Friday, August 11, 2006

Suicide by Cancer

Why does an active or passive roll in their own death make a difference to us?

Ophelia, our favourite Shakespearian crazy girl, jumped into the river and allowed the water to come to her when jilted by Hamlet. She is blameless for her death both because she was crazy and because she took no active roll in drowning. Instead, if memory serves, she sang as she slowly sunk into the water. Her suicide was a passive act, and therefore we hold her blameless.

Juliet stabbed her self upon learning of Romeo’s demise. Albeit distraught with grief, she still took the dagger in hand, and with a few poetic words, plunged it into her heart. She may have been crazy with teenage despair, but that is no excuse for the simple selfishness of suicide. Her death was all her own, she actively took her own life. We blame her for her selfishness.

You might remember, not long ago, I met a man with cancer. Instead of surgery, he decided to let the cancer kill him slowly over the course of 2 to 4 years of pain and suffering. The surgery would have been simple if done soon after the diagnosis, but instead he decided to die by cancer. There is something about this that angered me. I still feel dirty when I think about it, and I think I know why.

I hold people accountable for their actions. Not all actions, of course. I acknowledge that people are as they are made; given a similar history people can develop similar personalities. But I still believe that a person has a choice to how they react to their situation. I feel that given time, a person can over come their past conditioning and choose to be the person they want to be. And I believe that suicide is suicide – no matter how it is accomplished.

But then again, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps this world is something other than we imagine it. But I would like to believe that it is something more than just prep work for deciding which afterlife you get to experience. I want the world to be something more than just an illusion. At times I have fought so hard to stay in it, both against the world and against my own inclinations. How can someone be so selfish to exit this world by their own hand?

3 comments:

unenlightened said...

Well you've been very busy since I last passed by. We ethicists (is that a word?) like to make rules and definitions and know in advance what is right and wrong. But if you look at the way everyone always works, it always actually goes the other way to what it seems; you have to keep tweaking your rules and definitions to take account of this situation which you hadn't thought of but which you can see straight away should go one way but is sent the other by your current morality. But if you could work it all out in advance without having to live your life... Mostly suicide is selfishness and of an irrevocable kind which makes it particularly nasty; yet 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.' My position is simple, if it's selfish it's wrong, if not, not. Because my criterion is internal it is rather hard to judge others (but I often manage anyway) so you would have to tell me why this guy refused treatment and whether he felt anyone would mind his death etc. Did you tell him you did?
A young mother, relative of my partner killed herself by overdose - having a daughter of about 6 or 7. Outrageously selfish behaviour, but you see I didn't have her upbringing, I'm not mixed race, and I didn't have to put up with her mother or her husband, for all of which I am truly thankful. I think you and I can sympathise a little with those who cannot wait to be trampled by those geese.

unenlightened said...

Well you've been very busy since I last passed by. We ethicists (is that a word?) like to make rules and definitions and know in advance what is right and wrong. But if you look at the way everyone always works, it always actually goes the other way to what it seems; you have to keep tweaking your rules and definitions to take account of this situation which you hadn't thought of but which you can see straight away should go one way but is sent the other by your current morality. But if you could work it all out in advance without having to live your life... Mostly suicide is selfishness and of an irrevocable kind which makes it particularly nasty; yet 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.' My position is simple, if it's selfish it's wrong, if not, not. Because my criterion is internal it is rather hard to judge others (but I often manage anyway) so you would have to tell me why this guy refused treatment and whether he felt anyone would mind his death etc. Did you tell him you did?
A young mother, relative of my partner killed herself by overdose - having a daughter of about 6 or 7. Outrageously selfish behaviour, but you see I didn't have her upbringing, I'm not mixed race, and I didn't have to put up with her mother or her husband, for all of which I am truly thankful. I think you and I can sympathise a little with those who cannot wait to be trampled by those geese.

JustApril said...

One of my best friends killed himself about 18 years ago, (give or take) and it was an excruciating ordeal for those left behind. I was/am still angry to a degree with him, but at the same time, I know that a person who does something like that isn't really in their right mind. There are all sorts of chemical and emotional and physical issues that can cause a person to feel suicidal. For instance, a person with one particular thyroid disease will often have suicidal tendencies.

As selfish as suicide is or seems, we never really know what is going on inside another person's head, body, life, family etc... enough to be a good judge of how they should behave. Things are never how the seem, rather the reverse usually. Sometimes we scarcely know our own mind and feelings and where they come from.

Not that I think suicide is a good option, of course, we just can't presume to judge others from the comfort of sanity. It's good that you feel so strongly against it, as do I. It makes it NOT an option for you, when/if that time comes that you suddenly understand how a person could choose it.