Let’s get away from metaphorical national suicide for the nonce and back to more pleasant topics, like actual suicide. Rich in CT posted an excellent comment last week in the discussion, sometimes heated, of the appropriate societal attitude toward suicide and those who indulge in it.
I ended up banning a particularly obnoxious new commenter in the threads on this topic, and this is as good a place as any to point out some things. First, as is almost always the case, I should have seen what kind of participant I was letting into the fray when I let his first comment out of moderation. This is the kind of mistake you make when you are obsessing over getting more diverse commenters, and it was all my fault. Second, it was clear from the beginning that the commenter never bothered to read the comment guidelines. That’s a bad sign. Third, like so many who are moved to comment on a single issue, never to be heard from again, this commenter was ignorant of basic ethical principles and analysis, and, as with the comment guidelines, didn’t feel it necessary to educate himself on the topic of the blog before issuing his opinion in emphatic terms. Finally, his string of comments were all about how the feelings of suicidal people justified their destructive actions. That statement is signature significance for an ethics dolt. Feelings are based on emotions, and emotions don’t factor in to ethical decision-making. In Reciprocity analysis, the feelings of others may need to be considered, but the process of being ethical requires rational and objective reasoning, and this requires recognizes feelings as impediments to the process. Maybe I haven’t been sufficiently clear on this: one of the mains reasons public discourse on so many topics spins away from ethics is that ascendant view that feelings justify conduct.
But I digress! Here is Rich in CT’s Comment of the Day on David C’s Comment of the Day on the post, Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide.
“And yes, as far as I know there is research that suggests that if people are fixated for whatever reason on a certain means of suicide, they will not turn to another method if access to that method is removed.”
It took me a few days to get around to addressing this point for the original post. I’ll include the comment here instead.
“Or is the goal to just make sure they give up and go home to swallow sleeping pills?”
Studies have shown this is not the case. Rather, suicide is an impulsive choice at the intersection of desperation and a particular opportunity. The ideation is often linked to a particular method (jump off bridge, pills, etc). Suicidal individuals don’t systematically engage in various methods until they are successful; rather they fixate, as David C says, on a particular method as the solution; they are at most danger when they are at a low point and their preferred method is readily available.
A famous example occurred in England, the trope of sticking one’s head into the oven to suffocate. Prior to the 1970’s, the island used primarily “town gas” for ovens (as opposed to natural gas or propane). Town gas was extracted from coal in a gasworks plant at the edge of town (hence town gas), and piped to each house. As a byproduct of the extraction process, carbon monoxide was produced, and piped directly to each home along with the hydrocarbons.
Carbon monoxide produces a painless death; one loses conscious quickly prior to suffocation. Carbon monoxide is also nearly 100% effective at causing death. Plugging up the vents in the kitchen, blowing out the pilot light, and turning up the gas became an extremely popular method of suicide between the 1800’s and 1970’s, accounting for about half of all successful suicide deaths in England (I believe these statistics hold up elsewhere, too).