There’s this cultural trope, this prevailing notion, that suicide is selfish. We are told that suicide is selfish because it leaves people you love behind, wondering forever what was wrong. The people still living will maybe wonder if it was their fault or what they could have done differently, and because they will be sad or uncomfortable, suicide is selfish. It could also be argued, in some cases, that suicide is selfish because you can leave a physical mess to clean up that is too harrowing and traumatizing for most people, or that the mess you leave could stain the carpet, a wall, some object, and become permanent. You’d be gone but your loved ones could never escape any trace of you.
This is complete and utter bullshittery, so let’s talk about why suicide is not selfish and why it is important that we change the prevailing discourse surrounding suicide.
I maintain that people should have the right to live and die as they choose. I don’t think the government should be making choices about our bodies for us, whether that be in regard to abortion, life support, euthanasia, seat belts, or any other things we can do to ourselves that harm and affect nobody else. It should be our choice. And as much as I think all people have a right to live as they please, I believe they should also have a right to die as they please.
As to the argument that your’e going to leave people behind and they will have all these unanswered questions? Newsflash: That happens ALL THE TIME, whether or not it is a suicide, a murder, a long and painful death from cancer, a car accident, a freak accident, a natural disaster, or whatever. For many people, when somebody dies, there’s going to be unresolved issues and questions, things that were never said or discussed, tensions unresolved. The answer then isn’t that nobody should die ever because people will be sad and confused, we can all expect to experience some sadness and confusion when the people we love, like, or even marginally care about die. If you’re able, work out your issues while you can and have the courage to get hurt and be sad or to take a risk so that if the people you do love die tomorrow, you aren’t left wondering.
My 93 year old grandmother will be passing away in the next few months. I’m sure some of her 12 children likely have unresolved issues with her, or things they’d like to discuss, but they probably won’t. Who is going to cause anxiety, agitation or disruption in the final months of their 93 year old mother? Even if you know well in advance that somebody is going to die, it doesn’t mean that you would actually ask them the things that you wanted or bring up things from the past. A lot of people don’t like to make other people uncomfortable, cause confrontation, or risk a relationship, so they would still have unresolved issues and questions about a lost loved one no matter the cause of death.
The ‘making a mess’ complaint is valid. I guess the solution there would be to not make a mess. I don’t know what else to say about that.
I have known two people who have committed suicide and I do not think that either person is selfish, nor should they be considered to be selfish. One of them had cancer. It went into remission and he had always said that if his cancer came back, he would kill himself. He couldn’t stand any more radiation or chemotherapy. He could not deal with it or suffer through any more of that pain. So I ask you, to whom does he owe his life? Why should people choose to endure and suffer when they don’t want to? If a person gets to the point where they want to commit suicide and they have the means and the gumption to do it, don’t you think they’re pretty miserable? If they thought there would be a rainbow shining over them tomorrow, a shiny new day, don’t you think they’d stick around? People who commit suicide are usually in a pretty low place. I think it is more selfish to hold a grudge against the dead because they left before we were ready for them to die than it is for a person to end their life when they don’t want to live it anymore.
In my feminist circles, so many of us argue for a woman’s right to govern her own body. I would argue that this shouldn’t stop at planning out when to become or not to become a mother, but that all people should have complete agency over their bodies, even in choosing the method and timing of one’s own death.
If you’re feeling suicidal, it is your right, as a person, to control your body and end your life if you please. I think we need to put to bed the idea that suicide is selfish because it doesn’t help anybody and it only further stigmatizes the memory of the person that is gone, or their still-living family and friends so that grieving for them feels shameful. When somebody commits suicide, there’s a feeling or sense of imposed shame that comes when family and friends acknowledge it, like the deceased has done something terrible. The only thing different between a suicide and any other death is that the person committing suicide has picked the time and manner of their death, as opposed to you and I who will likely be struck by death unawares, or go through a long, painful, drawn out medical process leading to death.
If we have lived a life of any social interaction, questions will be left unanswered, issues will be left unresolved, and family and friends will be left missing us, mourning for us, and grieving over us. Part of being human is having social interactions and building relationships. We will all leave people behind when we die. If I have a sudden heart attack and die, do you really think my friends and family are going to have any sense of peace or resolution with my suddenly being gone forever? No. And I think much of the feelings associated with suicide come from social stigma and play a part in determining how people feel they are allowed to react to the suicide death of somebody they care about. You’re barely even supposed to talk about it and the manner of death is shameful, how can one fully grieve when trying to hide their fear to appease others?
Suicide isn’t selfish. It is selfish to expect people to live a life they don’t want to live, to experience pain they don’t need to or want to, or to sacrifice their quality of life and extend their existence simply to keep those they will be leaving behind from feeling sad, confused or uncomfortable.