Logo

Theological Editions - Indepth daily religious news, views, reviews & key theological resources
Features

In-depth religious news, views, reviews, features & resources for the thinking person
 

Resources

Bible
Sermons

Liturgy & Prayer

News & Magazines

Journals

Texts & Resources

Home


Should we intervene to prevent suicide?
by Graeme J. Davidson,
27 March 2010

Because someone’s suffering drives them to want to end it all doesn’t mean they’ve lost their marbles and are incapable of making a sensible decision.

Margaret Page had a brain haemorrhage 20 years ago. She has spent the last four years at Wellington’s St John of God care home and is now starving herself to death. Her pro-death choice raises an ethical dilemma. Should we allow individuals to take their own life? Or should we try to keep them alive? After all, their decision affects others, especially their loved ones.

I’ve counselled suicidal people in a similar situation to Mrs Page. Most decided to grin and bear their appalling situation rather than end their lives. They didn’t want to burden their family with feelings of sadness and guilt. Mrs Page’s family agrees with her decision, but not her former husband. Is his continued interest in her welfare 12 years after they’ve split sufficient reason for her to hang on in there? Hardly. Surely, the views of her nearest and dearest are of greater consequence.

Fifty years ago, we used to treat folk who attempted suicide as criminals. This became an incentive for them to succeed on their first attempt. Our Crimes Act still regards suicide as something we should prevent. Section 41 says, “Every one is justified in using such force as may be reasonably necessary in order to prevent the commission of suicide”.

Prisoners at risk have belts, shoelaces and any other likely means of killing themselves removed. People who suffer from some psychiatric conditions or aren’t capable of making a rational decision may also be restrained under the Mental Health Act to prevent them doing harm to others or themselves, including attempting suicide. This wouldn’t apply to Mrs Page. Psychiatrists say she is lucid and competent.

Because someone’s suffering drives them to want to end it all doesn’t mean they’ve lost their marbles and are incapable of making a sensible decision. Admittedly, they may be under enormous strain, pain or loss, or face ridicule and shame from the community. Yet we allow individuals the right to decide whether to face the surgeon’s knife when they are in agony. So why not the decision to die?

Should Margaret Page’s doctors intervene in accordance with Section 41 and force-feed her against her will? The medical profession usually ducks the issue by claiming that food and water are necessities of life, not a medical treatment. Therefore, they shouldn’t intervene.

That’s a lame excuse. Doctors constantly recommend diets; prescribe diet supplement pills and glucose, electrolytes and other life-sustaining intravenous drips. If a doctor did ignore Mrs Page’s determination to die and intervened to keep her alive, as well as justifying it under Section 41 he or she could also claim to be acting in accordance with their Hippocratic Oath to save human life.

When the British suffragettes of nearly 100 years ago went on hunger strikes in prison, they were at first force-fed to avoid their self-destruction. Despite protests from doctors all round the world, the US military has force-fed hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to keep them alive, and the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague agreed to force-feeding Serbian politician Vojislav Šešelj so he could stand trial.

Nevertheless, most of us are right to recoil at the thought of forcing someone to stay alive against their will. Instead, we prefer less invasive methods such as counselling them to make an informed decision, or trying to reason and persuade them not to pull the plug on their lives. We usually tell them it really is worth sticking it out through the dark patch they are going through, as there’s light at the end of the tunnel – even if there isn’t. We emphasise how devastated we’ll be and how much they mean to us, which sometimes translates to how we don’t want to feel morally responsible for their death.

Some of us might even counsel the opposite for personal gain or because we find it difficult to be around such a depressed person.

I’ve watched a crowd in Berlin screaming “jump” – for their own macabre entertainment – to a suicidal person on a tall building. Recall those who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11. What’s the difference? The man in Berlin may have been convinced to change his mind; the Twin Towers suicides only had the choice of how to die. And if we were in one of those doomed towers, the last thing we would want to hear is someone bleating the mantra that it is wrong to take our own life. Or worse, some public-spirited individual forcibly trying to stop us from taking our destiny into our own hands. Margaret Page, and many like her, are in a similar situation.

In the end suicide is the taking of one’s own life, which means the decision is the individual’s. Margaret Page has thought long and hard and come to a dignified decision that deserves respect.

 

 

See also
Should we intervene to prevent suicide? >> more
Divorce risk indicator >> more
When you feel like you're sharing a bed with a stranger >> more
Surving the breakup >> more
Suicide terrorism as a desperate weapon of liberation >> more
Ned Flanders — popular face of Christianity >> more
Seven common myths about religion >> more
Moral divide between church leaders and laity >> more
Unholy silence over MPs hypocrisy and greed >> more
Anglican schism over gay clergy inevitable >> more
My agonising path to enlightenment >> more
More than ever, it's a time for generosity >> more
National's ethics smell of political expediency >> more
Pope's trip to Holy Land fraught with potholes >> more
The resurrection may have been superfluous >> more
Rasputin — from sinner and seducer to saint? >> more
Religious delusions and the Jerusalem syndrome >> more
Protest mild compared with Jesus' vandalism >> more
What Castro and Obama have in common >> more
Holidays can revive romance or widen cracks between couples >> more
Dubious scholarship reinterprets Jesus to fit secular creed >> more
Furore over gay marriage echoes the conflict over slavery >> more
If only politics were as certain as dear old granny >> more
You've got to have faith to win the White House >> more
The problem of evil >> more
TV Programmers let lose Roman circus >> more
Prostitutes welcome in the kingdom of God but not in Dannevirke >> more
Church too busy navel-gazing to take lead over crime >> more
Will the Anglican Church split over gay clergy and same-sex unions? >> more
Faith in secular western society >> more
The Vatican's pelvic theology >> more
Abuse and the Beijing Olympics >> more
Would the real Jesus stand up? >> more
Hypersensitivity perverts ethics >> more
God and presidential hopefuls >> more
A three-ghetto church based on politics >> more
Good and bad intentions >> more
Deliver us from exorcists who harm >> more
How effective is prayer? >> more
Masters of non-violence, resistance and kung fu >> more
Was Mother Teresa living a lie? >> more
Double standards over child sex abuse >> more
Soppy inspirational and pseudo-spiritual emails >> more
Caring organisations and pyschopathic bosses >> more
The new anti-religious evangelists >> more
Call for religious education could backfire >> more
Blessing creatures great & small — but what about blowflies? >> more
Does God exist only in the brain? >> more
The Prudes who crucify >> more
tomb raiders and the bones of Jesus and his family? >> more
Jesus loves Osama >> more
Is God more like a matchbox or a number? >> more
Confessions of a failed axe murderer >> more
Bacchanalian festivals and sentimentality >> more
Manners: insignificant social customs? >> more
The 109 fighting boys >> more
Trying to exhume the historical Jesus >> more
Is global violence really on the increase? >> more
Polygamy, circumcision, atheist journalists and religious diversity >> more
The Christian Right stands by Israel out of a misguided theology  >> more 
What a rat taught me >> more
The Church is becoming a retirement hobby for granny clergy >> more 
Is there an anti-Christian conspiracy in Hollywood? >> more
Have church schools sold out on Christianity? >> more
How good a Christian is President George W Bush? >> more

Hitler, Lawyers, Politicians SUV owners and life after death >> more

Were the Christian hostages really idiots for peace? >> more
Infidelity: in hot pursuit of a better organsm or better intimacy? >> more
Skulduggery and controversy over discovery of religious texts >> more
The cartoons aren't about secular freedoms versus intolerance >> more

Christian Zionists hinder justice and peace in the Middle East >> more

Should making more money be your New Year's resolution? >> more
My early life as a black sheep in a nativity scene >> more
Different types of suicide bomber: what makes them tick >> more
Cheating a short cut to sucess in winner-take-all society >> more
Life after death: Is it logically possible? >> more
Is it Anglican to practise apartheid? >> more
Da Vinci Code unlocks controversy>> more
Bishops' statement: pompous, pious, out of touch and verging on the heretical >> more 
Church leaders unconvincing over prostitution law reform >> more
Divorce risk factors >> more
How global are we?  A Christian's view of globalisation >> more
Victims of dirty tricks & friendly fire: Machiavellian tactics in the Church militant >> more
A redundant resurrection >> more
War, violence, ethics, religion and hypocrisy >> more
If St Peter was interviewed for ordination today >> more
13 ways to empty a church without really trying >> more
How tolerant is the Museum of Tolerance? >> more
A church comes out and reconciliation divides >> more
Micah's dream — too much to ask? >> more
Has the revised Anglican Church in New Zealand instigated a benign form of religious apartheid? >> more
The case for St Judas Iscariot >> more
Exorcism: the ministry of deliverance >> more

Top