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Suicide (from latin sui caedere, self killing) is the act of ending one's own life. It has been considered a sin in many religions and often a crime as well. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to exit certain shameful or hopeless situations.

If you are feeling suicidal or in despair, there is a list of support groups at the bottom of this page. See also Clinical depression.

To be considered suicide, the death must be a central component and intention of the act and not just an almost certain consequence; hence, suicide bombing is considered a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide, and martyrdom, self sacrifice in the service of others in emergencies and reckless bravery in battle usually escape religious or legal proscription. In the case that suicide has legal consequences this is reflected in law in that there must be proof of intent as well as death for the act to be suicide.

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It is probable that the incidence of suicide is widely under-reported due to both religious and social pressures, possibly by as much as 100% in some areas. Nevertheless, from the known suicides certain trends are apparent. But since the data are skewed, attempts to compare nation to nation are statistically unwise.

Generally there are more male suicides than female. Men also tend to use more violent and certain methods against a more "passive" approach from women. However in the developed world both sexes are approaching parity. In relation to age, male suicide is a n-shaped curve with the peak at ages 50 to 60. For both sexes suicide is an event for older individuals.

Certain time trends can be related to the type of death. In the United Kingdom for example, the steady rise in suicides from 1945 to 1965 was curtailed following the removal of carbon monoxide from domestic natural gas. It seems that different cultures have different favorite methods, and the easy availability of lethal methods plays a role. Certainly cultures influence suicide rates.

Higher levels of social and national cohesion reduce suicide rates. Suicide levels are highest among the retired, unemployed, divorced, the childless, urbanites, and those living alone. The rate also rises during times of economic uncertainty (although poverty is not a direct cause), while the threat of widespread war is always associated with a steep fall in suicides, even in neutral countries. The majority of suicides also suffer from some psychological disorder. Depression in bipolar disorder is an especially common cause. Severe physical disease or infirmity are also recognized causes. There is no "class" distinction to suicide.

On an individual level the meaning of suicide varies across a range of common themes. Simply seeking an end is uncommon. Stated reasons include concepts such as a reunion with the dead (bereavement is a additional factor in some suicides), a need for change from an unbearable situation, or a desire to cause pain through causing remorse or grief. Multiple motives are common.

Suicide rates are influenced by publicity about suicide of famous people, and even the fictional suicide of a character in a popular drama can raise the suicide rate temporarily.


Rather than use the term "attempted suicide" the neologism parasuicide is more correct. The epidemiology of parasuicides is quite different from that of successful suicides. There are many more parasuicides than suicides. The vast majority are female and aged under 35. They are rarely physically ill and while psychological factors are highly significant, they are rarely clinically ill and severe depression is uncommon. Social issues are key - parasuicides are most common among those living in overcrowded conditions, in conflict with their family, with a disrupted childhood and a history of drinking, criminal behavior and violence. Individuals under these stresses become anxious and depressed and then, usually in reaction to a single particular crisis, they parasuicide. The motivation may be a desire for relief from emotional pain or to communicate feelings, although the motivation will often be complex and confused. Parasuicide may also result from an inner conflict between the desire to end life and to continue living.

Nearly half of suicides are preceded by a parasuicide. Those with a history of parasuicide are 100 times more likely to eventually end their own lives.

Suicide in history

Among the famous people who have committed suicide are Boudicca, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, Hannibal, Nero, Adolf Hitler, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Marina Tsvetaeva, Vincent van Gogh.

In the late 18th century, Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, (The Sorrows of Young Werther), the romantic story of a young man who commits suicide because his love proves unattainable, caused a wave of suicides in Germany.

Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology, wrote a very famous study of suicide in the late 1800s.

Albert Camus saw the goal of existentialism in establishing whether suicide was necessary in a world without God.

A study of suicide in literature was written by the poet Al Alvarez[?], entitled The Savage God.

Jean Améry[?], in his book On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death (originally published in German in 1976), provides a moving insight into the suicidal's mind. He argues forcefully and almost romantically that suicide represents the ultimate freedom of humanity, attempting to justify the act with phrases such as "we only arrive at ourselves in a freely chosen death", lamenting the "ridiculously everyday life and its alienation". He committed suicide in 1978.

Legal views of suicide

Ironically, the punishment for attempted suicide in some jurisdictions has been death. Although a person who has successfully committed suicide might be thought to be beyond the reach of the law, there could still be legal consequences. For example, in the UK pre-1961 their estate was forfeit.

The United Kingdom abolished the crimes of suicide and attempted suicide in the suicide act of 1961. By the early 1990s only two USA states still listed suicide as a crime.

In many jurisdictions there are still laws against assisted suicide: helping someone to commit suicide, directly or indirectly.

Religious views of suicide


According to Buddhism, our past heavily influences our present. Furthermore, what an individual does in the present moment influences his or her future, in this life or the next. This is cause and effect, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Otherwise known as karma, intentional action by mind, body or speech has a reaction and its repercussion is the reason behind the conditions and differences we come across in the world.

One's suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds or just from being in samsara (the cycle of birth and death). Another reason for the prelvalent suffering we experience is due to impermanence. Since everything is in a constant state of flux, we experience unsatisfactoriness with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, one simply must realize their true nature, by Enlightenment in the present moment; this is Nirvana.

For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life (including oneself), suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. But despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to Hara-kiri persists to influence Buddhists by, when under oppression, commiting the act of "honorable" suicide. In modern times, Tibetan monks have used this ideal in order to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet and Chinas supposed human rights violations against Tibetans.


Christianity is traditionally opposed to suicide, and assisted suicide.

In Catholicism specifically, suicide has been considered a grave and sometimes mortal sin. The chief Catholic argument is that one's life is the property of God, and that to destroy one's own life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God's. This argument runs into a famous counter-argument by David Hume, who noted that if it is wrong to take life when a person would naturally live, it must be wrong to save life when a person would naturally die, as this too seems to be contravening God's will.

On a different line, many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred - a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God - and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible.

Nevertheless, even while believing that suicide is generally wrong, liberal Christians may well recognise that people who commit suicide are severely distressed and so believe that the loving God of Christianity can forgive such an act.


Judaism views suicide as one of the most serious of sins. Suicide has always been forbidden by Jewish law, except for three specific cases. If one is being forced by someone to commit murder, forced to commit an act of idolatry, or forced to commit adultery or incest, then in those cases alone would suicide be permissible. However, outside those cases, suicide is forbidden, and this includes taking part of assisted suicide. One may not ask someone to assist in killing themselves for two separate reasons: (a) killing oneself is forbidden, and (b) one is then making someone else accomplice to a sin.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the body of scholars of Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, has published a teshuva[?] on suicide and assisted suicide in the summer 1998 issue of "Conservative Judaism" Vol. L, No.4. It affirms the above stated prohibition, and then goes on to its real purpose - to counter the growing trend of Americans and Europeans who are asking their friends and family to help kill themselves. As the Conservative teshuva points out, many people get sick, often with terminal illnesses, but most people don't try to commit suicide. So we are obligated to find out why some people do ask for suicide, and we are then obligated to remove these reasons so that people don't want to kill themselves in the first place.

The Conservative responsa states that:

"...those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. Some of these reasons are less than noble, involving, for example, children's desires to see Mom or Dad die with dispatch so as not to squander their inheritance on 'futile' health care, or the desire of insurance companies to spend as little money as possible on the terminally ill."
The paper discusses the fact that some patients want to die because they are in pain, but they point out that the proper response to this is not suicide, but simply better pain control and more pain medication. The paper then points out that there is crisis in medical care of elderly and terminally ill patients: Many doctors are deliberately keeping such patients in pain by refusing to grant them adequete amounts of pain killers. Some do this out of ignorance, others do it because they claim they want to avoid any possibility of the patient becoming a drug addict. Some doctors recommend a stoic attitude. The position of Conservative Judaism holds that all such forms of reasoning are "bizarre" and cruel. With today's medications, there is no reason for people to be in this kind of perpetual torture.

It then investigates the psychological reasons for the hopelessness felt by some patients. It points out that:

"Physicians or others asked to assist in dying should recognize that people contemplating suicide are often alone, without anyone taking an interest in their continued living. Rather than assist the patient in dying, the proper response to such circumstances is to provide the patient with a group of people who clearly and repeatedly reaffirm their interest in the patient's continued life... Requests to die, then, must be evaluated in the terms of degree of social support the patient has, for such requests are often withdrawn as soon as someone shows an interest in the patient staying alive. In this age of individualism and broken and scattered families, and in the antiseptic environment of hospitals where dying people usually find themselves, the mitzvah of visiting the sick (bikkur Holim) becomes all the more crucial in sustaining the will to live"

views of other religions: to be written

The Pro-Choice Argument

In contrast to the views above, there are also arguments in favour of allowing an individual to choose between life and suicide. This view sees suicide as a valid option.

This line rejects the widespread belief that suicide is always or usually irrational, saying instead that it is a genuine, albeit severe, solution to real problems - a line of last resort that can legitimately be taken when the alternative is considered worse.

Furthermore, the Pro-Choice position asserts, in the spirit of liberalism, that a person's life belongs only to him or her, and nobody else should try to enforce their own view that life must be lived on them. Rather, only the individual involved can make such an important decision, and whatever decision he or she does make, it should be respected.

See also: euthanasia, hara-kiri, kamikaze, suicide bombing, list of famous suicides, cult suicide, copycat

External links

For the rock band, see Suicide (band).

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