• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 2, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    Politicians and the Tragedy of Suicide

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    I note that a leading columnist in Another Daily Newspaper has been suggesting we should re-introduce the old taboo against suicide. He argues we should be less tolerant and sympathetic towards those who would take their own lives.

    Some people will be horrified at the prospect. They contend that there was also a  big suicide problem in the past but it was hushed-up because this was something you just didn’t speak about.

    Others, including myself, would be open to any idea that worked but have serious doubts about the practicality of the proposal.

    Time was, if I recall correctly, that suicide was a Mortal Sin for Catholics and those who killed themselves were buried outside consecrated ground.

    This must have added greatly to the distress of their relatives: a much-loved family-member had gone and they could not even mourn the deceased under the rites of the Church.

    Of course, the Fifth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill” and that surely includes killing oneself, or “self-murder” as Kevin Myers calls it in today’s Irish Independent.

    I had a conversation a while back with a woman from a rural community who told me a very sad story about a teenager in the locality who had hanged herself. This good woman was all in favour or re-introducing, or once again highlighting, the Church’s ban on suicide – not out of any devotional motive but because she felt it might work.

    I am sure bereaved relatives would be happy to have their loved one still in their midst, regardless of how this was achieved. But I am afraid society has moved on and people have become “taboo-proof”.

    The tragic case of Gary Speed has sparked off this debate. Myers has no sympathy for the dead football hero: his thoughts are with the widow and two children left behind.

    If taboos don’t work, how then do we solve this problem and at least significantly reduce the levels of suicide?

    There are organisations and institutions which do good work  in this regard and in that regard one must praise the politicians who appeared on The Late Late Show last Friday to raise funds for Pieta House.

    At the same time, the economic crisis is said to be contributing to the suicide rate. It is not enough for the politicians to sing, however tunelessly, but they must also exert their authority and assert the primacy of parliament to ensure that proper policies are pursued to get us through this very trying time.

    The Gary Speed tragedy was a great shock to everyone. How a guy who seemed to have everything could turn around and take his own life is a mystery. What private hell was he going through, and why?

    There is a misconception that people freely choose to end their lives. That may appear to be the case on the surface but it is truer to say that they become convinced that suicide is their only option. They do not seek the Grim Reaper, he comes knocking very loudly and all other sounds are drowned-out by his insistence.

    If we could figure out why people come around to that way of thinking, we could save a lot of lives. It’s not an easy challenge: some of those who seem to be blessed in every aspect of their lives end up killing themselves whereas others who go through a living hell can come out the other side smiling. There can also be a range of pressures, financial, personal and professional, not to mention the demons drink and drugs.

    The old certainties of traditional religion are gone and we are left with a vague, secular do-goodery. We need a new set of values but where will they come from?

    • Daithi says:

      Kevin Myers just cannot be taken seriously at this stage.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Isn’t the most basic human right the one to decide when you die?

      Do those left behind a disservice when we wail and flail about when their loved one dies. Those of us who have been through it go through all the stages, the initial horror, the numbness, the regret, then the anger.

      Then of course as you go through the practical side of things afterwards you get to know things you never knew about the person and lots of things fall into place. It begins to make sense and you feel such deep sadness at how long they must have tried to carry their burden because ‘men don’t have feelings’ or ‘you can’t talk about things like that’. You feel sad they they carried the burden so long to protect you, to protect their loved ones and you also feel relief that they have no burden to carry any more and a tinge of guilt at feeling that way.

      Society doesn’t have to condone suicide as it does have unintended consequences but instead of calling Gary Speed selfish, why not firstly acknowledge his burden must have been too great to carry any longer and give his family the right to feel able to say they are glad that burden has been lifted from him.

      His actions do not lessen the love he had for his family, nor should it lessen theirs for him.

      If we were more open and supportive of people with mental health issues they would not feel they had to keep those issues a secret. It’s keeping such things a secret that eats away at someone until they get to a point where they do feel they have no option left.

      Some people wish to end their own life because it’s come to an end through old age or illness and as we all know the death of a much loved family member or friend isn’t really any easier if it’s sudden or after a long lingering illness. Those people should be allowed that personal choice.

      Others decide this life isn’t for them for a million and one reasons, why shouldn’t they be allowed that choice.

      Perhaps if Gary Speed was allowed to discuss the issue that burdened him in the first place he would not have taken his own life and while it seems he had it all, he clearly didn’t.

      Are you suggesting to bury people who die by suicide in suicide plots of something. Nice example of humanity there. Let’s not forget the church also used to refuse to bury still born children in holy ground and ‘fallen women’ (funny enough there was never such a thing as a fallen man no matter how much of a drunk or how violent or sexually depraved he was). This would be the same church that sold women’s babies while they turned the women into slaves to spend their lives washing sheets and scrubbing floors. Who can ever walk down the corridor of an Irish institution and not spare a thought for the lives of all the women who cleaned the floor we walk on.

      Bringing back a taboo is the usual Irish way – far better to dig deeper into denial and brush it under the carpet than face up to the issue. If anything any taboo must be fought and tackled at every chance.

      If we want to minimise violent suicide – and it’s not the people who go to a clinic we are concerned about is it. It’s those who hang themselves in the garage or from a tree or overdose or step in front of train then we need to address the taboo on mental health issues, which is itself a legacy of the church.

      Tackling that taboo and allowing people the right to decide when to end their own life on their terms, on their own or with assistance and without that person risking arrest, will do more to reduce violent suicide than recreating more religious taboo’s.

    • jaygee says:

      What an inhumane aricle from Mr. Myers. The hopelessness and darkness which can
      engulf the soul is so overwhelming, that nothing can prevent the taking of one’s life.
      The cruelties of the past when those who committed suicide were not allowed burial
      in consecrated ground and their families disgraced and shunned must never be contemplated.
      It is our expectations and demands on each other that can lead to isolation and sadness.
      If anyone wants to see one of the factors in the rise of suicides in Ireland. Look at the
      world we made for ourselves with our Tiger economy and our belief in the horrors of free~booting
      Capitalism. Now that it has come crashing around our ears, perhaps we should be looking at those
      systems and beliefs that did not exalt the gombeen shysters and tricksters, and worked for each other
      instead.

    • Ms Straus's daughter says:

      “The old certainties of traditional religion are gone and we are left with a vague, secular do-goodery. We need a new set of values but where will they come from?

      I know……….our new (now nine months old) Minister for Justice, Mr A Shatter having climbed the steep incline to the Taoiseach’s office, will come down from that lofty place with two tablets of requirements (yes, there’s a Sinai correlation) on which, of course, the Taoiseach will have had chiselled out the “new values” (no doubt, having used some artefact hanging on the wall of his office for a template as he is wont to do) but the people will reject these and continue fashioning and worshipping another Golden Celtic Tiger Calf……..And of course, we’ll all be smote – this time by a great queen that hath wielded enormous power in a land not far away (that had returned to the system of Monarchy) and which prudent queen and her parsimonious people had found great favour with the omnipotent “Markets” (all bow)
      Welcome to the Court of Queen Merkel…..!!

    • George says:

      “There is a misconception that people freely choose to end their lives – If we could figure out why people come around to that way of thinking, we could save a lot of lives” Same old mantra – many of them DO choose to end their own lives. Look at the evidence, for goodness’s sake! Even Gary Speed’s family hadn’t a clue he was planning it, and that goes for many, many other cases.

      There are three decisions involved (a) to end one’s life, (b) when to do it, and (c) how to do it. But (b) and (c) pose big problems and usually get postponed for some time, sometimes for one’s entire lfe biut other more impulsive people, perhaps braver too, get on with it. We are all going to die sometime, so the decision is really centred around the timing. If you percieve your life to be a worthless, meaningless drudge, you might just decide to end it now, as people with terminal illnesses often do. If I get cancer or MS and have only a few months to live, I will most certainly end my suffering before things get too bad. Maybe I won’t have the courage and will leave it until it is too late to do it myself…?

      It must be an Irish mentality that makes us want to blame something else and never take responsibility, e.g. the drink made him do it, or he must have been out of his mind, Lehman Bros did it, the EU is against us, the British occupied us etc. Until you accept that suicide, like homicide, can be a rational decision by a normal i.e. not mentally ill person, you will never crack this nut.

    • brian cavanagh says:

      Kevin Myers can never be taken seriously – his purpose is being a contrarian. The challenge the Gary Speed death brings to all of us is that it does nt fit the stereotype of suicide – this was a seemingly successful person – yet his life was clearly bleaker than we all thought.

      We need more humility and compassion in how we talk about this but also to have an open discussion about the darkness that can engulf all of us at times -we need more talk – and not about bringing back taboos.

    • KateQ says:

      “We need to talk about Kevin” could be the title of Deaglán’s blog post……….
      Well, I thought Kevin Myers made some very valid points, the most valid of which being (as I understand it) that modern society should certainly not allow an acceptance of suicide as a solution to life’s problems to become normative. I agree, and I did not think he was being at all unsympathetic to any individual who ended life in this very sad way. With regard to being taken seriously, I think this is one of the most serious pieces, courageous even, written by Mr Myers………who is not without the capacity to infuriate one….at times……or should I say…..Independent..


Search Politics