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Pandora's avatar

So is it suicide if a brain disease may have caused you to kill yourself?

Asked by Pandora (29933points) May 20th, 2015

I just watched a report on Robin Williams suicide and they say he was suffering from an undiagnosed disease that causes hallucinations, and paranoia. They thought he had Parkison which has almost the same beginning symptoms but it turns out he had a severe case of Lewy Body Dementia.

So it made me wonder. Would it still be consider suicide if the person doing the act couldn’t tell the difference between reality or a hallucination?

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23 Answers

Mimishu1995's avatar

I’m not an expert, but if we define suicide as “taking one’s life deliberately”, then I think it’s still considered suicide. He killed himself, no one was involved in the killing, nor he died in any accident.

Pachy's avatar

Simply defined, suicide is the act of killing one’s self. Like @Mimishu1995, I’m not an expert on this subject and have no wish ever to be, but I would think that no matter what the reason(s) for suicide might be, it’s still suicide.

zenvelo's avatar

Yes, it is a suicide, as it is an act upon one’s own life. The difference is that we gain greater understanding of the cause,

One could argue all suicide is the result of a brain illness.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Wait a sec. From a legal standpoint wouldn’t it be the disease that killed him? It matters because insurance companies have suicide clauses to weasel out of paying up, and isn’t suicide considered criminal? I remember from my Catholic days that suicide was a first class ticket to hell.

Pachy's avatar

The disease may have been killing the actor but it didn’t actually end his life. Mr. Williams did that of his own volition.

Buttonstc's avatar

Suicide would be what the coroner (or police) would put in their report. It wasn’t “Natural Causes” or “Homicide” so there aren’t a whole lot of other choices than suicide to describe death by one’s own hand.

But hopefully, knowing that he likely had a form of dementia which distorts reality will be some comfort to friends and family.

There are also people with terminal illness who choose to end their life painlessly with a lethal dose of medication for whom suicide is a most understandable alternative to a lingering death involving needless suffering.

Even tho there are still the leftover remnants of stigmatization for suicide (primarily based upon religion’s severe condemnation and refusal of burial or funeral privileges) our society is very gradually replacing those archaic views with a more educated, enlightened and compassionate view of those who are desperate enough to consider suicide the most viable alternative for their pain (whether it be physical or emotional pain.)

But enlightenment is a slow process indeed when it comes to understanding suicide. It’s so much easier to judge and to condemn, unfortunately.

Coloma's avatar

Agree with others that say suicide is an act of volition regardless of disease or mental state.
I also think it is perfectly possible to decide to end ones life for whatever reasons without any disease or mental illness from a place of conscious lucidity.

LostInParadise's avatar

It is an interesting question from a philosophical point of view. We think of ourselves as a single entity, but in reality we are the collective creation of hundreds of millions of neurons. If there is a breakdown somewhere, are we still the same person? What if a virus or bacteria are involved? Can we be said to have relinquished control to the invaders?

Consider the mythical boat of Theseus, which was gradually reconstructed one plank at a time as the parts decayed. When all the parts were replaced, was it still the same boat? What if the design was gradually modified?

Now consider a human being who changes continuously from birth to death. Here is an article that ponders the question.

Pandora's avatar

But what if the disease cause hallucinations and the person was acting upon the hallucination like you do in a dream. You may dream of killing yourself (and to many that is a nightmare) but in an awake state, you may never want to actually do it. So physically it is suicide. But can one claim that the person was aware that they were actually committing suicide in real life?

I remember when I was young a neighbor jumping out his 4th floor window. He was tripping on some drug and thought he could fly. Now, I would argue suicide by stupidity for taking the drug, but when a mental illness goes undiagnosed and the patient isn’t aware of it and does something foolish, should they be held accountable.

Let look at it another way. When someone commits murder by reason of insanity they are let off the hook in a way. They are put in a mental facility and given medications. Of course you can’t do that with dead people but I don’t get why insurance agencies get to keep money for a suicide if the person suffered from hallucinations and was not aware of being mentally ill.

It seems that through his life he tried to get help for all the diseases that he had and stayed on top of taking his medications. This does not sound like someone who has given up on life. He may not have been killed by the disease but he may have taken his own life because the disease affected his thinking.

Pandora's avatar

@LostInParadise I would argue that the ship is identical with newer parts. It will still function the same. Now as for people it isn’t the same as we get older. Older cells die and are not quickly replaced and some are never replaced. I would be like letting the ship stay with rotted planks, so there will always be leaks and the ship may not go as fast. But if you replace all the parts with new parts that are identical to the original (like identical twins) it is identical. And like twins each part will be affected differently by weather conditions and where it goes and who is steering it. But still be identical. If you took two idential ships and could match the experiences exactly at the same time, than it should wear the same.

In Robins case. Brain cells where suffering and not functioning at full capacity. So it would be like making holes in a ship. Still is the same ship but it will be the ship at the bottom of an ocean if it can’t be repaired. Especially if no one knows of the leaks and the captain steers it into rough waters because he thinks it can take the hits from the waves.

Judi's avatar

It’s still suicide but the problem seems to be that the word conjures up some sort of judgment in most people. We assume people who suffer from suicidal thoughts have some sort of character defect.
The truth is, biologically we are programmed for survival. People who suffer suacidal ideation either have a brain disease or are under extreme emotional duress.

Pandora's avatar

Exactly. Like I can promise 99 percent that I will never commit suicide. I like living. I always liked living. If I died tomorrow, I think I will be ok with that but it won’t be by my hand. However, I do not know what I would do if I just lost my mind. I remember how hormonal changes in my first pregnancy made me act like a mad woman, I did not recognize after I gave birth and everything was back to normal. I was emotional and everything was practically the end of days. I am typically not an emotional person, unless ill or something happens to someone I care about. I felt as if my mind was taken over and I had a hard time keeping control over my emotions.

So after that experience, I realized our thoughts are not always controllable. A very reasonable person wanting to live may not be able to see reason when their brain is under attack. I remember even crying because I realized I had not control over my emotions. So I cried harder because I was crying about the lack of control and I couldn’t stop this cycle. Then out of the blue. I would think of my baby and think of how I was going to love it and make him happy. Then back to crying because the world is a cruel place and I couldn’t guarantee his happiness. It was bad and then stop crying because I was famished and craved onion rings.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’d give them a pass if they’re mentally ill. If you don’t know what you’re doing are you responsible for doing it?

Hipster's avatar

The suffix -cide is from the Latin caedere, “to kill.” “Sui” is Latin for “of self.” No matter the reason, killing oneself is suicide. No one else did it, and it wasn’t an accident.

Patricide = Killing one’s father
Herbicide = Plant (weed) killer
Genocide = Killing an ethnic group
Pesticide = Killing pests

sahID's avatar

At least in some people, Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia co-occur, and when they do, the resulting hallucinations can be horrific. Here I am speaking from experience. My dad suffered from both conditions in his final years of life.

Just how vivid these hallucinations can be is best exemplified by the night that a hallucination in which he was being kidnapped became so real to him that somehow he called 911. (The cops who responded were not amused.)

Having lived through these experiences, I give Robin Williams the benefit of the doubt. Especially in light of the Lewy Body Dementia he suffered from it is entirely possible that he was acting out a hallucination that could easily have had nothing at all to do with actual suicide. The sad thing is that hallucinations like this are at once so real and mesmerizing that he quite likely wasn’t even aware of what he was physically doing until it was too late.

In a situation like that, did he consciously decide to commit suicide? In my opinion, no he did not.

Pandora's avatar

@Hipster There are things like accidental overdose that isn’t always considered suicide.
Why? Because they didn’t realize that taking extra of a certain medication or mixing it with something else would lead to their death.
I am not referring to the definition but rather the stigma that is associated with suicide and even how insurances stick to the rigid definition.

If you are talking out loud to yourself and acting out a whole scene when you are in a room alone, you can end up in one of two places. One can be you are crazy. You go to the loony bin. The second is you are rehearsing a scene you will be acting out in a real movie or stage and you may win an award. In both cases. You may be viewed differently because of this strange behavior. One gets you a straight jacket and the other applause.

@sahID Sorry about your dad. Thank you for the personal information as to how real these hallucinations may be. I agree with you that he may not have really known what he was doing. They say he was working on 4 films at this time and maybe that really confused him more about reality and a hallucinations as well. I can’t think that having a career that deals with fantasy all the time would be healthy for someone suffering from hallucinations. Especially if they aren’t aware of it really happening. The last movie he completed was Night at the museum 3.

flutherother's avatar

It isn’t always clear cut. Some mental illnesses cause people to act impulsively and recklessly which may lead to death without that being the intention.

Gabby101's avatar

Maybe it’s the intent to kill your self that defines suicide. If I drive recklessly and am killed in a car crash, I have killed myself, but it wasn’t my intent and people would say I died in a car crash.

Depression is a disease that can alter someone’s reality, but when a depressed person kills themselves, there is no hesitation to call it suicide. It was interesting to me how hard the Williams family fought from the beginning to play this as a suicide with special circumstances.

Pandora's avatar

@Gabby101 Did you read about the fact that an autopsy revealed that he had Lewy Body Dementia that wasn’t discovered because the doctor misdiagnosed it with Parkinson, which is often the case of Lewy Body Dementia.
Maybe his family fought it because they felt it had to be more than just depression. He had suffered with depression off and on over the years. He had even checked into rehab 3 months prior to make sure that he stays sober and clean. He had even been told he had Parkinson and he would call friends he had with the disease and compared notes. He knew with proper care he could live a longer since treatments have gotten better. He was also taking his medications. I would think. If he was depressed to the point of suicide he wouldn’t bother to try to take care of himself.
To me, this doesn’t sound like someone giving up on life.
But my point is if the person who hallucinates commits suicide, shouldn’t it be considered a accidental if he was not aware of or in actual mental control of their actions and had no real intentions of killing themselves? . Especially if they were possibly hallucinating.

Read what @sahID says about the disease above and about how real the hallucinations can be for someone with Lewys.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Yes. Suicide is a symptom, not a disorder in itself. Just like a respiratory arrest can be a symptom of lung cancer, suicide can be a symptom of depression (among other disorders).

Coloma's avatar

It can also be a choice free of pathology.
I think this is highly overlooked and people do not like the idea that one can choose, from a place of lucidity to be done.
If one feels their worldly work is done, or they decide they do not want to live into advanced old age, or they are simply weary of life and decide to take their leave after a lifetime of experiences, I see nothing wrong with this in the least.

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