Children in the United States are taught early on, that suicide is unacceptable. In school, they are taught that it is a symptom of mental illness. In church, they are taught that it is a sin against God. In Sunday school, American children are taught that only God can decide when their lives are to end, and taking such a decision upon themselves is both inappropriate and possibly unforgivable. In essence, God decides when our life is to end. The decision to end one’s life is most certainly not a personal choice.
In many parts of the world, suicide is criminalized. The criminalization of suicide has a historical basis. Louis XIV of France issued an ordinance stating that the body of persons who committed suicide should be “drawn through the streets, face down, and then hung or thrown on a garbage heap.” Additionally, the state confiscated all of the person’s personal property, depriving their heirs of an inheritance. (1) In other parts of the world, including the US, it is illegal to assist or even encourage others to commit suicide. Doing so can result in a felony, accompanied by heavy fines and jail time. For the person attempting suicide, an unsuccessful suicide attempt can result in involuntary confinement in a mental institution, and involuntary psychiatric treatment. Continuous treatment plans are put in place, that must be followed by the patient, or involuntary treatment will again ensue
My “foster brother” killed himself in 2013. He had been at odds with my family for quite a while. Living in my parent’s basement, he never contributed financially, despite being in his late 40’s. My father, being the kind soul that he is, took my foster brother in as an adult, and offered to assist in putting him through nursing school. However, despite my father’s best efforts, my foster brother failed out of school, with my father having co-signed the student loan. Beginning nursing school again elsewhere, my parent’s hopes remained high. They continued to believe that this relatively young man would graduate, get a good job, and ultimately pay back his student loans. However, this desired result did not occur. Instead, my foster brother committed suicide, leaving my parent’s “holding the bag.”
When my parent’s first told me of my foster brother’s suicide, my feelings emerged as conflicted. An episode of Jerry Springer came to mind, because of the sheer insanity he had wrought upon my family. But soon, the reality set into my mind. This individual, who had once been a dear friend, had left this life of his own accord, by suffocating himself with a helium-filled bag. On the verge of failing, yet again, out of nursing school, he had perhaps seen no other alternative but to take his own life. Or had done it to get back at us? One family member stated, “He killed himself because he was a loser and he knew it.”
Our friendship had ended, and my father had given him a non-negotiable move-out date. A million questions went through my mind. The families of suicide victims are often left with a plethora of questions, and no definitive answers. In essence, this became our reality.
In 2016, the United States recorded 44,965 suicides. (2) This represented the highest rate recorded in twenty years. Risk factors include “depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse. “ (2) Other reasons include exorbitant debt, divorce, break-ups-essentially the list is endless. One of the hardest parts is the reason may never truly be known.
Many people believe suicide should be a right. “The right to die is a concept based on the opinion that a human being is entitled to end their own life or to undergo voluntary euthanasia. Possession of this right is often understood to mean that a person with a terminal illness, or without the will to continue living, should be allowed to end their own life…” (2) Many people disagree. When my foster brother committed suicide, I refused to attend the memorial service, because my hurt, disbelief, and disgust, all compiled together, resulted in me stating, “We are not allowed to kill ourselves, so why is the church even giving him a memorial service?” My mother responded by stating that the church no longer viewed suicide as a sin, but instead as a symptom of a very severe mental illness.
In light of this suicide epidemic, many have begun to suffer from “suicide fatigue.” The sheer number of people threatening it, to whoever will listen and offer them sympathy, has resulted in what some have called a backlash. One member of my family has stated, “I do not believe in suicide prevention. If you want to kill yourself, go ahead and do it. Just please don’t talk to me about it.” It has been stated that when a person is truly suicidal they simply do it, telling no one. This remains the case with my foster brother who told no one of his deadly plans. Is my relative unreasonable in her statement regarding suicide? There is something to be said for “calling someone’s bluff.” For literally a year, a friend of mine told me consistently of her desire to kill herself. When I eventually told her to go ahead and do it if that is truly what she wanted, she immediately ended our friendship. I can only surmise that suicide is not truly what she wanted, and that her words to me expressing otherwise represented half-hearted attempts at attention that resulted in words from me she did not want to hear.
The debate over whether or not human beings should be able to kill themselves is still very real and ongoing. Some believe it is a right, while others consider it a crime. The epidemic of suicide in the United States has resulted in criminal legislation and mental health reforms. Once regarded as a crime, it is today largely decriminalized, and viewed by many as a sign of mental illness. Others, however, feel fatigued even discussing it, preferring to view suicide as an individual right. Wherever one stands on the spectrum, this largely explosive issue promises to remain a hot topic for many years to come.