Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe posted last week about a gentleman’s decision to make a leap of faith. A literal leap of faith. From this rock formation:
On December 21, 2012 Mr. Peter Gersten plans to hurl himself off of Bell Rock in Sedona, AZ. It is his belief that a cosmic portal will open at this time and in this place, and that he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity. He is fully willing to die if he is wrong about the portal.
Regardless of how we feel about Mr. Gersten’s beliefs, are we willing to let him die if he is wrong about the portal?
It is not a crime to commit suicide in the United States, but one can be committed involuntarily for psychological evaluation and treatment if one is deemed to be a danger to him or herself, i.e., makes his or her intention to commit or attempt to commit suicide known.
Our current understanding of the universe would suggest that Mr. Gersten has a very small chance of being correct about a cosmic portal opening when he takes his leap of faith. Given what we know of our world, we can assume that Mr. Gersten has a very high probability of killing himself. We might say it’s suicide.
So should we allow him to take this leap of faith, or should he be committed?
As a supporter of civil liberties I want to believe that Mr. Gersten should be allowed to do any dumbass thing that he likes as long as he doesn’t take anyone else with him or inconvenience others unduly. We allow people to do dumbass, life-threatening things all the time. If you want to risk death in a selfish endeavor, such as attempting to tightrope between two skyscrapers, raft down the rapids in March on the fresh thaw, climb Mount Everest, run across Death Valley, more power to ya. And we won’t just cheer you on, we’ll send TV crews and journalists to livecast your attempt because secretly we’re all hoping you’ll slip on the tightrope, fall into the chilly swirling water, get buried in an avalanche or collapse from heat stroke 20 feet from the finish line. Then of course we want you to muster superhuman strength and catch your balance, climb back in the raft, dig your way out of the snow, or regain consciousness and drag yourself across the finish line to where an ambulance is waiting to restore you. And then we’ll go out and buy your autobiography and our kids will talk about how they want to be just like you!
But I digress.
Assisted suicide is illegal in 48 of 50 states (Oregon and Washington, since you were curious). If we allow Mr. Gersten to attempt his leap of faith, are we his partners in (non?)crime?
And even if we say no, that this is not a crime, that indeed Mr. Gersten should be allowed to pursue his ambition…who the heck is paying for clean up if he’s wrong? I’m not being facetious; If the portal doesn’t open up, rescue workers are going to have to climb Bell Rock to clean up bits of Mr. Gersten wherever they may land, possibly endangering their own lives in the process. And Mr. Gersten, having left this world by very natural means having nothing at all to do with cosmic portals, is going to be leaving us the tab. Hmmm…should we allow him his leap of faith if he were to find volunteers and money to fund clean up in the event that he is wrong?
Or – as one of the commenters at Bad UFOs pointed out – should we just ask him to bring a damn parachute?