Should we prevent suicide?

News footage of the 9/11 disaster shows some people jumping to their death from a burning building, since they obviously preferred to die a minute sooner by hitting the ground rather than living a minute longer at the price of experiencing the horror of burning to death. If we all recognize those actions as a rational choice those people had the right to make, then we have already accepted in principle that suicide can be a reasonable choice people should make for themselves. Other cases of suicide differ from this example only in degree, since longer periods of potential future life are given up, or lesser horrors are avoided, but in principle the issue is the same: People may rationally prefer death rather than living longer at the cost of enduring future suffering they can’t avoid.

But even though suicide is legal almost everywhere in the Western world, we still see governments conducting public campaigns to prevent it. While the government can certainly legitimately try to influence the public to make better choices even where the alternatives to those better options are legal, such as when the state runs tv ads to persuade teenagers not to exercise their legal right to leave school at 16, in such cases government only tries to persuade, not prevent. But everywhere we see people deemed to be ‘a danger to themselves’ because of suicidal tendencies – that is, the tendency to do something legal – being detained against their will or committed to an insane asylum. Where I live there is a bridge which people have used to commit suicide but now the government has erected barriers along the edges so that people can no longer jump off. Similarly, in nursing homes, where there has always been a high suicide rate – for obvious reasons! – wall hooks are now being designed so that they collapse if the weight of a human body is attached to them, just to prevent old people, who may be sick, lonely, and suffering, from escaping their misery.

But since suicide can be a rational choice, since it is not illegal, and since it is obviously infinitely more important to the person planning suicide that he die than it is to society that he live, why do we still try to prevent suicide, as though we could somehow always know for certain that it is always preferable for everyone to continue living, which the 9/11 example proves is false?

Some critics object that since suicide is permanent, people should be prevented from possibly making the wrong decision, but few major decisions in life are without permanent effects – such as marrying the wrong person, having a child when you shouldn’t have, investing your money in the wrong enterprise, joining the army during a war, picking the wrong major in college, etc. – yet we are left free to make all these mistakes which leave permanent marks even if we later struggle to get out of them.

Exceptions might have to be made for a few extreme cases, such as temporarily insane or intoxicated people who would quite likely regret their choice to die later, and for young teenagers who are ready to throw themselves into the river because the captain of the football team didn’t ask them to the prom. But generally people should be allowed to act on their own decision.

I don’t necassarily know if this is actually suicide. It was more of a choice.

The people who jumped to thier death did not elect to die. They simply chose one horror over another. People have survived skydiving accidents where the shoots did not open. I’d bet they had at least a tinge of hope of this happening to them. Assuming they had the time to think about it at all. They were probably in a state of disbelief.

My thought; perhaps the Blessed Mother met them on the way down and gently took them by the hand.

A few points;

  1. People jumping from the towers couldn’t give consent; thus they were unable to commit a mortal sin. – No one would argue that fire is any less of a threat than someone forcing you to do something.

  2. People jumping also had chances of survival. Some people have survived very long falls without parachutes. A simple example from just googling it is this; where a window cleaner fell forty seven floors and survived.

So; people Jumping from the towers were not committing suicide; they were either paniccing and trying to escape fire (impediment to consent) or were trying to increase their chance of survival (no sin at all).

So. I do not feel that what they did constituted a “rational choice” to end their lives, even if it was a rational choice; consent impinged it.

But generally people should be allowed to act on their own decision.

The Govt. shouldn’t legislate against people who commit suicide; but it should try it’s best to inform the public about the issue; and give people the help they need; and certainly not make it easy - erecting barriers is a good idea.

People don’t have a moral right to slay themselves.

That’s the real issue, isn’t it?

Pretty much most if not all other decisions are not immediately life ending. Of course the argument could be made to join the military during wartime and volunteering for risky missions could be thought of as “suicidal”, or smoking 6 packs a day, etc.

I look at it in a slight different way. Secular society is schizophrenic when it comes to life. Abortion, euthanasia of the sick and elderly seem to indicate the low value society places on life. On the other hand, society for the most part is not concerned with matters of eternal life. The POV is that you get one chance, one go-round and you need to make it worthwhile. Quite paradoxically, methinks, society doesn’t want perfectly good people who have “worthwhile” life left to end that life. People who are sick, elderly, etc. and no longer “useful” are not given the attention when the commit suicide.

Example: When actors and other high profile people kill themselves they are mourned far and wide. Now part of that is “Hollywood hype”, granted. But they had “so much potential”, not only in their careers but to help humanity, save the whales, etc. That’s the stuff we hear. While it may be true, they’re looked at as having “use” to society.

The sick or elderly, on the other hand, are not useful to society. So when they go, “it was for the best”, or so we hear.

Just a theory…

there is nothing “obvious” about their state of mind and to make such a judgement is highly presumptive. It is highly presumptive to judge either the state of mind or state of the soul of anyone who commits or attempts suicide, either. Unless you are privileged to know the minds and hearts of those who jumped best be silent.

This is very true. I once heard it wisely spoken that when you hear of a person’s suicide, you should never ask “why?”
God Bless,

I think the OP goes off the rails in stating the premise “If we all recognize those actions as a rational choice . . . .” I can’t think of a less rational situation than being trapped at the top of one of the Towers with thousands of gallons of burning jet fuel aflame below you and literally melting the building in which you’re trapped 100 stories above the ground, facing the probability of being burned alive. “Rational choice?” We’re not talking Dr. Kevorkian here.

I agree 100% with the last statement that suicide is immoral. I tried suicide 3 times, the
last time being April 2010. I was gone from the church for 45 years and due to very deep
depression and bipolar, 2 of the tries were while I was gone from the church. I returned to
the church 15 months ago and the 3rd try was after returning. Although I took a handful
of high dose opiate painkillers, I wasn’t serious, because I called 911 immediately after.
If I was serious I would have died. I know I will never try suicide again. It was a mortal sin.
I confessed it to my priest and received absolution. I am happy I called 911. I pray Mary
protects me from myself in many matters because being bipolar I often don’t see things


That example just illustrates my point, though it is not essential for it. It could be that those people were jumping for some reason which would surprise us, rather than for what appeared to be their logical motivation in that situation, but this doesn’t affect the argument. Rather, since we can all agree that there are physical states – let’s say being blind, deaf, in intractable pain, paralyzed from the neck down, and dying on a cot in a Turkish prison – which would make continued life worse than death if they could not be corrected, then we can also agree that there can be rational reasons for suicide.

Someone could object that some mysterious being in the sky actually ‘owns’ our lives and has the right to determine when we die, so we should not commit suicide even in such a desperate circumstance, but since this is the morality/ethics rather than the spirituality forum, I am assuming that only objective reasons in principle open to rational discussion count. In this I am following the philosopher John Rawls’ view of what can count as acceptable reasons in public policy debate based on ‘public reason.’

But even if we assume that some invisible entity owns our soul and thus forbids us to take our own lives rather than letting him decide when we should die, this requires us to answer the difficult question whether people who eat too much fat, never exercise, and never visit the doctor are guilty of committing slow suicide and so should be eternally punished post-mortem. If this amounts to the sin of suicide, but just in slow motion, then are we all guilty of suicide unless we become physical fitness nuts and spend all day on the treadmill feeling the pulse in our neck and eating granola? This is the problem with trying to give moral rules an absolute foundation in the Divine Mind rather than just a relative foundation in human conventions. Because God-given rules have to be perfect and absolute, they become too brittle to work in the complex, subtle, empirical world in which we live. In contrast, the relaxed, approximate, common sense approach of a human court of law would have no trouble in saying that a quick self-killing by jumping out a window was suicide, while a slow self-killing by spreading too much butter on your toast was not.

I would like to echo what others have already said regarding the decision of people to jump from a burning building. I will not presume to know the state of their minds, and I don’t think the OP knows the state of their minds either. But, looking at the evidence, I would suggest that these people were instead hoping against all odds that they might survive the fall. Presumably, these were people who were not intent on dying that morning when they went off to work and when faced with a wall of fire and smoke, or faced with a jump, I think one could legitimately surmise that they perhaps thought they would take their chances with a jump, in the hopes of living, not in the hopes of dying. I think of an animal trapped in one of those steel jawed traps, and gnawing off his leg. Do you think he WANTS to gnaw off his own leg, or is he doing it because it’s the only solution he’s got?
On the general topic of suicide, absolutely yes, yes, yes, we should do everything we possibly can to prevent suicide.
Surely you must have considered the many, many victims left behind in a suicide? What about them? I can think of three instances in my own life.
One was a co-worker. He walked in front of a truck on the freeway one foggy morning. The note was found in his car. The reason he cited in his note was that he was underwater on the mortgage and, facing a lay-off, thought he should end it. He left behind a son, 11 months old, and his daughter, who turned four the following day and had to be told that daddy would not be taking her horseback riding for her birthday as planned. He also left behind a young widow, his high school sweetheart. Not to mention the truck driver, who I met at the funeral. He was just doing his job one morning, like he always did, and he ended up killing a man. To say that the driver’s life was also destroyed would not be an overstatement of facts.Over a little bit of money. He left his children fatherless, his wife widowed, his parents devastated and a random man terrified to go back to his job, all over a little bit of money. And the real rub? The planned layoffs never happened. He would have kept his job. And, because his death was a suicide, the life insurance policy was null and void. Worried about finances, he left his wife and children penniless. Does this sound like a rational decision to you?
The second funeral was my friend’s father. I remember we all pulled up to his mom’s house one night, and we saw Toronto license plates in the driveway and he said ‘Oh, awesome, my cousins are here! Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ The four of us walked in the house and it was obvious by the swollen eyes and silence that this was not a social trip. His mother stood up and said ‘Nikki, I’m sorry, it’s your father. He killed himself tonight.’ That moment began Nikki’s descent into drugs. Previous to that he was a vivacious promising college student at U of M. Within months, he had spent all of the college money his parents had saved for 20 years, all 40K of it, on cocaine, crack and heroin. He was kicked out of school three months later. Once he had burned through the college fund, he started to spend other peoples’ money, namely that of his friends. He robbed several of them, including me. It was another eight years before he got his life straightened out, but by then permanent damage had already been done. His life is back on track, but it will never be the life it could have been. When his father took his life, he took his son down with him. His father had always battled depression and alcoholism. I guess in the end, they won, and he lost.
And last but not least was Izzy. He hanged himself when he was 19. His girlfriend was the one who found him. His life had never been easy, he didn’t have any parents to speak of and when we met him he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. I will never forget the conversation I had with my friend the night we met him. I turned to her and said, ‘I like him. He’s funny! How long do you think til he offs himself?’ She said, ‘A year at best. We will miss him.’ She was wrong. It was two years later. All of us friends chipped in to have a proper funeral for him. His girlfriend never got over it. The whole group of us, we never quite got over it. Not all the way, at least.
So, I would actually argue that suicide is in fact NEVER a rational choice. It is a final act of desperation.

PS - I do have a friend who we successfully prevented from committing suicide, so it’s not all sadness. He was expected to show at a party, and when he wasn’t there, we all started talking, and someone mentioned he had said something, well, off, that morning to him. And, actually, he had said something off to each of us recently. We were immediately suspicious and called the police and headed over to his house. The door was locked, and, worse, the garage was locked and we could hear the engine running. The police arrived, bust the door down, and pulled him out. That was ten years ago now. He still can’t talk about it without tears welling up. He works for a non-profit in the city, is married, has beautiful twin boys. And he says ‘I almost missed all of this. I don’t even remember what for, but I can’t believe I almost missed all of this.’
What if suicide wasn’t illegal? The police would have had no right to enter the house, and we would have all stood outside, helpless, and listened to the sound of a friend dying. I don’t see how that would have been a better outcome.

It’s a non-issue. We cling to life as long as we can. That’s not only instinct but an innate desire/love for existence. Death is made palatable for a believer and we all go in the end no matter what but to voluntarily leave before any compelling reason is to dis life-it’s to go against our very own natures. But great physical or mental pain/anguish can greatly diminish any compelling reason to stick around. :shrug:

Your 9/11 example is awful. Trying to escape a burning building is NOT suicide, even if the esape results in a fall to one’s death.

Suicide is still illegal in many places, and It should still be illegal. People who attempt suicide are typically placed in psych wards for observation for a day. I lost a friend to suicide. She was not rational at the time. Even if she had been rational, she had no right to kill her parent’s daughter and my friend. :frowning:

Yes, we should try to prevent suicide. If anyone reading this thinks that suicide sounds like a rational choice for their present difficulties, then I strongly encourage them to call a suicide prevention hotline or seek psychological counselling.

To quote from Fulton Sheen’s old tv show, “Life is Worth Living.”

Are you seriously comparing the people that jumped on 9/11 to deliberate suicide? HAVE SOME COMMON DECENCY.

People can survive a fall from that height. It is possible though unlikely. In fact it is probably more possible than suriviving a burning building filled with gasoline. Jumping might have been a rational choice with the hope for a miracle along with time to reflect on asking for God’s mercy. This is a really stupid comparrison.

Statistically, suicide is one of the highest reasons for death in America ALONE, not to mention the rest of the world. Many of those cases have absolutely nothing to do with people killing themselves over absurd reasons – teenagers killing themselves over not finding prom dates and their favorite sports teams losing are among some of those absurd reasons. I’m not saying they don’t happen, they very well could.

But 90% of the people who commit suicide have suffered from depression, other mental diseases, or substance-abuse, chemical imbalances or the brain or a combination of all four. That’s a recipe for disaster (alcohol and depression that is). It’s quite logical to assume people actually suffering from these diseases of the mind aren’t ‘mentally stable’, and it’s clearly not a RATIONAL decision. I mean, how many people in their right frame of mind commit or contemplate suicide? Hardly any according to statistics. When has a rational thinking person – teenager or not committed suicide over their favorite sports team losing? If they did, there was certainly something going on.

I’d say with suicide being the highest cause of death, people SHOULD prevent it and give as much help as they can to people suffering from depression, etc. This is coming from a person who has lost a twenty-two year old sibling to suicide, so I apologize for sounding overly touchy on the subject.

I’m so sorry for your loss. My prayers to your sibling, and to you.
I also have to echo everything you’ve said here. Of those I know who committed or contemplated suicide, ALL battled mental illness, and that often combined with drugs, alcohol, or even just a string of bad events, led to their untimely and unfortunate deaths. Some of them, their struggles were more obvious than others, but they all did struggle.
My friend Izzy, who I referenced in my earlier post, he just had a tragic life all around, no support system, no family, involved with gangs from a young age. He suffered from deep depression, and anxiety, too, and I don’t think he ever sought medical treatment from a physician or a psychologist. Instead, he often chose to self-medicate with heroin, cocaine, whatever he could get his hands on. I remember, one of the last time we saw him alive, he had been clean for a while, and we came into his apartment, and he was shooting up. An argument ensued, and I will never forget his words. He said ‘Do you think I LIKE this? Do you think I’m HAPPY? Do you think this is what I WANT to be doing?’ Of course it wasn’t. He was a slave, a slave to the drugs, a slave to his illnesses. In the end, that illness did him in. Anyone who thinks depression isn’t as deadly as cancer hasn’t seen depression.
Again, my prayers go out to you and your family. I don’t think there is a death more painful than a suicide.

rwillenborg, thanks for your kind words.

I’m also sorry for the unfortunate end to your friends life, he will most certainly be in my thoughts. I think if people would start showing more awareness (and having it so suicide wasn’t such a taboo subject) people would be more willing to share their feelings of depression, etc. I also think when that happens the deaths of suicide victims would drop more and more each year.

I agree that mental illness is equal to that of a cancerous disease. It might not be as rapid in some cases, but the end effect is the same.

Oh, I agree so much with your post…don’t know what it would take for the stigma of mental illness to go away…but, it needs to…too many people suffer in silence, and wind up talking their lives instead of getting the help that IS out there. Sad.

You know I have read of 3 young men in the news who have taken their lives*** this week alone??*** Two were YOUNG…one was 13-think the other boy was 12-13. The other was a young college freshman…

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