A recent comment on an earlier post–The Shocking Truth of Suicide–sets me thinking. The reader’s thoughts are quoted below, followed by my response:
“It’s the religious bias: killing yourself is a sin. … Suicide is a precious gem, to be used only one time, if we must. It’s a gift from whoever gave us a big brain. No other creature can do it, and doing it to somebody else is murder. It’s a basis human right. Face it.”
These statements present a viewpoint opposite to our standard thinking, where we look at suicide as tragic. The author makes valid points. But there are some wrinkles to consider:
First, when a person commits suicide, they take permanent action against transient mental conditions. Every time I’ve neared suicide and managed to live past the impulse, I’ve been glad to still be alive. Grateful I was spared. This despite the fact that while in the depths I wanted nothing but death. So one reason to discourage suicide is that the urge usually passes, but death doesn’t.
And by the way, people who survive the jump from the Golden Gate Bridge often say that the moment they started falling, they knew they’d made a mistake.
Second, when a person kills him- or her- self, others suffer. The pain of losing a loved one to suicide differs from the pain of bereavement due to old age, illness, or accident. It feels like a judgment on the worth of the relationship. When my mother took her own life (I was six) it scarred me for life. It takes a long time to heal from a loved one’s suicide.
Third, usually only one part of the total self wants to die. If the entire self were on board with the concept, suicide wouldn’t be so difficult. The heart and lungs battle for life even as the ego tries to end it. The hallmark of a good suicide plan is that the act is committed without chance of reversal. A person jumps off a high bridge, pulls a trigger, or takes pills that sedate before the body starts to feel pain. It’s obvious the organism wants life even if the mind doesn’t. In that sense, suicide is indeed homicide. It’s a murder of a living, breathing body.
Fourth, a failed suicide attempt can lead to grievous injury. Back when I was a physician who operated on eyes and faces, I saw a number such cases. One man destroyed his entire face and both eyes with a shotgun, but the pellets missed his brain so he lived. No matter what problems he faced before his suicide attempt, he faced much worse problems afterward.
Most of these objections evaporate in the case of a person facing imminent death from terminal illness. The chance of recovery and an easier life no longer exists. The condition is not reversible. Loved ones will soon confront bereavement no matter what. The body will die anyway.
But except in cases of impending death from disease, attempting suicide seems like a tragic, destructive, dangerous act aimed at ending pain that’s likely transient. It’s not judgment that makes suicide prevention a good idea; it’s compassion.
And yet, I do understand suicide’s call. I’ve attempted it twice myself and contemplated it many times. Ending life can seem like the best choice. But the allure is a dangerous fraud perpetrated by a suffering ego that craves relieve regardless the cost to future, family, friends, body, and health.
It’s not suicide I judge harshly, it’s the lie that makes it seem like a good option.
With all that said, it’s worth keeping in mind the point of the post that prompted the comment quoted above: suicidality most often grows out of adverse childhood experience, out of early bereavement, abuse, chaos, and neglect. So there is an answer: heal the past to secure the future.
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Last reviewed: 27 Sep 2013