We must work to prevent all suicides.
Thursday the 10th of September is International Suicide Prevention day. This year the theme is ‘Reaching Out and Saving Lives’.
The following day, the 11th, and the UK House of Commons will debate the latest push for assisted suicide via the Rob Marris MP Private Member's Bill. Did no-one notice irony?
Australia, like other western countries I suspect, has a glaring problem of inconsistency when it comes to suicide prevention. We get a helluva lot right and invest well in prevention lead by competent and committed agencies, but we have, thus far, failed to deal with the ‘elephant in the room’ that is euthanasia and assisted suicide.
By ignoring the reality that suicide generally understood is intrinsically related to euthanasia and assisted suicide by the common desire for death, we send a decidedly mixed message to the community at large – and especially to vulnerable people – that whether or not a life is worth saving is dependent on factors other than the intrinsic and inviolable value of life itself. That such subjective factors comprise a view or views about others that is in essence discriminatory seems to have been largely ignored.
So, what are these subjective factors that factors in the difference in attitude between the putative person on the ledge and someone facing a difficult prognosis?
Both are facing a crisis. Both will have ‘rationalised’ their circumstances to the point where they see no other option.
As differences we could note that perhaps the person on the ledge is young and otherwise well while the candidate for euthanasia or assisted suicide is suffering physically. We are being asked to see these as essential differences; to define the life of the first as worth living and, the second, not so. We expect that the first may have a long life ahead of them, but not so the second; but we really don’t know in either case. We offer counselling to the first and death to the second.
While we can see, perhaps, that both have ‘rationalised’ their decisions we judge the first as being an errant judgement while we will easily accept the thoughts of the latter based principally on the implicit observation that we wouldn’t want to live ‘like that’.
We are making judgements. Judgements that are discriminatory and, in essence, ablest and/or ageist. We are determining a higher value on the life of the younger person and a diminished value on the aged and those disabled by illness. We want to stress to the former that there is hope while viewing the latter as hopeless.
In both situations, the person is suffering. Blogger, Jessica Rodgers, goes to the heart of the matter:
"So what should our response be to suffering? As a culture do we reach a helping hand to our neighbor on the bridge? Or do we redefine “helping” as pushing them off? Do we even pretend to ourselves that pushing them is the “compassionate” thing to do?"
The International Association for Suicide Prevention is asking us all to ‘Reach Out’. This is an unqualified request. It makes no distinction; nor should it.
The Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament in its report that rejected Holyrood’s most recent Assisted Suicide Bill, made some telling observations:
"There appears to be a contradiction between a policy objective of preventing suicide, on the one hand, and on the other, legislation which would provide for some suicides to be assisted and facilitated.
"The Committee notes that, unless assisted suicide is to be made freely available to all, any legislation permitting it must identify eligibility criteria. Where legislation to permit assisted suicide exists alongside a wider policy of suicide prevention, the eligibility criteria in the legislation serve to differentiate between circumstances in which suicide is to be regarded as a tragedy and prevented wherever possible, and circumstances in which suicide is to be regarded as a reasonable choice, to be facilitated and supported.
"The Committee is concerned that this has the potential not only to undermine the general suicide prevention message by softening cultural perceptions of suicide at the perimeters, but also to communicate an offensive message to certain members of our community (many of whom may be particularly vulnerable) that society would regard it as ‘reasonable’, rather than tragic, if they wished to end their lives."
We have seen suicide prevention undermined with tragic effect here in Australia through the suicide promotions of advocacy networks, particularly Exit International. Most poignantly, the death of young people springs easily to mind.
But every suicide is a tragedy and we are failing in our common duty to humanity if we allow ‘other factors’ to weaken the necessary resolve to prevent all suicides.