Opinion: Suicide

POSTED: 09/10/12 12:45 AM

So today is suicide prevention day. We find this a rather interesting initiative, especially because it seems to interfere with people’s freedom of choice. That does not mean that we have no empathy for families who have lost a loved one through suicide – on the contrary. But the phenomenon is almost screaming for some reflection.
At an awareness training in the United States, one participant failed to show up one day. It soon became apparent that the troubled man had suicidal tendencies. At the same time, he appeared to be somewhat of a pain in the neck for his young wife.
So what to do? Rush to his house with all sirens blaring in an effort to prevent him from taking his own life? Continue with the awareness training and pretend that probably nothing would come of it?
The trainer had the answer that, in all its simplicity, blew most participants in the training out of their socks.
“What,” he said calmly, “would give anybody the right to rob him of this experience? If he wants to do it, let him go ahead.”
Later the participants learned that the belligerent young man was alive and kicking, possibly to his wife’s dismay.
Suicide Prevention Day seems to be designed to take a different approach: the prevention of suicide at all cost. That could be inspired by an almost biblical belief that every life is sacred. On the other hand, even St. Maarten’s constitution is confusing on this point. Under fundamental rights, in chapter 2 of the state regulation, we read: “Every person has a right to life. This right is protected by national ordinance. No one shall be deprived of life arbitrarily.”
Article 6 had the following to offer: “Everyone shall have the right to inviolability of his person, subject to such restrictions as may be imposed under or by virtue of national ordinances.”
So citizens have a right to life, but the constitution does not impose the obligation to live. And then there is of course the stipulation that citizens are entitled to the inviolability of their person: this could be read as the right to do with yourself whatever you want – including ending your own life.
Now we know that in the Netherlands suicide is a punishable act, but that is obviously a rule that defies logic; since the prosecution of an offender ends with his or her death, nobody has ever been prosecuted for committing suicide. The only ones the long arm of the law is able to touch are those who attempt to take their own life: they could be locked up in a psychiatric hospital against their will.
The relationship between suicidal people and their environment is obviously troubled, otherwise people would not be suicidal in the first place. That environment – family friends, colleagues – mostly fails to understand the condition of someone with suicidal tendencies. And when communication breaks down, and pressures becomes too much, that is when suicides occur. The reasons could be manifold: a broken relationship, financial problems. Bullying, pressure to perform – the list is endless.
But at the end of the day the philosophical question remains how a society ought to deal with suicide. Is it something that belongs in the penal code? Is the choice to take one’s life a fundamental right that ought to be respected? Should others interfere and do their utmost to prevent suicides?
These are valid questions and today is an opportunity to spend some time on looking for their answers.

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