Philosophy and suicide

Suicide is an interesting topic. Aside from the sticky subject of euthanasia, it has many meanings which are rarely discussed due to its sensitivity and the desire to maintain the dignity of the dead. While suicide has not been a crime for many years, people still use the word ‘commit’, suggesting an offence against society. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe suicide as a selfish act, due to those it hurts around the deceased, while the person in question takes an eternal rest.

Contradictorily, it can also be an act with great meaning. Gilles Deleuze killed himself in 1995 by jumping out of the window of his apartment. Some critics propose that Michel Foucault deliberately killed himself by having promiscuous gay sex. In the cases of these philosophers, something profound is often presumed. The reams written about their deaths discuss the philosophical basis of their decisions, portraying them as a knowing statement and a carefully considered and justified choice. I believe this is a mistake. Suicide is always a confused act of last resort and does not emerge from a position of strength and comfort. Even when these decisions are retrospectively justified in suicide notes, the attempt is often to hide the truth of overwhelming fear and desire to escape.

Jacintha Saldhana hanged herself after being on the fooled end of a prank phone call. There was a lot of press covering the issue at the time, mostly focusing on the tearful and sufficiently remorseful faces of the Australian perpetrators. The sensitivity of her death compels people to avoid any meaningful discussion other than castigation of those perceived to be at fault, doing her an injustice in the process. For most people, being made a fool of of is not sufficient humiliation to want to die. For Jacintha it was, and this points to the other factors like depression in her life that caused her to kill herself.

The media is compelled to spin a narrative of tragedy around the affair. Because of this, her actions become a symbol of strength, a righteous action against an oppressor that we should stand behind. In this narrative our only choice is to support her death as a rightful action. With Jacintha and the philosophers by seeing their acts as symbols we fail to see them as humans. Something else the narrative does is to paint suicide as an inevitable consequence, rather than something we had a hand in and could have prevented. They are all actions spurred by confusion, irrational thoughts and emotions that spiral out of proportion. Preventing someone jumping from a bridge is not a futile act leaving the person to subsequently gas themselves in their cars, it’s been shown to prevent them from trying again. It’s only with this view that we can help those with similar troubles who are not masters of the universe but temporarily crushed by it.