Thinking About Suicide?

Read the second article: The Ethics of Assisted Suicide.

This OrthodoxyToday series consists of two articles on suicide. The first is addressed to readers who are contemplating taking their own lives. This article contains no mention of Christian duty or Bible commandments because the last thing these desperate and agitated people need is for someone to preach religion at them. Instead, it hopes to gently inform them of factors they might not have considered and point out disincentives to suicide in their individual case.

The second article is directed to members of “right to death” groups or individual Christians who are planning to recommend or assist in the suicides of others. That article will demonstrate that—far from being a morally neutral act—it is clear that suicide and assisting in it were roundly condemned by Christian authorities prior to the decimating epidemic and mass apostasy of the middle of the third century AD, a period when the oral teachings and Bible interpretations of Christ and the apostles were still fresh in Christian memories and before there was little opportunity for widespread corruption of the gospel. If a person considering suicide believes that it does not contravene God’s law or their Christian faith, or if they wish further information on whether it is morally permissible, they should by all means read the second article in addition to the first.

Are you thinking of committing suicide? The following will not lecture you on religious duties or responsibilities, for religion or a sincere but mistaken perception of it often prompts suicidal thoughts, usually because a person erroneously fears they somehow need to please God or society at large but is unable to do so. You have already put a lot of thought into your intended act and have already concluded the alternatives to death are unworkable, but just let me put forward a few suggestions so that you can be certain you are making a fully-informed decision.

First, consider what will happen to you if you fail. A great percentage of suicide attempts are unsuccessful. You may survive, only to be a paraplegic or in a permanent coma, straining your family’s finances, emotions and labor for decades to come. You may live for decades blind or in constant pain. The attempt may inflict deformities of face or body so hideous that people will avoid you. A failed suicide attempt may well restrict what little enjoyment you now find in life. Of course, you can try again if the result has been lesser injuries, but you will exist in a more miserable state than now and be unable to try again if your first attempt cripples or blinds you.

Get a second opinion. Nobody should rely on their own unaided perceptions or logic when making an important decision in life, and without doing thorough research. It is only prudent to consult with knowledgeable people that can spot advantages, disadvantages, impossibilities or illegalities you overlook in any endeavor, or can put forward a simpler, faster, cheaper or more feasible means to the same goal. If people seek advice and second opinions for important decisions in life, so much more should you seek them for what is the most important act of your life, and will curtail decades of it.

As for sources of information and a venue for discussing and weighing up your alternatives, there are many telephone hotlines that do nothing but counsel intended suicides. If there are none in your community, telephone a pastor. Clergy are usually trained for such situations. If you are afraid that the counselor will physically restrain you and have you forcibly institutionalized if you still want to kill yourself, do not give your name or location on the telephone. Now that long-distance tolls are dirt-cheap, telephone a hotline or pastor in a different part of United States and do so anonymously. If you consider the small price of a direct distance call more valuable than your own life, you should consult a psychiatrist for a neurosis or personality disorder because such false economy casts doubt on your thinking capacity in any field, including your mental competence to decide about suicide.

Third, forget unrealistic or grandiose hopes. This is particularly addressed to young people. Far too often educators tell a student that s/he possesses a first-class brain, unusual ability to work hard, and other outstanding personal qualities. Because of these, assures the teacher or professor, the young student can succeed at any endeavor they attempt and will rapidly rise to the top of their field, with steps up the ladder of success being mere formalities. But experience turns out otherwise. Try as they might, the young person fails to fulfill their grand plans, as must be the case when educators say the same to all students even though the path of success is highly competitive, and some people must necessarily occupy lower positions in any organization or society. Frustration, even suicidal thoughts, creep in due to the teacher’s or professor’s careless and exaggerated praise.

Contrary to what one might expect, suicide rates are lowest in poor countries where brains and hard work avail no more than keeping body and soul together. These people can aspire to nothing more than staying alive until tomorrow and harbor no expectations of spectacularly succeeding in business, trade, profession or lottery. The higher the hope, the greater the perception of failure, and thus the greater the attractiveness of suicide.

Therefore, spurn flattery about how bright and destined to success you are. Concentrate on working toward realistic and achievable goals. Look for opportunities to advance at every stage or sub-goal on your way to achieving your final (realistic) goal, and celebrate these little successes.

Fourth, study Irish Gaelic. When you think your lot in life could not possibly be worse and that you exist in the worst of all possible worlds, obtain an introductory text for the study of the Irish Gaelic language. Keep reminding yourself that you can stop at any time. The Irish language is more different from English than German or French and far harder for an English-speaker to learn. You know how in Latin and German the ends of words change to indicate meaning? In Irish the beginnings also change, and sometimes the middles as well. This necessitates looking in many places in the dictionary to find one word. The first consonant of nouns changes to indicate grammatical case. Often the sound and spelling of the middle of a noun change with case. There are four cases, with the nominative and accusative forming only one. There are five declensions of nouns, with the declension of one such case being subdivided as to the formation of the plural – and irregular nouns, of course. There are four declensions for adjectives, with irregular adjectives, of course. Even prepositions are declined, with irregular prepositions. Gender is vital, and affects both meaning and nearby words, but brute memorization is the only way to know the gender. It is common for the same word to have two or more plurals.

You will probably contract a headache or nausea in the first few chapters of the textbook, which are usually on pronunciation and its tenuous relation to spelling. The Irish language is less phonetic than French or even English. This is because English spelling reflects the language spoken in the fifteenth century while Irish is locked into the ninth. In Irish Gaelic sounds in speech are far different from what one would expect from the written form. Written vowels are often pronounced as consonants and vice versa. There are many silent vowels and silent consonants, sometimes two or three in a row, and even entire syllables.

As with German “ö” and “ü” and their French equivalents, Irish contains many sounds not found in English. While similar or indistinguishable to Anglophones, the difference is vital for distinguishing one Irish Gaelic word from another. There are two different pronunciations each for “d” and “t”. There are four different pronunciations for “l”, which alter the meaning of a word; English has two (as in “light” and “full”) but, unlike Irish, using the wrong pronunciation does not affect meaning. The quality and pronunciation of consonants also alter according to the vowel(s) before and/or after them. Again, the sound and spelling of an Irish word can change at the end (as in German and Latin), beginning, or middle.

When your headache or nausea become full-blown from these complex intricacies, put the study book aside and be thankful that you live and are educated where you now are. In United States, you can stop the study any time you want. This option would not be open to you if you lived in the Republic of Ireland. Years of studying the Irish language is compulsory in schools and the police academy. Without proficiency in Irish, you cannot graduate from secondary school, let alone enter a profession or even become a librarian or schoolteacher. Professorships in some universities will be denied to you. Until recently, knowledge of Irish Gaelic was necessary for any employment as a civil servant, even as a postal worker.

Studying Irish with the knowledge that you do not have to and can stop whenever you want should lighten your pessimistic outlook on life and lead to lifting your suicidal malaise. Your present situation could well be worse but will not become worse when compared to that of your peers in the Republic of Ireland.

Fifth and last, consider the effect your act may have on onlookers. The sight of a death in progress will be disturbing—even traumatic—to witnesses, perhaps including children, if you throw yourself under a bus or off a high building. There will be less trauma if you hang or shoot or poison or drown yourself in private, but finding your body will nevertheless be emotionally overwhelming to whoever finds your corpse. Perhaps the first persons to find you will be children at play. Their shock will be worse if your body is not found for some time and becomes bloated or infested with maggots.

If you believe that people who have committed suicide will go to heaven and that death will take you to a better place, read the other article in this series.

David W. T. Brattston is a retired lawyer and judge on minor tribunals who began writing in Christian periodicals around 17 years ago on early and contemporary Christianity. His specialty is Christian teachings on ethics prior to the Decian Persecution of A.D. 249-251. His articles have been published in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Copyright © 2001 David W. T. Brattston. All rights reserved. To reproduce in whole or in part, please contact David. W. T. Brattson at dwtbrattston@hotmail.com.

Date posted: December 10, 2010