General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Why is suicide taboo?

Asked by ibstubro (18636points) March 2nd, 2014

Seriously, isn’t it fairly ridiculous for suicide to be against the law?

Are we really worried about other people ending their lives, or are were worried that by doing so, they will trivialize ours?

Thanks Coloma.

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45 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

Consider that it’s not taboo in all cultures.

In the West, we’re more focused on Judeo-Christian ethical codes, because those are prevalent around us. But in Japan, for example, suicide is an honorable way to end one’s life to avoid dishonor in some situations. I don’t know about all other cultures, so I can’t go further than that.

In the Judeo-Christian mindset, though – and this mindset is what informs our laws, after all – it is up to God to determine one’s fate. For one to end his own life “ahead of time” is a sort of blasphemy, taking the decision out of God’s hands and taking it over yourself.

Bill1939's avatar

Taking a life is considered murder, even when the life is one’s own. Perhaps the suffering of the survivors dealing with the death of a loved one is at the root of of the prohibition that has been codified into law since the earliest days of civilization. Suicide has always been a controversial issue and was discussed in all of the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world.

Through his portrayal in Plato’s Phaedo of Elis, “Socrates felt that suicide condemned the person who committed suicide. He rationalized his eventual suicide because by telling all, that the gods had sent him a signal, his death was justified, though in essence he was sentenced to death by the state, and the method of execution was drinking hemlock.” See this

It may seem that suicide should be an individual’s choice. That would presume the choice is rational. When one is suffering from a debilitating illness for which no potential cure exists, or when facing life in prison, I believe they should have the right to end their life. However, in most instances the desire for death is the product of an emotionally deranged mind.

ibstubro's avatar

Expound, @stanleybmanly

But, @CWOTUS, if God is or the gods are ‘all knowing and all seeing’ why can’t the tell an individual that their time is at at an end, as @Bill1939 tells us Socrates did?

I do agree, @Bill1939, that ” most instances the desire for death is the product of an emotionally deranged mind.”

Bill1939's avatar

@ibstubro I doubt that the Gods had actually instructed Socrates to commit suicide. I understand that most scholars think he said that to mollify the grief and confusion his followers experienced over his death. It seems to me if God knew when it was time for one to die that the deity would simply bring death to them and not tell them to take their life.

ibstubro's avatar

But, @Bill1939, an all loving God might give someone permission to end their own misery.

kritiper's avatar

Because it’s murder. And I think may suicides are very sane people.

gailcalled's avatar

in most instances the desire for death is the product of an emotionally deranged mind.”

My father committed suicide and he was not emotionally deranged. It was the very rational and well-thoughtout plan of an unhappy, depressed and physically miserable man. He was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s; he arranged for one of his brothers to get him a gun and ammo;he had an up-to-date licence for the gun; and he left a note for the police absolving my mother of any collusion or responsibilty.

Under the then laws of New York State, she could have been charged as an accessory.

That did not, however, make my father’s act any easier on the family. Some rabbis refuse to allow suicides to be buried in Jewish cemeteries. Ours did discuss all these issues with us and accepted the mitigating factors as just that. There are still ripple effects from his act, but with the death of me and my sister, they will no longer be visible.

It is self-murder under Jewish law, but Jews being Jews, there are thousands of discussions and debates about this, ongoing at this very minute, I wager.

cheebdragon's avatar

Because gun control advocates tell us so?

Coloma's avatar

@ibstubro Haha…good question. ;-)

My personal feelings are that one is perfectly capable of choosing to quit life without the stigma of depression or mental illness. I think it is a perfectly viable choice that an individual can make from a place of consciousness and the my body, my choice, mantra.
Whether it be from terminal illness or simply deciding they have had enough of life and wish to evaporate into the cosmos from which they came.
Who are we to ever determine what anothers quality of life should be based on our own selfishness and fears?

I agree with @CWOTUS not all cultures consider it self murder or taboo.
I think it is a shame that more people cannot openly discuss their wishes with friends and family without the stigma of mental illness and/or the fear that they will somehow be held accountable if they do not intervene or worse, support and assist the individuals desires.
Of course for those that hold strong religious convictions this is not something that could ever be objectively explored with any measure of open mindedness.

bolwerk's avatar

Taboos can reenforce self-preservation or even offer a competitive advantage for individuals enforcing the taboo. In this case, the taboo could bring shame on immediate family and actually injure an individual’s ability to propagate his own genes – thereby keeping him/her from suiciding. In a society where people are heavily interdependent, those dependent on a given individual lose when s/he commits suicide. In those cases where suicide is not a taboo, it seems to usually be among the old or very sick – or occasionally permitted for martial reasons.

Then, there are legal and commercial reasons to consider. A dead able-bodied person is one less taxpayer, warrior, or customer. In a small and tight-knit society, a dead woman of reproductive age is a lost childbearing vagina. How does legal suicide fit into a life insurance plan? Economically, there is scarcely a single institution that has a net gain from suicide being socially acceptable.

JLeslie's avatar

As some have said above not all cultures consider it taboo.

I think like many things in the old and new testament the men who wrote these books wrote what they believed to be guidelines for life. They wrote them as laws or philosophies. As we get older most of us see that depression and difficult times can eventually pass and we recover. Making suicide a sin I figure is to try to disuade the desperate from a permanent solution to a temporary situation. These Judeo-Christian roots and modern western culture seem to abide by the basic tenet that suicide is wrong or not a good solution. But, I think even in societies that are not very accepting of suicide, many many people within those societies support suicide for people with terminal illness or who will live in a difficult physical state they prefer not to live in.

Mimishu1995's avatar

What? Suicide is taboo?

Perhaps that’s what westerners think. Nobody wants it to happen here but nobody says it’s taboo either. When it happens, everyone, especially adults, just call the person committing it stupid. There are attempts to prevent it but so far there hasn’t been much progress.

To tell the truth, some youngsters love gossiping about suicide. When a student commits suicide, he/she will be the center of gossips and rumors, some of which are pretty ridiculous like he/she got possessed by a ghost (most of these rumors are connected to earlier ghost rumors) or seriously cruel like he/she got kicked out by lovers or got some kind of mental disorder.

Paradox25's avatar

This is a topic that I frequently read about since I’m a fan of many pessimistic philosophy books. Anti-natalists such as David Benatar, Thomas Ligotti, David Crawford and the like have written about this topic in supporting their anti-natal views.

I think it comes down to the fact that most people are what can be termed philosophical libertarians, people who look at life with optimism, and who even praise hardships and BS as being a good thing. Most of these folks believe in free will and do not believe in determinism. However, I know plenty of determinists who are pro-natalists, and plenty of freewill proponents who are anti-natalists too.

I don’t want to get too deep here, and I’m only making assumptions according to my own observations. One thing that I do notice is that most anti-natalists and determinists in my opinion have a worldview that I support more so than their opponents, despite the fact that I’m a libertarian freewill proponent myself.

Many anti-natalists want the world to be a better and more peaceful place, where humans would be more empathetic towards others. Many times their libertarian freewill opponents praise the hardships, and want the world to continue to be the utter hellhole it has turned out to be, and usually for the most selfish reasons such as their need for competition, conflict, exhibitionalism and egocentrism. I’ve seen many of these people debate each other on various threads, and this is a trend that I do notice.

Since most cultures are filled with freewill libertarians or authoritarians, based on the above this is a major reason why suicide is looked down upon by default in most cultures in my opinion. The people who love misery on this planet, and don’t want to change things for the better, or who consistently fight those who do, have in their own sense created the concepts of anti-natalism and pessimism. Authoritarians have a tendancy to force others to like what they do, or ridicule them when they don’t, so I guess these types of people simply can’t apprehend the aspect of people wanting nothing to do with an imprisoning lifestyle enforced by assholes. This isn’t a professionally written post, but it gets to the point.

Coloma's avatar

@Paradox25 Standing ovation!
The suicidal fallout for many middle aged peeps from this recession ( suicide rates up nearly 30% in the 50 something age bracket ) are astounding and I can well see that the sentiments you express are very valid. Us boomers, we really thought we would change the world, sadly we have failed miserably and are now checking out in record numbers.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

@Coloma, you are so wrong! Didn’t change the world? So far no-one has FIXED the world, baby boomers or anyone else, but you certainly changed the world. When I was a child, I saw things on television. I saw good stuff, I saw bad stuff. I saw the assassination of JFK when I was in diapers. I sometimes get warnings from the utility company because I forgot the bill wasn’t paid yet, but I remember that day, with the parade, and my mom screaming, and serious newsmen crying quite well.
I remember a black man dressed nice and looking real serious talking loud and people cheered.
I remember crowds, shouting, and police with bats and masks dragging people in handcuffs.
I remember soldiers going away to a war, both on the news and in television shows.
I remember my dad talking about GD hippy freaks. I remember knowing, somehow, that GD hippy freaks did a lot of hitchhiking and backpacking across the country, and I thought that sounded like an awful cool adventure.
All of these things left impressions with me. The draft was ended. People took a long new look at the “N” word, and some other words that maybe weren’t polite. People who were afraid to hire or serve people for their ethnic roots or beliefs started being more daring about who they served, and hired, and how they treated neighbors, employees, and customers.
The first time I rode a city bus things were a lot different than when I saw my first city bus on the news.
My daughter goes to school with light brown kids and dark brown kids, and white kids. The students and their families trade knowledge of their heritages, song, dance history of America, Africa, England, Thailand, Cuba, China, Mexico, and even New Jersey. They have fun learning about a variety of cultures, and nobody had issues with Santa being black.
I was influenced by what I saw taking place, and so were VERY many other people. The United States is not the only country to be influenced by baby boomers and their sit ins, marches, tree hugging, singing whale albums, peace signs and the ecology sign.
The movie Hair is going to air on tv this month, and I am going to record it. Aside from being a good movie with an impressive soundtrack, I told my daughter I want her to watch it, to get a taste of the struggles, mistakes,ideals, hopes, and so much more seen by the world during that time of Flower Children.
I’m sorry you feel let down. Because of changes I saw take place, I participated in a sit in during the 90’s. A much needed homeless shelter was going to close down due to a lack in funds. Press showed up, but they never got to talk to us. A phone call came in and the funding had been approved. We were asked to leave. The word came from a trusted volunteer, so we quietly left.
I have so much more I could say on the subject, so I guess you will have to help me write the book.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

I believe suicide should be legal, but with certain conditions first met.
All financial affairs must be made final. If the individual owes money they should have to file case specific to a suicide circumstance.
Any minors involved should have their disposition arrainged.
The method of suicide should not directly cause damage, such as jumping off a building or bridge where property or humans might be harmed.
Well, that’s the basic idea.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Jonesn4burgers Your idea of legalizing suicide reminds me of a fictional short story about a world which legalizes suicide and a perve who owns a suicide company. The perve let people choose the suicide method they want (most of these method can only be conducted inside the company and cause no direct damage) then videotapes the death and post them on the internet. The outcome of it is quite depressing, with a lot of people going to the company without even have a clear reason for suicide (although the story is told by the perve’s viewpoint and the tone is very delighting).

I’m not against suicide, but I’m not for it either. And I’m not into the idea of legalizing suicide. It’s like encouraging more people to commit suicide (like what depicts in the story).

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

@Mimishu1995, what a creepy story! Mostly I agree with you. I think if the restrictions were used, however, it would change suicide all the way. A place like youd read about could not be. If businesses opened, they,d have to be inspected, have licensed doctors on staff, and be otherwise regulated. Going by the conditions, to have a legal suicide, people would have to think about the details, perform tasks. Only someone who really means it would go through with a legal suicide.
What a difference, how suicide is treated in your environment, from mine.

Bill1939's avatar

@gailcalled, I am sorry for the loss of your father. I also wrote “When one is suffering from a debilitating illness for which no potential cure exists, or when facing life in prison, I believe they should have the right to end their life.” I do not know if this is still true, but the Roman Catholic Church has long refused to bury a Catholic who committed suicide in sanctified ground.

In 1986 my sister hung herself at age 43. She had several psychotic breaks since age 22. The many psychiatric hospitalizations did little to help her deal with her frequent emotional maelstroms. I also have attempted suicide three times; the first attempt was at age six and the last at age 21. However I have never been diagnosed as having a psychosis, merely bipolar II. Still, I would not say that my choice to die was the product of a rational mind.

Bill1939's avatar

Even after one has taken an action to end their life their body will still struggle to survive. It takes an intense amount of physical or mental pain before the mind and body agree to die.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Bill1939 Even after one has taken an action to end their life their body will still struggle to survive. It takes an intense amount of physical or mental pain before the mind and body agree to die.
That sounds scary. Attempt suicide is even more painful than having to face the reason for suicide…

Coloma's avatar

I stand by my sentiments that it IS perfectly possible to make a rational choice to exit life.
People say that suicide is an act of cowardice, I disagree, it is probably the bravest thing one could ever do. It can also be an act of love and generosity. To burden loved ones or the system vs. taking personal responsibility for ones own demise, well….sounds pretty rational to me and an act of altruism.

Well of course the body will fight to survive if subjected to some traumatic attempt to kill itself such as drowning or suffocation but if subjected to an overdose of some sort, such as is shown in the documentary film “The right to die in Oregon”, there is no pain or suffering.
That is one amazing documentary, extremely well done, poignant and I support the right die 100%.

Bill1939's avatar

@Coloma I also support the right to die. A concern I have is that this decision may not have been fully thought out, as all reasons for making this choice may not always be conscious ones. The decision may also be the product of manipulation by others that may have their own reasons for encouraging one to die. Unfortunately, few mental health professionals that have the skill are available to aid in fully understanding the reasons for choosing death.

Having had to put pets down many times over the years, I feel strongly for the right to end suffering this way. However, if this action were so simple, why is it so difficult for states to put the condemned to death?

Coloma's avatar

Beats me. I guess it comes down to allowing one the right to chose their own way out vs. having a bloodied hand in the death of another that may or may not be truly guilty.
Even if proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Helping to kill a mentally deranged person, which by default renders them innocent of any wrongdoing seems barbaric.

ibstubro's avatar

And yet, @Coloma, isn’t anyone who commits a barbaric act technically mentally ill in some respect? Almost all criminals are criminally insane. Are they innocent of wrongdoing by default.

Taken to an extreme, do you believe Hitler was totally sane? So, if not, he gets a pass?

Coloma's avatar

@ibstubro No passes, only consequences, but….if one is not in their right mind they are innocent by default.
Truly conscious people do not cross the line into insane and delusional acts of violence.
Hitler was a product of his own very customized blend of insanity, but he truly believed in his ideologies, soooo… his mind he was completely rational in his pursuits.

ibstubro's avatar

Honestly, @Coloma, seriously, I believe we all exist in our own “very customized blend of insanity”. I do not believe that a state of “sane” exists, in that there is an ultimate ‘zero point’. Under normal conditions, society decides that it’s criminal to veer out of the respective ‘zero point’ more than 10–20-30–40%.

Anything outside those perimeters is technically insane.

Sorry to turn this into an insanity discussion, but you hit on a topic (insanity) that greatly interests me, and that I have thought a lot about. It seems like a slight derail is a better way of discussing it than an actual question.

Coloma's avatar

@ibstubro Agreed, maybe better said that we all inhabit our own customized relaities, some just synch up better with the laws of the land and society. From she who has always inhabited a gray area but has yet to murder anyone. lol

ibstubro's avatar

Damn. I thought we were on the edge of a revelation, @Coloma.

Bill1939's avatar

@ibstubro mental illness does not remove one’s responsibility for their actions. While mental constructs that enable one to commit heinous acts are outside of what we like to think of as “normal” this does not necessarily equate to mental illness. While being in a psychotic state when committing a crime is a legitimate justification for a court finding the accused not guilty by reason of insanity, being neurotic is not. A grey area might exist when the psychosis is the product of intentionally using a substance such as methamphetamine, however.

kritiper's avatar

As a devout atheist, I see theists as truly insane people. Several years ago, I put myself in the hospital because of a dangerous MRSA infection that, although I didn’t know at the time that it was MRSA, could have killed me. Going to the hospital, I did know that I was in big trouble, whatever the infection was. Visibly shaken at having to go to the hospital, some dumbass in the ER assumed incorrectly that I must be suicidal. (Why in hell would I check myself into the hospital for help in saving my life if what I wanted was to end my life?!?! Double dumbass!!) The hospital then had to arrange for a psychologist from the county health dept. to do an analysis of my mental condition to see if I was a danger to myself. The person they sent was a practicing Catholic.
So who the heck was the crazy person here???

Bill1939's avatar

Given the litigious society we live in @kritiper, I am not surprised that the possibility of a patient being suicidal would require investigation by a qualified psychologist. However, that the psychologist was Catholic, even a priest, would not preclude their ability to make this determination. Professional persons of faith, including devout atheists, are as qualified as agnostics.

kritiper's avatar

Society, whether it is realized or not, (and from who’s POV you’re talking about) accepts as normal a great deal of insanity in varying degrees. There is no such thing as 100% sane and I think the sanest people commit suicide because of their inability to accept absolute reality.

Coloma's avatar

@kritiper Heh..I tend to agree. Only the truly sane can see and accept/reject reality.

NanoNano's avatar

Like most societal norms, I would say suicide is taboo because on a base level it works against the survival of the species.

This is also the reason for other societal norms such as the family, the trend for human beings to gather together/live together in large numbers (“cities”), the trend towards looking at fellow large mammals as “vicious” and “dangerous” creatures to be eradicated, the trend towards promoting a society where most people sleep at night and are awake during the day etc. etc….

bolwerk's avatar

@NanoNano: except when it doesn’t. As others say, it’s not anywhere near a universal social norm. Keeping someone who is decrepit alive in some circumstances might even hinder that person’s ability to propagate her/his own genes. Actually, none of those are universal. The family is the tribe in some societies.

Having a few daytime sleepers was probably something we evolved too. Traditionally, people needed to have someone awake at night to be alert for danger.

NanoNano's avatar


They are all universal, across cultures, across time.

bolwerk's avatar

@NanoNano: there are tribes where nobody knows who their father even is. The term for an adult male in a tribe might translate to uncle, because nobody is exactly sure who mommy did the deed with when conception happened. Or, it’s assumed that everyone mommy did the deed with imparted some traits. Which could be everyone!

Actually, the only universal taboo across human cultures might be mother-son sex.

NanoNano's avatar

I’m not speaking about tribes that don’t contain the basic set of human values that civilizations have since the time of the ancient Sumerians to the present day.

You should always just assume I’m right about everything botwerk. It will save you a lot of heartache and trouble out here on Fluther.

bolwerk's avatar

@NanoNano: nearly every one of those societies had some outlet for suiciding. You aren’t even right if you reduce the scope to modern “civilization.” Unless you think people with slanty eyes can’t be called civilized.

NanoNano's avatar

There you go again, torturing yourself, hitting your head against a brick wall.

Just accept I’m right botwerk and be done with it.

bolwerk's avatar

@NanoNano: no, you’re wrong until proven right.

Coloma's avatar

Oh noooo! Not the gumdrop buttons!

No, I am right….my body, my choice to suicide if I so choose, forget societal mandates, it is individual choice. I retain the right to determine whether or not I deem my quality of life to be, well…quality. haha

enyasador's avatar

against the law on earth? who can stop you when you’re already dead?

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