Some Thoughts on Suicide

by: Nate

August 13, 2014

WHAT-DREAMS-MAY-COME_XLMost of us have healthy survival instincts.  We feel great dismay when someone commits suicide, unable to reconcile our intrinsic will to live with the thought of someone who has lost that will.  No animal in God’s creation would do such a thing.  But a suicidal person does not live in a normal world.  To understand them we have to leave normality and descend into the abyss of depression.  And once we’ve descended we will understand that suicide doesn’t really seem like a such bad thing from down there.  In fact, it could be seen as an expression of courage, of desperate willpower, of faith in something beyond the nightmare of existence.   A university professor of mine once witnessed a man jump to his death from a building in NYC.  A crowd was gathered below.  Some were taunting the man, encouraging him to jump.  Others tried to talk him down.  He finally decided to jump, and my professor said he will never forget the look on the man’s face as he fell: he was smiling.

Robin William’s death prompted me to revisit his beautiful film What Dreams May Come, where he plays a modern day Orpheus who goes to hell to redeem his wife who commits suicide.  After a long Dantesque journey he eventually finds her in a dilapidated and haunted house which reflects her disfigured emotional world.   She doesn’t recognize him but something touches her as he recounts the story of his marriage and their tragic life together.  He explains that on earth she had been committed to a mental institution.  Professional colleagues couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just snap out of it.  They were impatient because she couldn’t meet her deadlines.  Because of her mental illness, he himself had reached a breaking point and almost divorced her. But love drew him back.  He visited her in the institution offering to stay with her through thick and thin, even if it meant embracing her unsettling world of madness and sorrow.  In a flashback, we hear him telling his wife, “What’s true in our minds IS true, whether some people know it or not.”

She weeps when she hears him say this, not tears of sorrow, but tears of happiness because he finally understands that what she is feeling is real.  What’s true in our minds IS the truth.  His journey to understand his wife’s truth reminded me of Christ’s atonement: “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions…that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

We can interpret Christ’s death as a suicide.  He was given many chances to escape but took none of them.  He egged the Pharisees on by telling them He was going to destroy their beloved temple and build it in three days, deliberately deceiving them by refusing to reveal His true meaning.  Jesus descended the path of the suicide that He might experience it from its own perspective.

I’ve never been suicidal, but I can imagine myself falling into it under extreme circumstances.  I’ve lived a blessed life, full of loving family and good fortune.  But even with all the blessings, I still have a frequent vision in which I see myself pointing a gun to my head and pulling the trigger.  Having gone through a severe bout of depression, I sometimes feel a kind of perverse admiration for suicides, people who descend so low they come out through the worm hole onto the other side.  During one of my darker moments, I came across Hermann Hesse’s Klein and Wagner It presents suicide as it sometimes is: liberating, even beautiful.  Yet the final secret is that suicide itself is a comical and foolish gesture, swallowed up in the transcendence of eternity.

boatAt the moment he fell, when for the fraction of a second he hung between the edge of the boat and the water, it came to him that he was committing suicide, a piece of childishness, something not bad, certainly, but comical and rather foolish. The pathos of wanting to die and the pathos of dying itself coalesced within him. It amounted to nothing. His dying was not necessary, not anymore. It was desirable, it was fine and welcome, but it was no longer necessary…

…The universal stream of forms flowed on, the forms inhaled by God and the other, the contrary forms that he breathed out. Klein saw those who opposed the current, who reared up in fearful convulsions and created horrible tortures for themselves: heroes, criminals, madmen, thinkers, lovers, religious. He saw others like himself being carried along swiftly and easily, in the deep voluptuousness of yielding, of consent. Blessed like himself. Out of the song of the blessed and out of the endless cries of torment from the unblessed there rose over both universal streams a transparent sphere or dome of sound, a cathedral of music. In its midst sat God, a bright star, invisible from sheer brightness, the quintessence of light, with the music of the universal choirs roaring around in eternal surges.

27 Responses to Some Thoughts on Suicide

  1. rose on August 13, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Christ commit suicide? The cross is a suicide pact of sorts and he did it for himself? this is so twisted.

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  2. A Happy Hubbie on August 13, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    I have had only a small bout of depression. I can recall having to muster up all of my will to just get up out of bed because – and I am a morning person! I knew my family needed my income (not “me” as much as the $). From that I can sympathize more with the emotional state that can drive someone to wish the pain would just end.

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  3. Douglas on August 13, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    I’ve been saddened by the loss of Robin Williams b/c of his incredible talents which have both entertained and largely uplifted throughout the years. I can’t imagine why the motivation to take his own life, however; by it’s nature mental illness is difficult to understand. We can at this point only express heartfelt sympathy to the family in this terrible moment of personal tragedy. Probably the best thing we could take from this (but I’d rather have a still-living actor and comedian, thank you) is that just as we feel the loss of one prominent individual who succumbs to suicide; so every person that does it, or even is driven somehow to consider it, is likewise important to SOMEONE, but especially our Heavenly parents!

    Hence the real question is, HOW do we PREVENT suicide? What better can we do to give hope to those that despair? I’d rather hear the counsel of those that deal with this problem professionally. Cetainly the Savior had this in mind: “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

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  4. builderwill on August 13, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    Thank you for your mention of “What Dreams May Come”, my favorite William’s film. I saw it and then took my fiancee (now wife) to see it. She didn’t understand my fascination with the film. I suppose I hoped she would understand that that was how much I loved her. I saw it as an allegory of Christ’s love. William’s character is even named Christopher. I have relatives who have committed suicide and was always bothered by the claims that suicides are destined for damnation. I’m glad the church in recent years has said, more accurately, that we don’t know how they will be judged. I believe there is a pamphlet by Elder Ballard titled, “On Suicide”

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  5. Nate on August 13, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    Thanks for mentioning the Christ allegory builderwill. You said it better than I did in my meandering and confusing summary.

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  6. Winifred on August 13, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    If people are determined to take that final step, there is nothing you can do. But, try try anyway to dissuade them. There was a church film a few years back where this man was so distraught he was about to jump to his death. There was a hand on his shoulder which was Christ’s. Even though this was a movie the men’s face haunts me to this day as he turned around to look at Christ.

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  7. Winifred on August 13, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    A lady reported as she was heading down the stairs of one of the New York City building on 09-11 she saw a man who chose to jump rather than burn. The look on the Man’s face indicated that he would have
    preferred to live.

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  8. brjones on August 13, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    Not all suicides are tragedies. I’m not saying this applies to Robin Williams, but I think it’s a mistake to assume everyone who considers or commits suicide is mentally ill, depressed or disturbed in some way. Some people simply elect to end their lives, as is their choice.

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  9. Nate on August 14, 2014 at 5:34 AM

    Excellent point brjones. I think medically assisted suicide in particular deserves some discussion. I also don’t think that all suicides are tragedies. Mistakes sometimes, an inevitable mental condition, or maybe even an acceptable escape hatch from a life that is irredeemably torturous for reasons beyond someone’s control or ability to escape in any other way. I don’t believe that suffering is always beneficial. Some suffering is simply a waste, and the tragedy is to prolong it, not to end it.

    The problem with suicide often isn’t the person who does it, but what he leaves behind. Yes, he may have been suffering in ways we can’t comprehend, but after it happens, it leaves family members and acquaintances feeling terrible guilt, loss and betrayal. They constantly ask themselves what they could have done to prevent it, or how could he be so selfish, or how could God allow someone to suffer so much.

    But often suicide is no different than any other terminal disease, except that the disease effects the brain, not the heart or lungs. Of course we grieve the death of anyone to cancer, but we grieve suicide more. Why? In my mind it is often the same.

    As Winifred says, there is often nothing you can do, although I agree we should do all we can to prevent it. But we need to let go of the guilt after it happens. If you contributed to that person’s misery in his lifetime, sure, it should be a wake up call, but we all hurt each other involuntarily or selfishly, its human nature. Rarely does it end in suicide, even when we’ve sometimes been much more cruel. We all have to let go and move on. It is the present and future that counts.

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  10. Frank Pellett on August 14, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    brjones (#8) – “Not all suicides are tragedies.”

    What a horrible sentiment. It’s on par with “some people deserve to die”. A more extreme sentiment would be “people of a certain age, or with a certain disability, should just die so they aren’t a burden on others”.

    No one but God is a good judge on whether or not someone should die, not even for our own selves. We’ve very little comprehension of all the circumstances, and no idea what the future may bring that could change everything. How would you feel if you “helped someone to die” and found that they’d been misdiagnosed, or that a complete cure was only a day away?

    To the OP – It’s a stretch to say Jesus committed suicide. Your reasoning removes the agency the others involved had to do things differently. Does a police negotiator commit suicide when the criminals he goes in to negotiate with decide to kill him? If those involved had not chosen to kill Jesus, I do not believe the atonement would have failed. I believe He died from the effects of taking on the sins, pains, and infirmities of the world, not from His wounds. He could not have died until it was finished, no matter what happened to His body. Jesus also knew, of a surety, that He would die and be resurrected three days later, according to the Plan. Not one other person can know what the future will bring, and thus cannot be prepared to make the judgment on if any part of life would be “better off”.

    Suicide is not the same as risking your life for others. A woman who becomes pregnant is not suicidal, no matter how high the risk of dying. Yes, you can stretch the meanings to make it look similar, but it’s not the same.

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  11. brjones on August 14, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Frank Pellett, the position you are espousing is extremely condescending. Please re-read my comment and tell me where, exactly, I intimated that anyone deserves to die. And while I agree that your hypothetical statement is extreme, I’m not sure why you’re addressing it to me, as I didn’t say anything of the kind. I believe that each person’s life is his or her own, to do with as he or she chooses. If I consciously and reasonably chose to end my life, I would not want you or anyone else following my death with declaratory statements that it was a tragedy and I must have been out of my mind. Frankly, what I do with my life is none of your business. I respect your right to believe that god exists and holds every life to be sacred, but that’s nothing more than your opinion, and you don’t have any right to expect others to feel the same way or to live their lives according to your sense of morality. And honestly, if god does exist, it is similarly none of his business what I do with my life. That’s my choice, and mine alone. I agree wholeheartedly that depression and other mental illnesses are extremely serious, and that as a society, we should make every effort to address them and prevent suicides that result from them. But it is a mistake to smugly assume that no one would ever voluntarily end his or her own life short of mental illness or lack of self control, and I reassert my original statement. The meaning and import of every death is contextual. I can think of a number of circumstances in which I would not consider a suicide to be tragic.

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  12. Dexter on August 14, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Frank, your negotiator hypothetical fails to illustrate anything relevant regarding whether Christ’s actions could be deemed a suicide. To be comparable to Christ, the negotiator would have to have known he would die before deciding to enter negotiations with them.

    Christ chose to move forward with the plan, all the while knowing he would be killed. Frankly, he prodded decision makers towards crucifying him. When questioned, he could have made some kind of defense, but he continuously said, to this end was I born.

    Christ’s death has always been called a sacrifice. Clearly it was a father letting his son be sacrificed, and the son allowing himself to be sacrificed. I have never heard it called a suicide, but there is certainly a reasonable argument that that is not an outrageous claim. One could easily argue that Christ’s suicide was heroic. I could think of many other examples of how a suicide could be a heroic act.

    My view on the typical suicide (not Christ’s or any other heroic circumstance): if someone feels that awful about their life, there is no room to criticize them. I only feel sadness that they considered their life to be so dark, painful and bleak. That is the tragedy, that in most suicides an individual would rather die than continue on in this world.

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  13. atohanie on August 14, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    brjones (11) – ” Please re-read my comment and tell me where, exactly, I intimated that anyone deserves to die.”

    Pretty simple – “Not all suicides are tragedies.” This intimates that some suicides are good. For yourself, you would be determining, based on your own limited view, that you do not deserve to live. Taken to the extreme, this kind of thought leads people to believe they have enough information to decide if someone else deserves to die.

    “But it is a mistake to smugly assume that no one would ever voluntarily end his or her own life short of mental illness or lack of self control” You are greatly mistaken if you think anything I’ve written is smug. I’d also not given any indication of reasons for suicide, and would certainly never characterize it as “lack of self control”.

    As for “expect[ing] others . . . to live their lives according to [my] sense of morality”, I’d say, not any more than you do. My preference would be for no one to commit suicide. Death is tragic. Killing is tragic. To have some measure for the worth of a human life, where someone dying can be offset by some good, is frightening.

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  14. Frank Pellett on August 14, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    Blah, that was mine. WordPress can be unhelpful sometimes

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  15. Frank Pellett on August 14, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    Dexter (12) – “if someone feels that awful about their life, there is no room to criticize them.”

    Of course there is no room to criticize them. That does not make suicide an acceptable option. If someone feels that awful about their life, then our first priority should be helping them out of that feeling, mitigating whatever circumstances created it.

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  16. Dexter on August 14, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    I think if you told someone that what they did or what they are thinking of doing is an “unacceptable option”, that would be deemed a criticism. I agree we need to help them as best we can, but I squirm when people criticize those who have killed themselves. I’m not saying you are doing guilty of this, I am just explaining a that I have a big problem with that. When I hear that someone has committed suicide, I feel awful that that person felt so bad that they couldn’t go on. But I hear others say things like “how could he/she do this to their family”, etc., and it really bothers me.

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  17. Dexter on August 14, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    **I’m not saying you are guilty of this

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  18. brjones on August 14, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    Frank, it’s a pretty big leap from saying something isn’t a tragedy to saying something is proactively good. When an elderly person dies of natural causes after a full life, it is not necessarily good, but also probably not a tragedy. You’re simply attributing something to me that I’m not saying. And although my comment about mental illness or lack of self control were more accurately directed to prevailing attitudes about suicide generally, and not your comment specifically, I do think your surety in your position that god has more right to decide my fate than I is somewhat smug.

    With respect to the expectations of others, you’ve made absolute statements with respect to morality, not me. You stated unequivocally that no human being has the right or ability to judge whether someone should die, including ourselves. That’s an absolute moral statement that you said explicitly applies to every human being. I made no such statement. My personal opinion is that we, as human beings, do have the right to make such decisions for ourselves. I’m not sure how you’re extrapolating that to amount to me expecting other people to live by my sense of morality. I don’t care how anyone else lives (or ends) their lives, which is self-evident by my stated position. I think people can decide for themselves, while you think people don’t have that right.

    All that said, I don’t really have any problem with the statement that some people deserve to die. I don’t think that position is really very controversial. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible to know the ins and outs of another person’s circumstances sufficient to make an accurate determination of who such people are. Fortunately, sometimes those people make that determination on their own. I think this is the vast, vast minority of suicides. But I don’t see any problem with that position conceptually.

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  19. brjones on August 14, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    Of course suicide is an acceptable option. Who is any human being or society to say otherwise?

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  20. Jenonator on August 15, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Nate your post is by far the best blog writing I’ve seen. Beautiful perspective and analytical thought on Robin Williams.

    While I understand others opinions that suicide is tragic, I do not agree. Like another commenter says, each death is contextual.

    Jesus most certainly did do suicide except it can’t be considered a sin in his context.

    He knew his existence would transcend his life in earth and I’m sure other suicide victims have that point of view as well. I do.

    As Christopher said, it sounds like that movie What Dreams May Come” was an allegory if Christ’s life. I am determined to watch it now.

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  21. Nate on August 15, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Thanks so much Jen, I’m really glad to hear it resonated with your beliefs. I’m sure you’ll love the movie. It’s on Netflix, at least here in the UK.

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  22. Douglas on August 16, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    #19 – I can’t think of a better example of rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ than this statement, “Of course suicide is an acceptable option”. Like HELL it is! The very nature of our instinct for life and self-preservation and protection of loved ones utterly belies this notion. Perhaps, Brjones, you confuse culpability with acceptability. Did Mr. Williams have the “right” to end his life before its due course? No, he didn’t! Do WE judge him? No, we don’t, if for nothing else than the poor man, riches and fame notwithstanding, suffered so terribly inside. Only a loving Savior, who paid the prices for his sins as well as the rest of ours, can render judgement, and I’m certain that He will show every bit of love and consideration for Robin Williams as He does for us all. What any of us who doesn’t “accept” suicide as an option likely feels is how could we have intervened to save this man’s life? In the end, that’s what matters, that life is precious, and we don’t squander it, either in an overt act of “suicide”, or, as is more commonly done but less dramatically noted, kill ourselves slowly with bad habits and despair.

    It’s going to be ever hard to enjoy any of Robin Williams’ works, especially of comedy, knowing the pain he undoubtedly suffered and mourning his tragic demise. I’d almost rather this incredibly talented man had been a relatively “nobody”, maybe a wisecracking schoolhouse janitor or some other humble tradesman, as long as he was living out his natural life happily. Nevertheless, I wish him peace in the eternities and pray his family can deal with his loss.

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  23. brjones on August 16, 2014 at 5:26 AM

    Douglas, I think you’re the one who is confusing two things. Just because I think suicide is an acceptable option doesn’t mean I don’t believe life is precious or that we shouldn’t do everything we can to prevent suicides. I believe both those things. But enough with the pious paternalism. I don’t know Robin Williams and I won’t pretend to understand why he did what he did. But neither do you, and platitudes about no one knowing what’s best but god or Jesus are just that. No one; NO ONE, knows what’s in a person’s heart and mind better that that person him or herself, and no one has any business telling another person what he or she should do with his or her life. And while I believe most suicides are the result of depression or other similar forces, it is the height of arrogance to say that a grown adult can never make a reasoned choice about his or her death. And frankly, no matter how loudly you argue otherwise, you’re simply wrong that we don’t have the right. As sentient human beings, it’s a right no one can deprive us without invasive physical compulsion. And that’s saying nothing of the constraints of your church’s doctrine with respect to free will. It is an acceptable option for me, because I say it is, and I’m the only person that has a vote in the matter. If it’s not an acceptable option for you, then you shouldn’t do it.

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  24. Douglas on August 17, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    Brjones wrote: “Just because I think suicide is an acceptable option doesn’t mean I don’t believe life is precious or that we shouldn’t do everything we can to prevent suicides.” This seems contradictory. Are we discussing “acceptability” in the legal sense or the philosophical and religious sense? If the former, though I share what appear to be some Libertarian views, I can’t see how any rational society can just allow someone to off himself as an absolute “right”. By definition suicidal desires and attempts are taken as signs of extreme mental illness, and cannot be casually disregarded.

    No, I can’t see society just standing by and allowing the mentally ill to off themselves, no matter how otherwise convenient that might be. Of course, if someone is bound and determined to do themselves in, they’ll ultimately succeed, and certainly I can’t see imposing yet another oppressive bureaucracy simply b/c the notion of yet another celebrity suicide is too politically unpalatable. But SOME effort must be made to show that this sort of madness not only is NOT acceptable, but also that we care. Heck, if even Inspector Callahan could go out of his way to stop some idiot from doing himself in…

    ” No one; NO ONE, knows what’s in a person’s heart and mind better that that person him or herself, and no one has any business telling another person what he or she should do with his or her life.”

    The essence of Libertarianism, which I agree with strongly. So taking to the philosophical and religious part, we don’t exercise our right to free speech and attempt to persuade a suicidal person to reconsider? We don’t teach that it’s wrong and a sign that someone isn’t right in the head? This is where I have to risk unpopularity and say, no, with all due respect to Robert Altman and the M*A*S*H franchise, suicide is NOT “painless”…it certainly isn’t for the aggrieved family member left behind!

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  25. Dexter on August 17, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    Douglas, you contradict yourself. You judge Robin Williams and then you say you don’t judge him. You said he did not have the right to end his own life. That is pretty judgmental. You can’t say he did something he didn’t have the right to do and claim that you don’t judge him.

    And I don’t think the term “right” is really what you should use. It can mean too many things. But I think according to any reasonable definition, Robin Williams certainly did have the right to kill himself. I’m sad that he felt that miserable about continuing his life, but he certainly had the right to commit suicide. Or do you believe he had the right to the pursuit of happiness but not the right to escape from his life via suicide?

    Your comment, “I’d almost rather this incredibly talented man had been a relatively ‘nobody’, maybe a wisecracking schoolhouse janitor or some other humble tradesman, as long as he was living out his natural life happily” is also pretty judgmental. Your opinion of Robin’s life is irrelevant. All that matters is how Robin felt about his own life. For a guy who claims not to judge, you sure judge a lot.

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  26. Dexter on August 18, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    Douglas, you said: “No, I can’t see society just standing by and allowing the mentally ill to off themselves, no matter how otherwise convenient that might be.”

    I think this is a bit ridiculous, no one suggest standing by and allowing the mentally ill to kill themselves. Of course we should do everything we can to help any suicidal person feel better. But ultimately, every living person should have the right to speak, to stay silent, to pursue happiness, or to avoid potential perpetual misery if they do not wish to continue living.

    You asked, “So taking to the philosophical and religious part, we don’t exercise our right to free speech and attempt to persuade a suicidal person to reconsider? We don’t teach that it’s wrong and a sign that someone isn’t right in the head?”

    I don’t know what you mean by the word “wrong” here. Suicide is always wrong? We already discussed Christ’s suicide, and I presume that was the most right thing you think ever happened. Is suicide wrong if one had information that would lead to the deaths of millions and knew he would surrender such information under torture, so he killed himself to save millions of lives? I don’t think so. You can try to persuade people not to kill themselves without calling it wrong. And even if it is wrong, let’s assume that for the sake of argument, that doesn’t mean one doesn’t have the right to do it. I think it’s wrong to think blacks are inferior to whites. But people still have the right to think that. I think it’s wrong to laugh and make fun of ugly people. But people have the right to do it, and they do it all the time.

    You also said suicide is not painless. I agree completely. But how is that relevant to this discussion?

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  27. brjones on August 18, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    Douglas, I disagree that suicide is “by definition” a sign of severe mental illness. It’s silliness to assume that no rational, lucid person has ever made the conscious choice to end his or her life. That said, I think such incidents are in the vast minority, and I agree that the issue of suicide should be addressed and we should try to prevent it where possible. With respect to society, though, I don’t think there’s any conversation to be had about “allowing” suicide as a right. It is a right, whether society pikes it or not. Speaking of society not allowing it is similar to trying to control what people think. Society doesn’t have to condone it, but it has no business, and frankly, no ability to prevent it. How one’s life ends is one of the few absolute rights human beings truly have.

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