Sunday, 1 January 2012

Szasz in the 21st Century. 11. Suicide Prohibition (2011). Inner Circle Seminar 172 (22 January 2012)

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Peters
August 2008

Thomas Szasz
in the 21st Century

11. Suicide Prohibition:
The Shame of Medicine

Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 172
Sunday 22 January 2012
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This seminar will examine what Zvi Lothane has called ‘another masterpiece’ by Thomas Szasz – his first book of his tenth decade, his eleventh since the millennium: Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine (Syracuse University Press, October 2011).

Szasz’s book focusses on the medicalizing of suicide – particularly ‘suicide prevention’, but also ‘physician-assisted suicide’.

Here is an extract from the second page of this book of just over 100 pages:

‘Let us not forget Robert Servatius's defense of his client Adolf Eichmann in his trial in Jerusalem: It [killing by gas] was indeed a medical matter, since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and killing, too, is a medical matter.... Self-killing proved to be even better suited for medicalization. After the Second World War, medical control of the suicidal person – called suicide prevention – became an important part of the profession of psychiatry.’

Some of those who have followed Szasz this far may nevertheless find it disconcerting when he continues:

‘The formal medicalization of physician-permitted or physician-provided voluntary death – called physician-assisted suicide [PAS] – soon followed. Typically, PAS is simply the semilegal bootlegging of barbiturates by doctors. Medical ethicists and civil libertarians view it as progress in patient autonomy. I see it as just the opposite.’

And here is Szasz’s summing up on the penultimate page:

‘In The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), Albert Camus famously declares, There is but one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Seventy years later, everyone knows that suicide is a psychiatric emergency, not a philosophical problem.’

The book includes an analysis of ‘suicidal ideation’ as a pseudo-medical concept; a critique of the ‘suicide prevention’ practised by Viktor Frankl, who is often regarded as an exemplary existential psychotherapist; and examinations of many other aspects of the medicalization of suicide. 

It is common for people to praise or denounce Professor Szasz’s position without being clear what it is. This seminar will try to do justice to the logic and ethics of his uncompromising argument. If one thing approaches certainty it is that in this seven-hour seminar we shall not reach a unanimous verdict. You are cordially invited to join the discussion, which will be, as always, the heart of the seminar.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ (
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £50, others £135; some bursaries; mineral water and liquorice allsorts included; payable in advance; no refunds unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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