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Suicide Happens

John W. Pinkerton


I can take most subjects and find humor in them.  Suicide is a challenge in this regard.  I guess the
reason I have some interest in the subject is that I’ve known several people who have chosen to kill themselves.  None were close friends.  All of them were people I liked and/or respected.  I can’t say that there was any relation between their deaths and the fact that they lived or worked in Somerville.  Each suicide seemed to have its own unique history.

I originally wrote this essay some years ago because there had been a rash of suicides of Somerville folks.  I never published it because I used the actual names of the folks who are no longer with us.  I thought of it today and went back and deleted the personal information so that I could publish it now.

Not all of the cases were officially listed as suicides.  Most coroners try to give the family a break by listing the deaths as accidental or natural.  No one seems to object to this practice, but everyone interested knows the true story.

Each year over 34,000 people in the United States die by suicide.  Each day a person dies of suicide every 15 minutes which works out to about 90 per day.  Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have diagnosable psychiatric disorders.  The ratio of male to female suicides is 4 to 1, but three times as many are attempted by females.  There’s an estimated 25 attempted suicides to each successful one.

Most suicides are by firearms followed by suffocation followed by poisoning.  As we grow older, suicide is more likely.  Caucasians are twice as likely to commit suicide than are non-Caucasians and Blacks.  Among the states, Texas ranks 39th in suicide rates.  Alaska ranks number 1.  The mountainous Western states are among the states with the highest rate of suicide.  Hawaii and the New England states have the lowest rates of suicide.

Statistics regarding the relationship between professions and the likelihood of suicide are a little sketchy.  Most studies agree on one fact: white male and female physicians have the highest rate of suicide.  Dentists and veterinarians also have a pretty high rate.  The access to drugs may be one explanation.  Amazingly, food batchers rank near the top of the suicide list: food batchers are the folks who set up and operate equipment that mixes or blends ingredients used in the production of food products.  Police rank pretty high, but they don’t rank nearly as high as many people believe.

I checked on religions to see the various views on suicide.  Well, there really aren’t various views among the different religions: they’re all pretty much the same: they’re against suicide.

Judaism views suicide as a serious sin.  It’s not acceptable under any circumstances.  Assisting someone or requesting such assistance is also a no- no.

The Catholic church views suicide as a serious sin with a loophole.  The Catechism of the church, Number 2283 states: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives."

Protestants consider suicide a serious sin, but they believe if one accepts Christ as their savior before they commit suicide, their salvation is not in question because all sins are forgiven once the person is saved.

Eastern Orthodoxy really says little about suicide.  They pretty much avoid judgment leaving it up to God.  Their reasoning is that anyone who kills himself or herself is probably not in their right minds.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints views suicide as wrong but believes the suicide victim may not be considered responsible for their act of suicide.

Some other protestant denominations such as The New Church don’t condemn suicide as a sin, but it is still viewed unfavorably.

Islam absolutely views suicide as an unpardonable sin.  I wish they would pass the word on to their suicide bombers.

Hindus believe that if one ends one’s life, the person is fated to roam the Earth as a ghost until the natural time for the person to die.  Hinduism does accept a man’s right to kill himself by fasting.  However, it is reserved only for those who have no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities left in life.

Jainism permits suicide with restrictions.  Starving one’s self to death is acceptable.  Having a strong non-violent element to their religion, no other means is acceptable.

Buddhism accepts suicide only if one has obtained final wisdom.  It doen’t condemn suicide but suggests one will not be happy with the state they are reborn into.  It’s all tied to Karma.

Some religious cults not only permit but encourage suicide as a path to reach a better world.

Euthanasia, mercy killing, is the ending of a patient’s life by a physician.  Physician-assisted suicide refers to a physician providing the patient with the means to end his or her own life.  Most of the world prohibits euthanasia.  However, it is legal in the Netherlands, Colombia, Belgium, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Mexico.

The states of Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC  have legalized physician-assisted suicide via legislation.

A 2004 Gallup Poll found that 53% of Americans feel euthunasia is morally acceptable while 41% believe it’s wrong.  Of course, the figures for approval are lower among those who are actively religious.

While writing this essay on suicide, I turned to the internet to see if I could find suicide notes left behind.  I found one mortuary that had made the notes available.  I read a number of these and concluded that the thing that they had in common was their lack of coherence.  Most were written as though they were by a ten year old.  They lacked focus, maturity, and tended toward blaming others.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that none displayed a sense of humor.    The saddest was by a young lady who said that her decision to kill herself wasn’t her family’s fault, but still placed the blame on them.  I’m sure her family was pleased.

There is a rumor of one suicide note that was funny.  It was by a comedian who decided to end it all.  Although it was never publicly released, cops testified that it was one of the funniest things they had ever encountered.  I guess he gave up a little too quickly.

We’re almost always surprised when someone we know kills themselves.  We usually feel uncomfortable about these deaths because we can’t explain them.  Suicide happens.