Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I've had an interesting email asking how I can be suicidal when I'm not depressed. The answer is that it's quite easy. It all depends on your attitude to death and the replacement of the word suicide with euthenasia.

Let me explain. Most people in this country are brought up to follow a Christian ideology, even if they don't practice the religion. Within this ideology there are a few aspects that mark out a culture as being civilized. Relating to this question there are two prime examples, firstly that if any "dumb" animal is suffering it is a mark of our compassion and humanity that we should euthenase the animal to "put it out of it's misery" and secondly that if someone is talking of killing themself then it is a mark of our compassion and humanity that we shold stop them from taking their own life. This second option is extrapolated right down to people who have terminal illnesses that are causing them extreme pain.

As I see it these two examples demonstrate a fundamental hypocracy in the nature of western culture. How can we be civilised if on the one hand we make sweeping decisions relating to the value of life of an animal that is unable to express it's needs and desires to us yet at the same time refuse to afford the same "compassion" to other humans who can clearly vocalise their wishes? How can we be civilised if we will euthenase a sick animal for it's well being yet enforce a life of pain and suffering on other people who can express their own desire to cease living?

We are also constantly being told that the desire to end one's life is irrational, but where does this idea come from? The answer is most notably the Church as seen in the historical attitude to suicide (suicides were not allowed burial in consecrated ground as taking one's own life was seen as a mortal sin and was in fact against the law in the UK until 1961).

In other cultures and in different times attitude to suicide has been completely different as can be seen from the following article on the Mind website

Attitudes towards suicide

Suicide has occurred consistently throughout recorded history in every cultural and social setting. However, attitudes towards suicide have varied widely in different ages, cultures and societies.

In ancient Greece and Rome, suicide was generally seen as an honourable or heroic form of death. Eleven instances of suicide are mentioned in the Old Testament: these are reported simply and are given no negative connotations. One of the most famous examples of suicide was the mass suicide of Jews at Masada in 73 AD. This was generally perceived to have been an honourable action to avoid falling into the hands of the defeating Roman Army.

In the early years of Christianity, St Augustine (345-430 AD) pronounced suicide to be a 'mortal sin'. A century later, the Christian Church prohibited the saying of masses for the souls of those who died by suicide, and they were denied burial in hallowed ground. The last recorded 'unhallowed' burial of a suicide in Britain occurred as late as 1823.[59]

In Japan, the Samurai had ritual codes for different methods of suicide which would bring them 'death before dishonour'. Even in modern Japan there is little stigma associated with suicide, an example being the suicide of writer Yukio Mishima.

Within the Hindu faith, although there appears to be a general taboo against suicide, particularly among men, the idea of 'altruistic' suicide is acceptable, and there is a historic tradition associated with bereaved women, particularly widows, committing suicide.

As recently as the 1950s, people in Britain were still being sent to prison for attempting suicide. The 1961 Suicide Act repealed the law under which both actual and attempted suicides were held to be criminal acts. England and Wales were the last countries in Europe to decriminalise suicide. The word 'suicide', itself, has the implication of being a criminal act, literally meaning self-murder.

In Britain, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with suicide no longer considered a crime, church membership at an all time low, a general loosening of moral prohibitions, and an emphasis on personal freedom, suicide or taking one's own life appears to be more socially acceptable than ever before. Certainly, there would appear to be fewer moral and psychological obstacles standing between people and the act of suicide.

There is of course also the negative publicity that is given to suicide bombers. Rather than looking at what motivates people to give up their lives whilst striking a blow at their enemies (whether real or perceived) we are confronted with media attitudes that demonise them as being psychotic. Yet if we look at the video tapes that are invariably left behind these people show a rationalism for their actions that is based entirely in their belief system. There will, of course, be much argument as to whether the belief system is right or wrong and the morality of the methodology, but that argument is one of politics and only time will determine the long term attitudes to groups who are currently seen as terrorist organisations (after all the N. Ireland assembly has as an elected official someone who was imprisoned for terrorist acts and Hamas are the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people. The former Premier of Israel, Menachem Begin, was a wanted terrorist as was the Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan). The point I want to make about it is that the negative media means that just using the word "suicide" makes people think in terms of fanatics so that even terminally ill patients who want to die with dignity are treated in the same way (i.e psychotic fanatics).

Now we are in a new age where people are looking at taking full responsibility for their own lives and it is my belief that this should include the right to die without judgement or interference.

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