Friday, 4 May 2007

Live and Let Die

I originally was going to title this blog 'Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please', lyrics from the 1970s/early 1980s movie and television series MASH, but then I realised that my point of anger on this issue is not directed at people who want to take their lives or even the philosophic issues behind such an act, but against the people who seek to stop suicide.

A majority of the population of the world at any one time is in pain, desperation or boredom, so is it not surprising that they want to exit this world, that has been termed the 'vale of tears' (as opposed to 'veil') or a 'world of pain'? Throughout history up until the 19th and 20th centuries most people in Europe worked on the land, as tenants if they were 'lucky', as serfs or slaves if not. They had a good chance of starving to death or dying of disease, but if they decided they had had enough and wish to kill themselves, they had to be certain that they did it right or they would be imprisoned for the attempt. The Christian churches and their allies in the ruling classes were aware that if there were no sanctions on suicide peasants would be at it all the time, making it hard for them to work their lord's or the church's land and to serve in their armies. So, Christian teachings said that suicide was murder and so you would go to hell. You had to suffer and wait out your turn until God decided you had suffered enough and took you. In German the word for suicide is 'selbstmord' literally 'self murder' and it was viewed as seriously, so attempted suicide was like attempted murder. Attempted suicide was illegal in the UK until 1961 and you could be imprisoned for it. No-one tries to kill themselves without having thought about it at great length; it takes great courage to do it. In this terrible world it is those with bravery who leave it and us cowards who stick around.

Nowadays you will not be arrested if you try to kill yourself, but a lot of people will intervene to try to prevent you and they are lauded by society. Recently veteran entertainer Lionel Blair (no relation) prevented someone jumping off the end of a pier where he was performing at the time and he was praised for intervening. I have nothing against Lionel Blair, but I do think such behaviour is wrong. The worst case was an interview with a woman who had worked as a secretary for SOE (Special Operations Executive - a British sabotage agency run during and soon after the Second World War). All SOE agents were issued with cyanide capsules in case they were captured as it was certain they would be tortured by the Nazis. However, before they set off this secretary tried to persuade them to leave the capsules behind. Speaking 50 years later both on television and in public, she was proud of what she had done and that some had left their capsules. It was fine for her, sitting comfortably in London, but I have nightmares over what it meant for those numerous SOE agents who were captured without their capsules, I just hope they had a bullet left.

Why are people so resistant to suicide? It is not as if we need lots of people to produce food, the world is overpopulated as it is, and yet we still behave as if it was the Middle Ages. There are a number of spurious reasons given. People say it is terrible for those who have to clean up after a suicide, but is it any worse than what they have to do when someone has been killed or mutilated by a drunk or speeding driver or a stabbing or shooting which are becoming so common in the UK now?

They say it upsets other people who witness it, well I spoke to a Birmingham train driver who had been given leave after a man jumped in front of his train. He said he did not need the leave because there was nothing he could have done to stop the train in time and if the man had decided he wanted to die it was up to him. In fact in our atomised society few care for the fate of others, which is why people drive so dangerously, so it is hypocritical to say people worry about suicides, they watch gorier things on DVD most weekends or on the news.

People say suicide distresses the relatives, but look at this way: if you, your family and friends were in a prison camp and someone close to you said they were going to try to get out of the prison would you try to stop them? If they failed to escape would you not try to help them again? If you love a person you respect their wishes. It is in fact cruel to keep bullying, cajoling or blackmailing them to stay where they are so unhappy, it is simply selfish on your part to try to keep inflicting this bleak life on them.

Some lucky people have a good life, but the bulk of us are going to have one which at best is dreary and full of worry, at worst is painful and distressing. Too many of us are locked in the view that life is precious. Yet so many seem to give far less concern for all the people, keen to continue yet killed in all the wars and terrorist incidents that are going on each week than for the life of one person they know who does not want to live.

My call is to respect the wishes of those who wish to end their lives. Do not peddle the line that living is better, for many it is not and to pretend otherwise is a lie. If you want to live, then live, but let those who want to die, die.

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