Final Non-“Solution”: Does One in Dire Circumstances
Who Chooses Suicide Really Have No Better Options?
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: I posted this in response to another post about Robert Kirby’s column, “Don’t be in a selfish rush to commit suicide.” Another commenter, while allowing for the possibility that a decision to take one’s own life could be motivated by mental illness, wrote in part, “I also think it can be the result of a rational thought process that determines the benefits that accrue to the individual taking his or her life outweigh the cost of their continued existence.” Kirby’s column and responses thereto can be found at http://www.m.sltrib.com/sltrib/mobile2/55133814-218/kirby-suicide-didn-yourself.html.csp, last accessed today.
Often, one cannot choose one’s circumstances. Try as we might to bend the Universe to our will, it will only bend so far. The only thing one can choose is one’s reaction to one’s circumstances. Even the seemingly-most-dire of circumstances need not compel one to opt for the most dire of “solutions,” and often, how one chooses to frame one’s circumstances has the most impact on how one chooses to respond to them. If I framed my circumstances in the manner in which you do, above, it would be little wonder that I might opt for the “solution” you advocate.
Yes, I know life isn’t all “sweetness and light.” Yes, as a person with both a physical challenge and a psychiatric diagnosis, and as a person who has vacillated between un- and underemployment for the better part of the last fourteen years, I know there is much of struggle in life. No, I don’t wish unfairly to judge another person for attempting to end his or her struggles in the manner you advocate. I have great sympathy for those who find themselves in such circumstances.
No, I won’t lie to you: I have considered suicide, and, each time the option has presented itself, I have rejected it for many of the same reasons Mr. Kirby describes. Wanting to keep a scene secure and to protect it from predatory intrusion, my father once spent the better part of an evening while waiting for someone from the medical examiner’s office to show up conversing with a dead man who had apparently committed suicide. He wondered aloud what might have driven the man to that point and how those he left behind might react. Yes, I know there can be value in allowing nature to take its course rather than opting for extraordinary measures merely to prolong existence while failing truly to prolong life.
But if the Viktor Frankls of the world still can find meaning in life while enduring some of the most subhuman treatment and subhuman conditions imaginable in a Nazi concentration camp, surely most all of us can continue to find meaning amidst circumstances which, while they might be far below what we desire in many respects, could surely be worse. While suicide arguably might end the pain of those who opt for it, it doesn’t end the pain of those they leave behind. And most everyone, whether he or she realizes it or not, does leave someone behind.
Update — 14 January 2013: I cross-posted this at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board in response to a question regarding the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding suicide:
The willful taking of an innocent life, including one’s own, is akin to murder. (The operative word there is “willful”). In order for one to consider, attempt, or complete suicide, I have to believe that a person generally isn’t in his right mind. Thus, I don’t think he’ll be judged in the same way as if he were in his right mind when he considered, undertook, or completed the action. Only God, who is omniscient, can judge. I believe (and hope) God is far more willing and eager to extend mercy to us than we realize, else why the Atonement of Jesus Christ? God can extend mercy to us, not because of anything we have done or not done, but rather because of what Christ did for us. If the Comforter witnesses to those left behind that a person who died at his own hand will inherit a fate much better than that which his friends and family had feared, who is anyone to second-guess that witness?
For more information on the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ regarding suicide, see here, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/10/suicide-some-things-we-know-and-some-we-do-not?lang=eng, last accessed today. Elder Ballard has expanded this treatment of the topic of suicide into book form. Although I have not yet read it, see here, http://www.deseretbook.com/Suicide-Some-Things-We-Know-Do-Not-M-Russell-Ballard/i/4718521, last accessed today.
In response to another poster’s expression of puzzlement as to how God makes the decision to intervene (or not) in adverse circumstances (be they related to suicide or some other adverse event), I posted the following on the same thread:
I don’t understand the interplay between humans’ free will, God’s foreknowledge, His choosing to intervene in some circumstances (whatever the adverse event is that is about to happen, whether suicide or something else) and His choosing not to intervene in other circumstances. I don’t understand what He meant when He said that “all flesh is in [His] hands” (Moses 6:32) or what Paul meant when he said that “all things work together for the good of them that love God” (Romans 8:28). I suspect that sometimes He intervenes and sometimes He doesn’t, but I have faith (or try to … “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24)) that His choice to intervene is based on what will accomplish His purposes, even if I don’t understand what those purposes are (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
Update: 20 October 2013 – If You’re Determined to Commit (or at Least, to Attempt) Suicide, That’s One Thing: But Don’t Take Others With You
By Ken K. Gourdin
I posted the following today at SLTrib.com in response to a story about the sentencing of Yvette Kimber, who was sentenced to 4-60 years in prison for attempting to commit suicide by lighting a fire in her apartment which then spread to other apartments and killed four of her fellow tenants. See the story here, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57013025-78/kimber-fire-friday-died.html.csp. I said:
My indictment of Ms. Kimber isn’t as harsh as [another poster’s], below. However, I, too, dispute your characterization of her and of what she did, as well as your contention that her punishment is too harsh. I agree with you that this was not a clear-eyed, cold-eyed decision to take the lives of others which was made by someone in her right mind.
However, even though she likely was not in her right mind, nothing has been presented in the public record to indicate that she was delusional. And although she likely didn’t intend for her victims to die, at the time she made the decision to do what she did, she likely didn’t care who else might die as a result, and for that, she does deserve serious punishment. And even her best attempts at making amends will never restore her victims to life.
I get the impulse to say, “Chuck it all! It’s not worth it!” and to implement a final, drastic “solution.” I really do. I’m no stranger to psychiatric diagnoses myself, to the fact that such diagnoses are amenable to treatment only with difficulty, or to the things they often lead to, such as chronic un- and underemployment, resulting poverty, and other challenges. It’s been much longer than I care to admit since I had full-time, benefited employment. I’ve volunteered for years in various capacities in the hope that donating my time and services might change that situation, without success. But even at my lowest, I have never seriously considered attempting to exit this world by resorting to means that are likely to harm completely innocent others. Ever. And for resorting to such means, as I said, Ms. Kimber does deserve serious punishment.
Update: December 16, 2013 – And While We’re On the Subject, Don’t Even Threaten (or Pretend to Threaten) to Take Others With You, Either
The following story appeared at the link below on The Salt Lake Tribune’s Web site today regarding the sentencing of a suicidal man, James Ramsey Kammeyer, who walked into West Valley City Police Station and threatened officers and civilians with a gun (albeit an unloaded one). Officers who shot him wounded him in the arm. As Mr. Kammeyer himself noted in addressing the court, the fact that his gun was unloaded would have been no comfort if officers had taken his life rather than wounding him. I hear all the time about how “trigger-happy” officers are. If that’s the case, one wonders why the incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (and other psychological maladies) is so high among those who have been forced to shoot or kill people in the line of duty. The link was last accessed today:
Update, August 28, 2014: Yes, Suicide is a Choice, But That Observation Comes With a HUGE Caveat
I posted the following at (Salt Lake) City Weekly’s Web site, in response to a comment about the following opinion piece regarding suicide (last accessed today:
“Suicide is a choice.” Yes, technically, suicide is a choice: taking that mountain of pills and washing it down with one’s preferred beverage, or putting a loaded gun to one’s head and pulling the trigger, or looping some sort of a noose around one’s neck and pulling it taut until circulation to the brain is cut off long enough for death to ensue, would not happen unless someone engaged in some sort of technically-volitional act (or series of acts) in order to make one of those things happen. But if one has never been trapped so far down such a deep abyss that one doubts light still even EXISTS, let alone simply being unable to see it, I submit that one cannot understand the complex mix of social, emotional, biochemical, and other factors that might drive one to that point.
Meanwhile, the still-living, who cannot possibly identify, often want to blame the dead (“Suicide is a choice!”). Perhaps at least some of the dead want to blame the living (“If you hadn’t done [x], I would still be here!”) But blame is pointless: however emotionally satisfying it might be (at least in the short run), it can never fix any of the problems that lead people to engage in it in the long run. At the risk of overgeneralizing, suicide, in many cases, is simply a person’s last, desperate attempt to escape relentless, unremitting, soul-pulverizing pain. In many cases, someone who kills himself sees himself, not as leaving those left behind in pain, but rather as ridding them of the burden he feels he has become to them. In any case, often, he sees suicide as the only way to end his OWN pain. From the perspective of many of those who seriously attempt it, suicide is only deliberate in the same sense that “choosing” between being engulfed in flames on the hundredth floor of a blazing inferno or jumping to one’s death, instead, is deliberate.
Now, having said all of this, I agree with you to this extent. Once one: (1) realizes he has a problem; (2) desires to get help for it; and (3) believes he CAN be helped, one becomes responsible for his own recovery. It may seem unfair to add the additonal “burden” of being responsible for one’s own recovery to the tremendous burdens of depression and suicidality, but it is actually a very empowering thing.