Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 16 Nov 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

On suicide

‘He killed himself,’ used to run the coroner’s verdict on a suicide, ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed.’ This phraseology makes it clear that suicide should be thought of as a decision that is not logical and is the product of thinking which is inherently disordered. Only a person who exhibited such thinking would ever take such a decision, because the urge to live supposedly overrides all other concerns. So the official line goes, anyway. And it’s an official line that I not only disagree with but think is profoundly and utterly misconceived.

There are, of course, many situations where people think about or attempt suicide, change their minds or recover and go on to be full and productive members of society. Their name is legion, for they are many. But there will be others who simply do not want to live. They have tried it and, for whatever reason, either a succession of bad luck or, the stance that I most closely identify with, simply have an ideological objection to continued existence and would prefer either oblivion or, depending on what the individual happens to believe, an afterlife.

This is not, to me, indicative of a disordered mind. Instead, it is that most terrifying of things to people who insist that life is to be lived: a measured and thoughtful response that disagrees with their own and that articulates with eloquent simplicity a desire to die. There is, in every animal, an urge to live, which can be seen when one is grievously injured but does not simply give up itself to its injuries but fights and kicks and does everything it can to live, as though there is, deep down inside it, a survival engine, permanently fuelled and ready to go, which turns over immediately and powers the animal towards anything that might give it succour. Humans are animals and of course, we have this engine too. And yet we’re also self-aware. We know we exist and it follows from that that we can make rational judgments on that existence.

I once interviewed a leading mental health professional about PTSD. She said that one of the problems seems to be that the basic human belief that the day will unfold as normal is suddenly and dramatically countered by a traumatic event or by repeated exposure to trauma. You start to believe when you leave your front door that perhaps things won’t be alright. Perhaps you will be mown down by a speeding car, see someone die in front of you or witness an horrific accident. If luck runs against you, then you could be in such an accident yourself. The usual suppositions that life will, somehow, turn out to be okay are savagely contradicted. It’s much the same with politics.

The elections of Trump and the Brexit decision were epochal events absolutely comparable to trauma. In their bellicose, nationalistic idiocy they offer the promise of lastingly disastrous consequences that will likely outstrip my lifetime and could well catapult the world back a hundred years into a place where each nation state has a hard border and where Russia has territorial ambitions far beyond its already huge boundaries. To see this and take your own life is not evidence of a disordered mind but a wholly rational decision based on a sound premise that life, from now on, will be appalling. Even if Farage and Trump fell off the planet tomorrow, what they have unleashed will not go away. Open, public racism and hate are the new realities. They are not going away, so why should people who do not wish to watch be forced to?

The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t. To insist that people stay alive purely to gratify our own ideas of what life should or shouldn’t be about is monstrous. This is my life, willed on me without my approval, and it follows that I should be allowed to end it at a time of my, rather than the state’s choosing. I lived to see relatives, imprisoned in their failing bodies which were sustained by medical science, ask explicitly to die. Their minds weren’t disordered and to suggest otherwise is obscenely patronising. They either had illnesses from which they were worn out with suffering or, in one case, had lived long enough to see all their friends die, such that very few people knew who they were. One relative, visited in hospital, was heard to shout ‘NO FOOD’ at one of the nurses. He refused any sustenance and died days later. Any number of people, already terminally ill, make this reckoning. They starve themselves or are inadvertently starved to death, but we choose not to see or to discuss it.

Soon, we’re going to have to see it. An ageing population, alive long past the age of being able to work but too infirm to do anything much other than stare, will force this issue. And any government with any sense will realise that the only way to confront it will be to allow suicide centres, where you present your documents, prove who you are, produce a piece of paper signed by a psychiatrist to say that all your faculties, although diminished, are correct and you’ll be wafted through to a side room. There, you’ll lie down, drink a cocktail of drugs or take a pill and be happily dead within minutes. It follows that, once this is legalised, it should be extended to other members of the population who have similarly decided not to live. A woman in Europe, suffering from catastrophic depression from which it was agreed she would never recover, was similarly allowed to die. I don’t want the state, of all things, telling me that I should want to live and forcing me to. We need similar laws here.

Throwing yourself under a train traumatises the driver and anyone who happens to see. Hanging yourself, opening a vein or taking tablets leaves a body for others to find or, worse yet, risks survival and further medical problems. Better by far that people are able to do it quickly, painlessly, at a time of their choosing and in a controlled environment than inexpertly, clumsily and with uncertain results. Saying that the balance of someone’s mind is disturbed is a way of quickly ‘othering’ them and suggesting that They Aren’t Like Us. Well, they are. They’re you, absent an illness or a series of events or just a different philosophical outlook on their existence. And they’ve come to a conclusion which may not be shared universally, but should be respected. Some people want to die. Let them.

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