As a therapist working in mental health, this statement is tantamount to heresy. I will always, as a therapist, do all that I can to help my patients recognize the gift that life is, to keep them safe and alive. This, however, is in my professional role, my role as an individual. As a society, I think that it is time that we recognize the power that suicide gives a person.
Before making my case as to why suicide may be a decision to lauded rather than eschewed, I want to highlight that I believe that there is no greater gift than the gift of life, and that, in the majority (perhaps the vast majority) of cases, suicide is something that we should work to avoid, both in ourselves and in the lives of others. Many times, suicide is an option that people will take as a response to acute suffering – the loss of a job or home, the dissolution of an integral relationship, the suicide of another person in our lives. In these cases, it is our ethical obligation to intervene and provide a reminder that acute pain does not last forever.
What then, should we say when someone chooses suicide as an answer to a chronic pain? To someone suffering with MS, who wants to end their life on their terms, in a way that does not expose their children to the suffering that it would cause. To someone with Alzheimer’s, who remembers most things still, and wants to die with their memories intact, remembering their own wife, husband, son or daughter? To the veteran, who comes home with multiple limbs and friends missing, who has decided that she no longer wants to live in her current state? It is easy to use religion and the fear of Hell as the reason to not take one’s own life. Perhaps a loving God, who sees the pain in His child that was so great that they had to take their own life would not punish them for simply being in pain. This, however, is a theological question far beyond my expertise.
At a very basic level, I believe that suicide is the last form of power that some people will ever have. In an increasingly commodified world, where people feel less and less in control of their own lives, control over one’s life is something that should be held in the highest regard. Straying out of the conversation on suicide for a moment, it should be noted that rectifying the societal organization that has caused this lack of power in individuals should be a high priority.
The argument presented here is not one encouraging people to take their lives. It does not deify the act of suicide, or argue that when someone feels like they are powerless that suicide is the best way to give a sense of power back. The argument presented is that when someone in our lives takes their own lives, perhaps we need to look it in a different light. Is it a tragedy? Almost always. Yet there may be more to the situation than is originally seen.
As always, these posts are a tool for me to think through issues, so that I can better understand how I relate to them. Through this piece, I believe it is evident that we need to develop the mechanisms to give people power in their own lives. Perhaps the power over one’s own life falls under that category.