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jca's avatar

Is suicide a selfish act?

Asked by jca (26785 points ) May 25th, 2012

Is suicide a selfish act, in your opinion?

I see this question has been asked previously on Fluther, in 2009. Since Fluther has so many users that have signed on since 2009, there will likely be new and different answers this time.

I thought of this today when discussing the recent suicide of Mary Kennedy, who was married to one of the philandering Kennedy men. She left behind four children, ages (I believe) 11 to 17. It’s not about her specifically, but suicide in general.

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46 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Yeah, I think it takes more courage when the chips are down to fight and take care of your loved ones. Yeah, it might end my pain, but it leaves a lot of pain around those who loved me or counted on me.

chyna's avatar

I think in a way it is selfish as the person can’t see beyond their own pain, what ever it is that drives them to suicide, to consider those they leave behind. I also realize they must have some emotional melt down to be able to get that low.

Charles's avatar

Very few, if any, mentally healthy people commit suicide.

Kayak8's avatar

I love the slogan, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Anytime things get too heavy, I just remind myself of all the other bad things that happened that eventually passed. Some folks just plain run out of resilience I think. I also think some illnesses (both physical and mental) are too great to bear over the long haul and suicide can be a blessing.

“Selfish” is hard to assess when you can’t see any other way out. I can imagine that some might imagine their children would be better off without them, particularly if one is prone to erratic behavior that might harm them more profoundly. The problem is that we can’t see the future or accurately predict the impact of our existence on the lives of others very well.

Blackberry's avatar

No, I’m not sure how it would be. Arguing that your family members will be sad doesn’t seem like a strong argument. How is the death different from moving away and not speaking to anyone anymore?

tranquilsea's avatar

Anyone who attempts or completes suicide is simply showing that their emotional hurt is beyond anything they can think of to help.

Unless you’ve been there you can’t really know what it’s like.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Blackberry In my case I’m the one my family always turns to when things get tough. I kind of have to be there for them.

bewailknot's avatar

There can be many reasons for suicide, and not all are selfish. Sometimes it is generous, although you may find that hard to believe. It is very sad to see someone with young children take their own life. MK must have been in terrible emotional pain.

My mother was a suicide. She was not initially successful, but she refused to come back to full alertness. The doctor said there was no reason she was not fully awake, and she eventually died a week later. As she got older and more frail she was afraid she would end up in a nursing home. She wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. Sometimes I wish she could have met my granddaughter who is one amazing kid, but I believe Mom had the right to choose.

Mom’s sister was in a nursing home, but fully alert, and refused treatment for a treatable illness, knowing that would result in her death – sort of a suicide. She is missed, but we believe she also had the right to choose.

I will be going to the funeral of a friend next week who also chose death. It was not to hurt anyone, but she was just tired of the constant physical pain, frequent hospital stays, and the poor prognosis for recovery. Most of her family is devastated, and blaming themselves for not realizing how bad she felt, but she had been suffering for years and was tired.

tups's avatar

It is a selfish act. Unless you’re committing suicide for the sake of others, which I doubt is usually the case. But a lot of actions are selfish, that’s just the world. Selfish is common.

ragingloli's avatar

It is both selfish and not selfish at the same time.
It is selfish because you act on your mental imbalance induced desire to end your life without regard to the consequences this act has on others.
It is not selfish because it directly violates the basic biological drive to self preservation.

Aethelflaed's avatar

No, but I think expecting someone who’s in tremendous pain to stay and take care of your emotional needs instead of their’s is selfish, and co-dependent.

josie's avatar

Of course it is. What else could it be? On the other hand, in some cases it is also stupid. If people kill themselves imagining there is some other alternative, they are stupid. On the other hand, if people kill themselves because they know there are no other alternatives, then they are appropriately selfish.

tinyfaery's avatar

All acts are selfish.

Suicide is most times the only way to end mental/emotional pain for many people. Unless you have been there you can never know what makes people decide that death is the only way to end their pain.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@tinyfaery All acts are selfish? I don’t know about that.

lillycoyote's avatar

It really depends; it’s complicated, I think. A soldier who throws himself on a hand grenade to save the lives of the rest of his platoon? That is an act of selflessness, of course. People sometimes commit suicided because they have, or believe they have, become a burden or a shame to their families. Those suicides may be motivated by what they think is the best for the people they love.

Prisoners at Auschwitz and at other concentration camps sometimes threw themselves into the electric fences at the camps to end their own suffering, despair and hopelessness. It was an act that wasn’t about anyone but themselves, but was it a “selfish” act? By definition, I suppose yes, but can you blame them? A lot a people didn’t do that, but many people did. I’m certainly not going to judge them. People are all different; people have different capacities and different breaking points.

People generally commit suicide when they reached a level of despair or hopelessness, or have been pushed completely beyond the limits of their ability to cope. Everyone is different. Everyone has different capacities to face things.

Except in the first two circumstances, suicide, is by definition, a “selfish act,” but an act driven by overpowering feelings, circumstance, things that may not be within the person’s ability to control or to overcome. I don’t think it is selfish in the same way that other selfish things that people do are.

Most, many, some, acts of selfishness are the result of people driven by ego, narcissism, lack of empathy and just not caring about anyone but themselves. People who commit suicide are generally people who are not selfish by nature, they have just become overwhelmed in someway and can’t see any other way out of their pain and circumstances. If they could see beyond their own pain, they most likely wouldn’t kill themselves.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

I agree with @lillycoyote; while I think suicide is generally a selfish act, like everything else in life, there are exceptions, such as the ones @lillycoyote listed. I’d also add to to that list suicide when one is in the end stages of a terminal disease.

Suicide is selfish because while the pain that the person committing suicide has goes away for them, their final act creates pain for the people they left behind, who now have to deal with the pain created by the act of suicide.

However, there are circumstances where it may be selfish of the people in the potential suicide’s life to expect that person to continue living. This is why it is complicated, as others here have said. There is no blanket answer, that suicide is always selfish; the reasons for suicide are as varied as the individuals themselves.

Suicide is the end product of illness, whether mental or otherwise. It is often an act of desperation, and most suicides will send signals that they are intending to kill themselves. Whether or not you catch those signals in time depends on a lot of factors. Suicide is sometimes a very irrational act, and at other times, extremely rational (see above, the soldier throwing himself on the grenade…).

Mariah's avatar

Suicide is selfish, but it’s also selfish to expect someone who’s in constant pain to go on existing just because you’d miss them if they were gone.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Every act of suicide is different than another. The reasons for the outcome are as individualistic as fingerprints. While I understand why people may feel that suicide is a selfish act, or that some cases are, I just cannot agree.

Help me to understand what is so selfish about suicide. I don’t think that anyone chooses to end their life early in order to have it considered a selfish act by others. They have just reached a point where this seems like the only viable option to stop their pain, be it physical or emotional.

bewailknot's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer What about the person who says “If you leave me I’ll kill myself.” “They’ll be sorry when I’m dead.”

Trillian's avatar

You ask “in general” but one cannot generalize what is, after all, a personal decision. It is arrived at in too many ways to count. There are cultures which hold a different view about the sanctity of an individual human life than what is held by our society. To try to judge the decision to leave this life by one’s own standards is arrogant an insupportable.
Not everyone is attached to this life, and to expect a person to stay in what may be an unlivable situation, especially if no attempt at understanding or rendering assistance is extended, is absurd.
This concept is on the same level as the right to life people picketing abortion clinics, preventing young, unwed females from aborting. They go home feeling proud and satisfied with themselves, but nothing has changed for that young mother to be. Now another statistic is getting ready to come into the world with multiple strikes against it before it ever leaves the womb.
If you’re going to interfere in life changing decisions made by others, you need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the results of that interference.

King_Pariah's avatar

Sure, so is grasping for life.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@bewailknot Indeed, that is a threat used in order to evoke guilt if a loved one plans to leave. Thank you for providing that angle. I suspect that anyone who ends up in a situation like this has to come to a decision on whether to stay with someone who is mentally unstable or take the risk in order to save their own sanity. Again though, it depends upon the individual situation. Not all people who use this threat fall into one bucket of the suicidal category.

bewailknot's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I agree. The person I am now would tell the person I was leaving “If you must kill yourself that is your choice, but you can’t blackmail me to stay.”

lillycoyote's avatar

I wanted to add a couple of things. First, some people commit suicide because they suffer from severe clinical depression. This a mental illness, a mood disorder actually. It not only causes extreme feelings of sadness, despair and hopelessness, it can cause cognitive distortions and effect a person’s ability to think rationally. For me, for an act to be truly selfish, a person has to be rational. People suffering from severe clinical depression are not completely rational.

Other times, as is the case with Mary Kennedy, I think, people who have been reasonably mentally healthy their entire lives find themselves in circumstances where it is beyond their ability to cope; they are pushed to and beyond their breaking point by circumstances. Though I really, certainly don’t know enough about Mary Kennedy’s history and mental state to really speculated on this, I guess.

But I also don’t really like the idea of suicide being described as purely selfish act and lumped in with other acts of pure, true selfishness.

You want to see real, true selfishness? In someone whose had children about the same age as Mary Kennedy’s kids? Well, here it is; this is one of our home town boys, Thomas Capano

He came from a prominent family, he was intelligent, handsome, healthy; he had a successful, lucrative law practice, was worth millions of dollars, had an intelligent and pretty wife, had four beautiful, healthy daughters, a nice house, influence in the community … and he also had two mistresses, one of whom he murdered, because she was breaking up with him and Thomas Capano called the shots, he controlled things, no one said no to him, and the other mistress, he betrayed her on numerous occasions, including trying to accuse her of the murder of his other mistress.

He lied to and betrayed and caused scandal for his wife, destroyed his marriage, damaged his family beyond repair, and the worst of what he did was the pain he caused and the damage he did to his daughters, who were 13, 15, 16 and 18, just about the same ages as Mary Kennedy’s children, at the time of his conviction. They had to suffer destruction of their family, endure the trial and his sentence, execution; the loss of a real and lifetime relationship with their father, where the only way they could see him was to visit him in jail, the public humiliation that their father’s crime cause them, and possibly worst of all, having to live for many years knowing that their father was going to be executed by lethal injection, though a later supreme court decision prevented his execution and he died in jail about 9 months ago.

Thomas Capano, because of his ego and selfishness, actively destroyed or severely damaged the lives of the people who were supposed to matter to him. A father is supposed to educated and protect his daughters from people like Thomas Capano, not be someone like Thomas Capano.

That is selfishness.

And yes, Mary Kennedy had four children. I simply cannot, I just can’t imagine that her children did not weigh heavily on her mind when she was considering suicide, I just don’t know. To me that means she must been so far beyond her breaking point that even her love for her children wasn’t enough to stop her from hanging herself.

She surrendered.

That is different, I think.

tranquilsea's avatar

Well said @lillycoyote. I went through a period in my life when I was seriously suicidal. I thought about my children incessantly but my thoughts were extremely irrational. All I could think, at my lowest points, was that they’d be better off without me because I thought I was a terrible mother.

I’m so glad that I had the support I needed to get through that time. It was a terrifying time for me and my family. But they stuck with me and I stuck with therapy and I eventually got better.

Sunny2's avatar

When I get to my eighties or nineties, if my mind is going and I’m physically in pain that can only be relieved by such heavy doses of medication that I’m only half conscious, I would like to be put out of my misery. That’s not legal in my state. I’ll vote for a right to die bill as soon as one is offered. Is that selfish?
I watched my mother-in-law go though that. Her body was worn out but her mind was relatively in tact. She wished she could die. She had been a very active person, but wasn’t any longer; she was bed-ridden. She wasn’t going to get better. She asked, “Why do I have to go through this?” We had no answer. We suggested she stop eating, since she said she was never hungry. She tried, but she would forget and say, ” I didn’t want to eat, but I suppose it’s good for me.” Months went by. Finally she died. I would have saved her from her long terminal suffering, if I could have. Is suffering and pain worth anything?
Suicide is not necessarily selfish!

Symbeline's avatar

It may be ’‘selfish’’ on its own stand because of the reverberations it leaves behind, but there are a lot of different reasons why people contemplate and go through suicide that selfishness can’t be pinned as a sole or major factor.
But for someone to really want to kill themselves, they must really be rock bottom, and can’t find a solution. Maybe they ask for help, and maybe it’s refused or denied. We don’t exactly live in a world where man seeks to always help his brother, so it can be hard for some people if they get the conviction that nothing or no one is going to help them. Let’s say I’m thinking of taking my own life; the idea itself frightens me to no end. So for someone who actually goes through with it or considers it seriously, they must really be down in the pits. So down there that nothing else can seem a better alternative to them.
Maybe they’re so scared for whatever reason, they just can’t see another way out. Maybe some people aren’t strong enough to face certain things, or don’t know how, and get overwhelmed. I don’t think that would be considered selfish though. It sucks, but I’m sure that in pretty much most cases, folks don’t kill themselves just to piss people off.

The problem I have with a lot of perceptions of suicide is that so many seem to center around the idea that it works like in movies or stories with obligatory happy endings, and the real world just isn’t like that. There isn’t some button you push that fixes everything, or that invokes the Grand Manitou so that he gives you all the answers. There is often no guidance or regulation to confirm anything, and it’s easy for some to get lost in things, whether you have a good family or not. What about someone with severe mental illness? Or a young teen who was mistreated for every year they’ve known? How are they supposed to ’‘know any better’’? There’s just not anything so black and white about suicide that can relegate the entire idea to mere selfishness. There’s also a lot to say about environmental factors and how societies work, I think.
Some people make it out and get their shit together, and that is certainly to be admired. But there are those who can’t do it, and I personally wouldn’t call them selfish and then call it a day.

whitenoise's avatar

I think it is too harsh to call it selfish as I agree with those above that have stated that it is too often, if not almost always, the consequence of a serious mental heath problem.

gondwanalon's avatar

I think that it depends on the situation.

Suicide would be justifiable if you are very old and suffering badly from a terminal illness and you are without family and friends.

A friend of mine committed suicide because of an out of control gambling problem that he privately was dealing with for many years. He was physically healthy with a wife and kids and many friends. Was he selfish? Some people might say so. It just seems so sad to me. What a waste. He had so much going for him and so much to live for.

Sunny2's avatar

The pain of mental illness can be unbearable. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t know how much it hurts.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
lillycoyote's avatar

@tranquilsea Thanks. There are SO many things in life that are impossible to understand until you go through them, experience them, until they happen to you. You are very brave to share your personal experience with all of us. Thank you!

augustlan's avatar

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What it always is, is sad.

lillycoyote's avatar

I was looking over my comment, what I said about Thomas Capano, and I wanted to clarify one thing: The worst of what he did was to murder Anne Marie Fahey. That is without question. While it was all going on, I thought so much about the pain he had caused to Anne Marie Fahey’s family, but I could just never stop thinking about the effect his actions had on his daughters. I doubt that any of you are finding it worrisome; I just want to be clear about it.

rooeytoo's avatar

I have known 2 young males, was very close to one, less so the other, who committed suicide. I thought it was a stupid decision but the fact is, it was their decision and regardless that the relatives left behind were very mournful, no one owns anyone else or really has any claim on their life. It is an individual decision. Selfishness is a very subjective judgement to make on yourself or others.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Sunny2 Very good point. There’s this idea that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, which is sometimes true (like the emotional pain of being dumped at age 14), but sometimes, the problem isn’t temporary. And there’s something of a gray area – if the problem goes on for 20 years, is it temporary and thus you should clearly stick it out, or is that a long enough amount of time that the “permanent solution to a temporary problem” framing falls flat?

ucme's avatar

By definition, of course it is. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is largely down to opinion, like most things.

Bill1939's avatar

In Vice President Joe Biden’s address Friday, May 25, to survivors of slain U.S. military service members, reflecting on the deaths of his wife and daughter killed in a car accident almost 40 years ago, he said, “For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide.”

see link

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you for that link @Bill1939

downtide's avatar

Sometimes people commit suicide because they feel that they are too much of a burden on their loved ones. That is the opposite of a selfish act, IMO.

I had a close friend who committed suicide. In the week before his death, he called all his friends one by one, to make sure they were all okay. There wasn’t any hint in his conversation that he was contemplating suicide but he must have been planning it at that point.

I’ve been in a position where suicide seemed like the only rational and unselfish option I had left.

Leanne1986's avatar

No. I believe that people who seriously attempt suicide are not in the right frame of mind to able to differentiate between a selfish act or a selfless act. They are often too far gone for that kind of reason or logic. All they can think about is how to get rid of their pain, it becomes a fixation and, at least in my experience, they are unable to imagine what kind of suffering there loved ones would go through if they killed themselves.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Yes, just like eating and living are selfish…~

Keep_on_running's avatar

“There’s this idea that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, which is sometimes true (like the emotional pain of being dumped at age 14), but sometimes, the problem isn’t temporary. And there’s something of a gray area – if the problem goes on for 20 years, is it temporary and thus you should clearly stick it out, or is that a long enough amount of time that the “permanent solution to a temporary problem” framing falls flat?”
-

I have always thought the same kind of thing. “Temporary problem” is also somewhat belittling, to those who have no idea about the nature of someone’s problems and situation.

Paradox25's avatar

The problem here is that everything which a person can do, whether considered to be good or bad by us individually, could be labeled as selfish. I also don’t believe that any of us are moral enough to call someone taking their own lives as selfish, despite the fact that all of us are selfish in some way or another.

I do think that some reasons for committing suicide may be more selfish than others, like taking ones own life to spite someone (my opinion). As far as personal problems go many of these people are what most would consider normal, but who are currently suffering because of life’s obstacles. Then there is the terminal illness or perpetual (chronic) pain factor too. Personally I don’t feel that any of us are qualified to label those who take their own lives as selfish, and I could consider people who want to live and be happy as being ‘selfish’ too theoretically.

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