Newspaper and pages are currently impressed with the melancholoy story of two stangers (Joanne Lee and Steve Lumb) who met on a suicide discussion forum and subsequently met for the first time in order to fulfill a suicide pact, dying together in a fume-filled car.
Of course the circumstances of these deaths are incredibly sad and we should have sympathy for those affected by their demise. However, when individuals like the understandably distraught father of one of those now dead call for the banning of newsgroups and forums focused on suicide on the grounds that they provide an opportunity for depressed individuals to be both encouraged to end their own lives and instructed on preferred methods, they’re simply mistaking the medium of communication for the message.
As the psychoanalyst Coline Covington remarks, ‘both Lee’s parents and Lumb’s father’s reactions suggest that there was considerable denial within each family of anything that was going wrong with their children’. It’s common – and perhaps natural – for those close to the deceased to have trouble accepting the truth that their loved ones were suffering and chose to look for help online rather than share the way that they felt with those around them. The fact that the date chosen – August 30th – was one of special significance suggests that this was entirely premeditated rather than being the simple result of being egged on by unscrupulous members of an anonymous internet community.
I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that anything should be prohibited from discussion, but in the case of someone with suicidal feelings it seems especially important to stop those suffering from deep depression from feeling isolated. Showing those around you that it’s OK to speak about the way that they feel is the first step to helping them.
Part of our uncomfortableness in addressing suicide directly is undoubtedly a result of our Christian heritage: most Christians think that suicide is a form of murder and a sin against God (though whether this is enough to guarantee one a trip to hell is unclear – compare Romans 8:38-39 with St. Augustine’s argument that suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment given at Exodus 20:13). Obviously the Stoics and other ancient philosophers took quite different views about ending one’s own life, and Socrates, father of Western philosophy famously took his own life on the basis that it was demanded by justice.