Allowing people to take their own lives will be one of the most profound steps we can take towards a new, wellbeing-oriented approach to policy.
90% of people who kill themselves do not do so rationally. These are lives tragically wasted.
I assume that my brother‘s death was in that category, but we’ll never know.
Recently, medicine has had to grapple with the idea that some patients who wish to die may have no mental health problems whatsoever.
This realization overturns the traditional medical definition of suicidal ideation.
In the future, we will not shame those who wish to die, nor stigmatize those who killed themselves.
We will never know whether my brother was in so much irreconcilable mental pain that death was a rational and long-planned choice. Or, by contrast, whether it was impulsive, or possibly a normal, treatable phase of suffering that, like many young men, he could have worked through with love and help. We’ll never know because he never told anyone something was wrong, and left no clues as to what it was.
If my brother had had the right to take his life even after telling people he was sad and considering it, he would surely have been more likely to tell us. I am entirely confident that we would have been able to give that vibrant 20 year old better alternatives.
How many people would actually die by suicide if they always had the option to do so peacefully and with loving people at their side?
I know this topic is complex, and I am only speculating, but I believe the answer to that question is: Very few among those who still have the possibility of refinding a high quality of life.
On the other hand, for those like Avril Henry, whose story inspired this post (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/mar/09/the-last-days-of-avril-henry-right-to-die), nothing seems more natural than being able to die when old age has made life irreversibly unenjoyable.
That medical training and society more broadly have for so long prescribed that we keep hearts beating and lungs inhaling, in complete defiance of an individual’s stated wellbeing, is madness. What could be more alienating and disrespectful than to ignore someone’s suffering and rationally confident preference, and to subjugate these things to an external objective outcome?
Prioritising longevity over wellbeing mirrors our larger misdirections with respect to material outcomes in healthcare, and to production and consumption over subjective experience and social connections.
For these reasons, I say that giving human experience its proper priority means allowing dignity in death, and going all the way to take seriously the wishes of those whose only motivation for dying is existential pain.
To such people we should bring love and consideration and deep listening, and good options, not repression or isolation.
If you got here because you have suicidal thoughts, tell someone you love, or just someone (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines). Don’t be afraid. There are so many others out there who have gone through a similar feeling, and now have more wisdom and experience about it than you do. Talk about it. Maybe you’re right! But probably you’re wrong.