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?