There seems to be a growing tendency on both sides of the atlantic to validate the morally complex act of suicide. I’m posting this blog entry to help clarify the debate for anyone unfamiliar with the issues. I am asking people to consider the consequences of encouraging people to think of suicide as a fair response to the world when things turn nasty. Even if the suicide you’re advocating appears to back up a political point you’re fond of or appears to validate the awfulness of someone’s suffering it’s still morally complex to stand on the side of a person who surely you must think has done the wrong thing.
In the UK a number of suicides and suicide attempts have been reported recently as being the fault of bullies who gave their victims no choice but to kill themselves. A similar approach appears to be being taken in the US and to me it is a very worrying trend. The bullies are variously, kids at school, teachers, the media and the UK Government’s benefits policy. The suicide of a nurse last year, blamed by the popular press on a couple of ‘wacky funster’ style DJs who made a prank phone call to her, is a widely known example.
Back in the 90’s suicide almost seemed fashionable. When Kurt Cobain killed himself my generation was devastated. I recall many of them rushing to the defence of their hero and justifying what he’d done to his family. Around the same time a personal friend of mine also took his own life. In the immediate aftermath I was furious at the society he’d turned his back on and I became quite an angry person for a while.
Then another friend, around the same age, also killed themselves and I was forced to reconsider my perspective.
Suicide is defined in most cultures as “self-murder”. That’s a definition I am more comfortable with. Part of dealing with the grief of losing someone like that comes, I think, from understanding this dynamic. The person you know has done something you disagree with on a profound level. It’s not disrespectful to think that, it’s an expression of the fact you loved them and still want them to be around. If another person had killed them you would likely be baying for their blood and possibly never forgive them. In this instance though you have no one to blame in such a way.
Furthermore blaming others is, I think, entirely the wrong thing to do. It implies you think they were partly right to take their lives. They weren’t, no one is, whatever problem you face it’ll seem less awful if you give it time. Life is hope, stand on the side of those who want us all to live side by side.
Self-murders always carry ultimate responsibility for their deed. That said, “sympathy” for their motives could encourage more suicidal people to take their lives. Keep that in mind when posting on this topic. People of this mind set look for excuses to murder themselves. Words of encouragement are not helpful and ironically though those who encourage it the most are the ones who think they’re being “sympathetic” by blaming society, the media, and anyone other than the victim.
Nick Margerrison (my twitter here).
A piece on Disinfo recently, “Is suicide selfish?“, brought this to mind but there’s a number of stories with this angle around at the moment.
An earlier version, written directly in response to the suicide of a nurse in the UK, exists here on my personal blog.