the aspect of Social Conflict then we may find a greater degree of affinity with the ideas of Karl Marx where it is a natural state for there to be conflict, with those who are exploited and those who exploit. This paradigm considers the macros forces, such as the economic condition, and the way that this may influence a fail and cause conflict within that family.
With the ideas of Durkheim's altruistic suicide there is also some relevance as this covers the idea of the external influences on the family and their place in society. Altruistic suicide may be seen as typified by mass suicides such as that of the heavens gate followers. Here there may be questions regarding the way the family was influenced and how, but the paradigm also has some shortfalls it does not allow us to consider the interpersonal relationships that will have surrounded the suicide or the cohesion in the family that were allowed in the former model
In the final model of analyses, that of symbolic interaction we see that it is focused on the interaction between individuals and keeps families together. The interactions are seen as verbal and none verbal, therefore suicide itself may be seen as an interaction in one form. Here there is the understanding of the individuals creation of their own reality, and the importance of the family when it comes to socialization. It is a complementary viewpoint to those already mentioned.
This only focuses on the micro perceptive, and it is here that we may find individuals ability to make rational judgments for them selves is effected. They may be the victims of a social expectation, as seen in the first paradigm, so that they will commit suicide. To undertake this action is to put forward the individual must have little self-worth.
Just as the egotistical suicide the individual who undertakes Altruistic suicide is very unhappy, but they see things in a different light that the egoistic, they see things as if nothing feels real, the whole world and their interaction with it feels unreal, whereas the egoistic suicide will see things as all too real.
Altruistic suicide in some circumstances Durkheim claimed was 'chronic'. The example cited may be those cases where in the military soldiers would regularly commit suicide for a variety of reasons. It may be due a disappointment as simple as not gaining leave or for a feeling of failure on a mission.
These all need to be considered in the overall picture in order to understand what is going on. The modern world is very complex, and to limit oneself to only one perspective is not to take a 'down to earth approach'.
In recent years the subject of assisted suicide or Euthanasia has been one of the most controversial and hotly debated subjects. With one respect the current social framework places great value on the personal agency paradigm, with the concept of autonomy and freedom of choice ranked as an important aspect of a free society. However, the idea of assisted suicide, arguable an ultimate expression of the individual autonomy of this type of framework is seen in terms of right and wrong, not of choice. When this is applied to those with a mental illness or condition then the role of limited personal discretion may be asserted as valid, however, when it is a case of terminal illness and a well considered decision taken by the patient for personal reasons then the arguments become weaker, but still emotive. Therefore the argument as to whether this practice should be legalised is one that has no easy solution.
If we consider the role of assisted suicide and apply the social paradigm of the functionalist paradigm or conflict paradigm we can see we may add a different perspective to the argument. In the functionalist paradigm we may argue that the doctor can be seen as the gatekeeper (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000), an appropriate parallel in a situation such as this, where the majority of the power may lie within the hands of a physician, as without their help the suicide would not be assisted.
When we consider what it meant by assisted suicide then we look to an autonomous decision made by an individual that is then aided by a healthcare professional, usually a physician (Donchin, 2000).
However, the conflict perspective may be seen as the most disturbing. In this paradigm there is a basic premise that society is not based on equality and is characterised by the manner in which some sections of the community will be advantaged whilst others are disadvantaged (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000), This may be seen as a form of Marxist approach (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000).
The disturbing factor when applied to the subject of assisted suicide is that it appears to be true; when we look at a key factor in the motivation to request assisted suicide there appears to be glaring inequalities in health care delivery. This can be seen as a source of conflict within a society regarding the consequences of allowing such action. In a recent study on Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legalised there was a 60% positive response to the desire of potential suicides that they did not want to be a burden (Kaldjian, 2001). We may see that this is a symptom of society and the limitations of the help that can be afforded by the medical profession rather than a true autonomous and independent decision to end life. This we…