I like Washington Postcolumnist Michael Gerson. He writes movingly today about preventing suicide. From his column:
Suicidology is a well-studied academic field. Suicide is most prevalent among the young and the old. It is associated with depression, feelings of hopelessness, substance abuse and low levels of serotonin in the brain. Females attempt suicide more often than males. Males complete it more often than females. Suicide rates are higher among people who are divorced, separated or widowed, and lower among the married. But such quantification provides only the illusion of control. The mind does not experience itself as a scientific object but, rather, as an interpreter of reality. One’s brain can contemplate one’s spleen objectively. One’s brain cannot consider one’s brain objectively, because its judgments seem real even when they are distorted.
The rational arguments against suicide are compelling. It causes intense suffering for loved ones that few would intend in their right mind. It is not a valid expression of autonomy or choice, because it ends all autonomy and choice. It represents the tyranny of one moment of hopelessness over every future moment of possibility.
But it is the peculiar cruelty of hopelessness and severe depression that they attack insight and perspective. People can experience themselves as someone they hate and cannot escape, except by shedding the self. In “The Savage God: A Study of Suicide,” A. Alvarez argues, “The logic of suicide is different. It is like the unanswerable logic of a nightmare, or like the science-fiction fantasy of being projected suddenly into another dimension: Everything makes sense and follows its own strict rules; yet, at the same time, everything is also different, perverted, upside down. Once a man decides to take his own life he enters a shut-off, impregnable but wholly convincing world where every detail fits and each incident reinforces his decision.”
For those who yield to the logic of the nightmare, it is difficult to be harsh or judgmental. Empathy, like grace, can reach to the grave.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize those pushing suicidal people toward different conclusions about self destruction. And that’s where Gerson misses the obvious—as so many similar articles do these days. There is a multi million dollar suicide promotion campaign ongoing in the country and around the world—aided and abetted by the mainstream media—that says that if you are sick, or disabled—suicide is empowering and rational. Indeed, it claims that such suicides are so right and worthy of being honored that the state should permit third parties to help make sure the suicidal person is made dead. As far as I am concerned, that is the express and implied fundamental message of assisted suicide advocacy.
It seems to me that society can’t be half against suicide and half for it. You can’t have suicide prevention and assisted suicide promotion at the same time. The former message is subsumed by the latter. Suffering suicidal people don’t think that the quality or reasons for other guy’s suffering makes suicide okay, but theirs does not.