Although suicide has traditionally carried a negative sanction in Western societies, this is now being challenged, and while there remains substantial public concern surrounding youth and elder suicide, there is a paradoxical push to relax the prohibition under certain circumstances. Central to the arguments behind this are the principles of respect for autonomy and the importance of rationality. It is argued here that the concepts of rationality and autonomy, while valuable, are not strong enough to substantiate a categorical "right to suicide" and that the concepts of "understandability" and "respect" are more useful and able to provide the foundation for responding to a person expressing a wish to die. Roman suicide, sometimes held as an example of "rational suicide", illustrates the effects of culture, tradition and values on the attitudes to, and the practice of, suicide.
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