Why Is Suicide a Crime?

>> Monday, September 28, 2009

I know it may seem facetious, but I have to ask, why is a suicide a crime? I mean, I understand the ambiguity behind euthenasia - without direction, who can know what someone would really choose for themselves?

But suicide is different. Suicide is someone choosing not to live any more for whatever reason. So, why is that illegal?

Oh, I know some religions are dead set against it, but we're supposed to be a secular nation. What's the legal justification to tell someone they can't die if that's what they prefer? Why is it "wrong"?

I can speculate at some reasons. There are those that think anyone who wants to kill themselves is mentally ill and must be protected from themselves. Why are we so sure that's so? Is it inconceivable that someone can be perfectly rational and just not want to live any more? The Japanese, of course, respected suicide as a way of erasing shame or finding glory. Many cultures in Asia and the Pacific and North America appreciate the notion of people knowing when it's time to die. So why does it have to be insane?

Now, many people understand other people facing a terminal illness or a painful debilitating illness wanting to die painlessly instead, but why do we feel we have to understand and agree with the reason they want to die? What's it to the rest of us?

If physical pain and misery are sufficient justification to "let" someone die, why not loneliness or hopelessness? Why not remorse or despair? Who's to say what's "enough" pain except the person involved? People survived Auschwitz, but could everyone? Should everyone be able to?

We value our freedom, that adults can make decisions for themselves as long as they don't illegally damage anyone else. So, if we can choose how to live our lives, why can't we choose when to end it?

Just wondering...


  • Roy

    Oh, I know some religions are dead set against it, but we're supposed to be a secular nation.

    We're supposed to live in a secular nation. Unfortunately that's not the reality. The old religious prohibition on suicide is one that won't go away, just as there are also laws against "sodomy" still on the books in some states, making it possible for homosexuals to be prosecuted. And I live in a state that still has "blue laws"; diluted blue laws (you can be open for business on Sundays now), but not totally free of them (you have to pay an extra license fee to be open on Sundays, and open hours are limited).

    The "secular nation" business is a myth, and there are certain voices in this country who intend to keep it that way.

  • Relax Max

    Why is prostitution illegal?

    One can commit suicide by refusing medical treatment.

    Actually it doesn't matter that suicide is illegal, because the perp can't be punished.

    Are you serious?

    Are you sure it's illegal? Hmmm.

    Fact: suicide is not a crime when committed without the assistance or involvement of a another person. How could it be? Are they going to drag your dead body into court and then put it in jail??? Only assisted suicide is a crime.

    "Attempted" suicide is a crime in some places. But usually they just consider it a cry for help and drag you off for a head examination instead of putting you in jail.

    Lay off the sauce. :)

  • Relax Max

    I've heard some countries will hang you for attempted suicide.

    That's a joke, Stephanie.

  • Relax Max

    Some countries held on to their suicide laws until fairly recently though. Ireland still had it's law on the books until, like, 1993.

    Here's a tidbit, though: although the suicide can't be punished, the frustrated courts can order what is known as an "ignominious burial" where they buried the body under a crossroads and drove a stake through its heart. Fat lot he cared.

    But this is just asinine enough for me to do a post on it. Ignominious burials and bog burials and such.

  • Relax Max

    I didn't mean YOU were asinine, Stephanie. I meant "punishing" a body after death was asinine.

  • Stephanie B

    Perfectly valid question, why is prostitution illegal? I understand the concern that children or illegals or women will be exploited, but you could make a valid argument that making it legal (and therefore regulated) would do more to prevent that than trying to stamp out what will never be.

    You kind of answered my question for me, too. How can suicide not be considered a crime if attempting to do so is a crime? Botch a suicide attempt and you could easily spend the rest of your life in institutions. Why?

    People who have done such horrible things as kill their children are on suicide watches in jail in case they want to kill themselves (thereby saving themselves and the government a great deal of expense, I might add). Why stop them? If I'd accidently shot my four year old with a stray bullet I shot to celebrate the New Year, maybe suicide is a perfectly rational response? Who are we to decide?

  • Doctor Faustroll

    Some of my best friends are suicides, all successful. I don't think of them in the past tense. Their existences are as valid now as they ever were. One of them even made it into an Indigo Girl song: "Three shots."

    A lot of people see suicide as the ultimate flip-off by demonstrating how feeble law and order really are.

    People make all kinds of silly rules to say what people can or can't do, but nature keeps on doing what it does despite what we think, feel, or fervently believe.

  • soubriquet

    In some cases, in our culture, suicide is seen as exemplary behaviour.
    Take the example of, say, a military pilot who steers his crippled plane away from a school, and dies, rather than ejecting.
    Or the serviceman who throws himself on the grenade, to save his platoon, or the secret serviceman who leaps in front of the president as ath assassin strikes.
    Yes, you might say "This is not really suicide", but the choice is there, the decision that leads to one's death. What parent would not push their child out of the path of the speeding truck, even though by doing so, they lost the chance to jump clear?

    In Iceland, in times of starvation, the elderly would "walk into the sea" in order to save what little food there was for the young.

    In Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to the south pole, Captain Lawrence Oates famously said "I'm just stepping outside, I may be gone for some time". Scott wrote "We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman"
    Oates was badly frostbitten, barely able to walk, he believed that he was holding his fellow explorers back, and that without him, they stood a chance of reaching their supply cache, some thirty miles further on.

    All these examples are where self-sacrifice might enable the survival of others. However, the end result is death by choice.

  • Stephanie B

    The question isn't whether we can stop them or not, Doctor Faustroll, it's why we are trying to.

    Soubriquet, that's an excellent point and they are excellent examples. But it goes back to my concern that we accept (even admire!) those suicides we feel we can explain but presume the rest are pointless or wrong. I have to ask, who are we to determine whether the reason was sufficient.

    If Captain Oates were hanging out in the tropics with Captain Scott and wanted to walk onto a busy street, I've little doubt Captain Scott would feel justified in stopping him.

    I guess I'm just uncomfortable with the arrogance of thinking, as an outsider, one has any right to decide if someone should be allowed to commit suicide.

  • Anonymous

    Not being a smartass here, but murder is illegal, and suicide is nothing if not self-murder.

    The only way you might escape being charged with the crime is if you could prove that it was self-defense. In other words, you killed yourself because you posed an imminent danger to yourself.

    Jeez, I should have been a lawyer.

    Seriously, I think most people understand suicide when quality of life is gone, but can't understand it when young, healthy, people who seemingly have the world by the testicles kill themselves.

    One other point though, if suicide was legal and I decided I had had enough, wouldn't doctors and pharmacists have a legal obligation to give me whatever pharmaceuticals I chose to end it all? Assisting couldn't be considered a crime if suicide was legal, and I can just see things getting really messy with the whole issue if it wasn't considered a crime. People might be overly helpful in "assisting" those they didn't like.

  • Stephanie B

    It's an interesting, point, mrsbitch, but it depends on why murder is illegal. If, as it is in my opinion, murder is illegal because we don't have the right to take someone else's life away from them, than why would self-murder be crime. After all, not having the right to make life and death decisions for someone else is far and gone from not having the right to make life and death decisions for oneself.

    And...aha, you've left me an opening here that I'll expound on in my blog post later today.

    With regards to the assisted suicide question, I agree it can be taken advantage of. However, if it was legal, with legal ramification and steps that needed to be followed before one could help with a suicide, one could greatly curtail the opportunities to get carried away. It's when it's quasi-legal or illegal that there are effectively no safe-guards, even if someone is helping due to abject altruism.

    I didn't see Kevorkian as a villain, not by a long shot. And, even then, when the individuals involved were entirely with him, he only got away with it as long as he did because they were terminally ill.

  • Shakespeare

    I don't like suicide, but I cannot claim to understand what makes a person unhappy enough to commit it. I've never been there. I've never been close.

    And that makes me very lucky.

  • Jeff King

    Ever hear people make mistakes, what if they wake up tomorrow and find the light they were looking for and go on to live wonderful and fulfilling life and find the cure for cancer or give birth to the next JFK. These are just a few reasons to try and stop people from taking their own life...

    I just do not see the good in letting people kill themselves, and I will do what I can to inspire people to live and find joy in life.
    Not give up and quit…

  • The Mother

    I'm coming in late to this party, but here's my take on the subject.

    Historically, suicide was not considered a crime until the Christian era. Suicide was common and accepted in the pagan cultures of Rome and Greece. The idea that it was wrong comes from the "made in God's image" philosophy--that the body is God's temple and can't be messed with.

    It is the religious prohibition on suicide--the idea that life is sacrosanct--which makes it so hard to change the way society views life, death, and the quality of life.

    I'm a quality over quantity person myself. I believe, firmly, in euthanasia and assisted suicide. I'm pro abortion and absolutely accept the idea that some people have decided that their life is not worth living.

    And pro-prostitution, too. And let's legalize drugs while we're at it.

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