August 21, 2023


Yes to Life: Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and created a new psychology in which the search for meaning--not pleasure or power--is mankind's central motivational force. (Samuel Kronen, Aug 18 2023, City Journal)

When his father was afflicted with pulmonary edema in the camp, Frankl used a smuggled vial of morphine to ease his pain.

I asked him: "Do you have pain?"


"Do you have any wish?"


"Do you want to tell me anything?"


I kissed him and left. I knew I would not see him alive again. But I had the most wonderful feeling one can imagine. I had done what I could. . . . I had accompanied my father to the threshold and had spared him the unnecessary agony of death.

This was Viktor Frankl: a man who could squeeze out a moral victory from the death of his own father in a concentration camp.

Between the wars, Frankl gained valuable experience working at a youth counseling clinic dealing with teen suicide. After finishing his medical degree, he started working at the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna, mostly in the female suicide ward. These were his first courses in suffering.

Suicide remains among the most complex moral issues. It's a testament to Frankl's humanism that he took an unequivocal stance against suicide in almost every instance. "I take the position that even in the case of an actual suicide attempt," he argues in Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything (1946), "the doctor not only has the right but also the duty to intervene medically, and that means to save and to help if, and to the extent that, he can."

Frankl would even develop a procedure, using amphetamines, to revive people who had attempted suicide. This invited the ire of his colleagues, who told him that he was playing the role of fate--including one female colleague who went on to try to kill herself, and whose life Frankl would ultimately save. His response to this criticism was to turn the issue on its head:

It is not I who wishes to play the role of destiny but the doctor who abandons a suicide to his fate, who gives fate free rein and sits on his hands where he could perhaps still intervene to help, who is the one who tries to act the part of destiny. Because if it had pleased fate to really allow the suicide in question to perish, then this fate would certainly have found ways and means to prevent the dying person from falling into the hands of a doctor while there was still time.

It was here that Frankl's vision really took hold. The nihilism of the modern age that lacked moral concern for suicide, Frankl later argued, was, at bottom, the same antilife sentiment motivating Hitler's euthanasia programs.

Posted by at August 21, 2023 12:00 AM