In Defence of Suicide

“Don’t. Don’t. This will hurt someone”. These were the final words ever spoken by Robert Budd Dwyer before he pulled the trigger on his gun and shot himself through the head in front of an audience of people called together at a press conference.

Budd Dwyer was an American politician who served as the treasurer for Pennsylvania from January 1981 until January 1987.  During his time in office Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from a Californian company that would give the company a contract worth $4.6 million. The day before Dwyer was to receive his sentence, a possible 55 years in jail and a $300,000 fine, he called a press conference and committed suicide in front of friends and members of the media.

The incident was recorded by the gathered media and the footage of the event has been seen worldwide. I have watched the video a number of times on YouTube, and it is without doubt one of the most controversial and tragic things hosted on the website.

I have included the video here because it is the reason I am writing this piece. To attempt to understand what I am saying, it may be necessary to watch the footage that I am talking about.



As Dwyer reaches the end of his pre-prepared speech, he asks for three people and hands them each an envelope. One of these envelopes contained a suicide note,  a second an organ donor card, and the third envelope was a letter addressed to the new Pennsylvania Governor. One of the things I find quite remarkable about this event is the manner in which Dwyer hands these objects out. He is fully aware of the actions he is taking, that in the envelope he handed over is his own suicide note, and yet he seems almost calm. His hands do not shake, he is not teary eyed or emotional. He does not panic.

Compare this demeanour with that of one of the people watching what was unfolding. Footage from a different camera shows the face of an onlooker, and the sheer panic and horror in his eyes as he glances into the camera.

Face of Panic
As you can see, two completely contrasting behaviours.

I once read that when dealing with suicidal people you should be most concerned when their mood seems to improve. When one day, all of a sudden, they wake up and they are smiling, and they seem almost happy. That is the period which is where you need to be most aware, because that is the period when they have made their decision. In the days, weeks or months leading up to a suicide attempt the person is still weighing up the options in their head, they have doubts, and they are unsure. They are suicidal but they have made no decision about the course of their life.

When a person has made a decision, when they have committed to ending their own life, a weight is lifted from their shoulders. They appear and act differently because they have decided on something. The end is in sight and so there is no worry, and the internal debate is over. It is in these final days, when they appear more content and happy, that the person makes the necessary arrangements for ending their own life. They plan it, they see their friends and family for the final time, and they write a suicide letter.

Budd Dwyer, though a little nervous, and understandably so, seems very composed for a man that is about to take his own life. The decision had been made some time before the press conference, and Dwyer was committed to following it out.

The suicide itself is sort of anti-climactic. Not that I would like to see suicide on a grander scale, indeed I would not like to see suicide at all ideally, but the footage is of a humans life ending. The permanent extinguishing of another persons existence and it just seems so small, and so easy. The gunshot is more a pop, the body collapses and slumps, and that is it. It is over. Where once was a living, breathing human, who was talking and communicating, there now lies just a body.

It is a concept that I cannot get my head around. A person can exist one second and not the next. With one movement of a finger Dwyer ceased to be. He felt no pain, he heard no sound, his life simply stopped. At once a fascinating and truly terrifying situation. A clear demonstration that life is incredibly fragile.

The topic of suicide always brings up the argument that the action taken by the person is selfish. I completely disagree with this belief for a number of reasons.

Personally, I am terrified of dying. That is my one fear. It always has been. Ever since I was a child I was aware of my own mortality and that every second that passed meant that I was another second closer to death. I think that everybody is scared of dying, whether they admit it or not, nobody wants to die, and everyone is afraid of it. If you weren’t afraid of death, you wouldn’t look when you cross the road, you wouldn’t wear a seatbelt when you got in a car, you wouldn’t believe in a paradise that you reach after death. Heaven was invented to ease the pain of people who know there is nothing more after this.

Due to our own self-awareness, and our own mortality, suicide has to be one of the bravest actions anyone can take. It is not believing that you are going to die, it is knowing. Knowing that your next few actions are the last actions you will ever take. To know that, and then still conduct them takes unbelievable nerve and mental strength. A conviction that I would never be able to possess. I wouldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it because I am too much of a coward.

For an atheist, suicide is braver still, because they know that there is no after-life. They are aware that what is about to happen is final. They do not falsely believe that they will be transported to some paradise once their life on earth comes to an end. There is an ultimate finality about suicide, and in an atheists head, they know it is the final full stop in the autobiography of their lives. Such determination and resolve, the knowledge and the certainty that this is it.

Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I do not advocate suicide, I am not pro-suicide. If ever I had a friend or relative, or if ever I encountered someone about to commit suicide, I would do almost anything I could to prevent them from taking their own life. However, I respect a persons self-determination, I respect their freedom of choice and I respect a person who says “I no longer want to live”. I will try to talk them out of it, I will try to show them the positives in life, the great experiences and love that you can both give and receive, but I would never convince someone. It is their choice, it is their life and if people don’t have control over that, then they cannot have control over anything.

As well as suicide being an act of bravery because it is a journey into the unknown, it is also an example of actively making a change. I feel that making a change requires certain virtues because you are stepping away from what you are used to. Just continuing to do the same thing day-in-and-day-out does not require bravery, strength, or even thought, because it is routine. There is no change, and you are not stepping away from the comfort zone that you have become used to.

There are arguments that say suicide is an easy way out, a cowardly action, but again I completely disagree. Easy is simply continuing to exist. I mean it does not require much effort just to exist, you wake up, you eat, you just simply are. There needs to be very little action from anyone, even breathing is automatic. That is easy. What is hard is when you actively make a change in this routine. Remaining in a job is fairly easy, you just follow the routine of attending work, what is hard is changing this routine by taking the decision to quit your job. Being in a relationship is fairly easy, again you follow routine, what is harder is ending a relationship and breaking up with your other half, making a change to that routine.

I mentioned earlier that I disagree with the belief that suicide is selfish. I fail to see how an action conducted by an individual with regards to their own existence is a selfish choice. A persons life belongs to nobody but themselves, and when you are the sole owner of something, what you choose to do with that is of no-one else’s concern. We are free to eat what we want for lunch, we are free to listen to music of our choice, we are free to wear the clothes we fancy, but when we want to decide on our own existence, suddenly everybody has a say in it.

I believe that suicide is considered selfish because we are all too often viewing the act of suicide from the perspective of those left behind, when really we should be looking at suicide through the perspective of the person committing the act. It is called a selfish act because by killing yourself you are denying your friends and family the happiness that you gave them when you were around. Any potential future happiness they would receive from you has also been taken from them. This happiness is replaced by grief and loss, and the person who committed suicide is deemed selfish for only thinking of themselves.

But it is important, in fact crucial, to remember that people are not means to an end. They are ends in themselves. A friend is not there purely to provide you with entertainment, a parent is not there purely to provide you with financial assistance, they are people themselves. If anything, those that call suicide a selfish act are in fact the truly selfish ones, because they are opposed to another person taking their own life, purely on the basis of how it would affect them.

I have a friend that owns a really nice car, I sometimes go for a ride in the car and I thoroughly enjoy myself, I get great happiness from it. One day my friend decides to sell his car and so I will no longer receive any enjoyment from it. Is this selfish? No, of course not. The car belonged to my friend, just like his life does, and what they decide to do with it is entirely up to them.

Another good example would be that of Zoo’s. Are the animals caged for their own enjoyment? No, they are not. They are there purely for our viewing pleasure. We are gaining some sort of happiness from them being there and so they remain there, no matter how distressed or unhappy they may be. If we were to release all the animals in the Zoo’s back into their natural habitats, as perhaps we should do, would we then be accused of being selfish? Again, the answer would be no.

For me, suicide will always be an emotional and fascinating subject. It is a drama that is played out across the world every single day, and is a drama which divides opinion. It is both tragic and brave, poignant and courageous, and for those suicides captured in the media, life-ending and immortal.


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7 thoughts on “In Defence of Suicide

  1. This is a great blog post. Couldn’t bring myself to watch the footage. So important to recognise that suicide is not a selfish act. I’ve heard the opinion expressed that people who commit suicide in public places, by jumping in front of a train, for example, are the ‘most selfish’, as somebody else will have to ‘clear up’ after them/people on the train will suffer delays etc. This really upset me; could the person who voiced this opinion not imagine how desperate that person must have been to see ending their life as the only way out of their trauma? To be in enough pain, physical or mental, to decide that ending their life is the only way out, and then finding the courage to actually go through with suicide? What a sad end. We all deserve the chance to live a happy and fulfilled life.

  2. I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with you “suicide is brave” idiots. 1st of all, Dwyer was facing many years in jail. He was more afraid of that, than leaving his family in not only grief from his death, but in utter horror from the last picture of him: the top of his head blown apart, his once smooth hair standing on end like a crazed clown from the tissues movement, and a river of blood flowing from his nose & down his face & chest. What could possess you morons to call THAT courageous ? That’s the last picture they’ll ever have !
    2nd, if he was so innocent why didn’t he stick around for APPEALS….for somebody to do…something ? Would his family have been more traumatized by seeing him led away in custody than by him left looking like something Stephen King could concoct ??? Seriously ??? You crazy athiests call Christians deluded ! For all your pseudo science babble & political activity, Madeline O’Hara’s grand adventure ended with 1of her own goons killing her ! She was dumped in the desert & only identified by the serial number on her artificial hip joint ! Where’s all your supposed enlightenment ? Suicide is a cowards way out of trouble !

  3. Nicely put. Voluntarily bringing about your own death is most definitely brave which does not mean it’s necessarily smart or moral. As the fear of death is the greatest fear humans can experience it’s rather obvious conquering that fear takes a great deal of courage.

    From Thomas Joiner’s model it follows that although a great many people are suicidal at any point in time very few follow through and of those only 1 in 25 actually dies by his/her own hand. Conclusion: it takes balls of steel and a clear head to actually kill oneself. Those who are not supremely courageous do not die by suicide, period. No matter how much they’d want to die or how bad their circumstances are.

    I’m not sure I’d call atheists braver in this context: if you’re convinced it’s lights out no more existence ever there should be no fear involved on account of being dead as you’re not there to experience anything. I’d say a religious person who thinks there’s an afterlife and thus a chance he/she’ll have to suffer the consequences of a wrongful deed (suicide is considered by most religions to be a sin and most often a grave one) is actually braver in this respect.

    I like the counterargument to the ‘suicide is selfish’ slogan. To me a selfish action does not necessarily equate to it being immoral and it is indeed the height of selfishness to expect a person who is suffering greatly to suffer even more on account of saving oneself suffering.

    In my view suicide should be a human right: if you as an individual are absolutely convinced death is the better option (presumably you’ve tried everything else that is reasonable: human animals aren’t by nature driven to suicide) you should be able to bring about death in a humane manner. The fact that we let our fellow man die a gruesome death because of our moral sensibilities and indoctrination with the ‘life is holy’ crap is an indictment of our very humanity. It seems we care more about our pets than about our suicidal fellow man.

    None of what I’ve written here should be construed as an encouragement to kill oneself. Suicide is very hard and very risky and will likely hurt a lot of people: if you’re in that unfortunate situation (‘you’ meaning anyone who might read this) you have my sympathy for what it’s worth as I’ve been there myself. Know that most bad situations eventually pass and trying to kill yourself might result in a most unfortunate situation (e.g ending up alive but maimed, handicapt…). Think about it thoroughly and try to determine whether or not your plan is actually reasonable, you’re able to think clearly and your emotions and pain aren’t clouding your judgement.

  4. The world-renowned suicidology expert Thomas Joiner strongly disagrees with you as does common-sense but don’t let that stop you from spreading your prejudice. ‘Bravery’ is an ascribed moral quality (unlike say baldness which is an observable fact) so therefore there is no way to objectively verify it either way.

    Calling people idiots simply for disagreeing with you shows a clear lack of manners and constitutes an ad hominem argument. I find it highly vulgar and infantile.

    I don’t understand why this man choose to kill himself so publicly and whether or not he was actually guilty. Choosing the worse of two bad options does not make one brave in my opinion: voluntarily living a bad life when one is capable of ending it to me isn’t a sign of bravery but of stupidity.

    If mr. Dwyer was actually guilty what he did was quite smart: it’s much easier to kill oneself a s a free man than as a prisoner and who knows what horrors might have awaited him in prison?

    In a way he choose the honourable way out and atoned for his sin by inflicting the death penalty on himself.

    Since you were apparantly so keen on spouting your hatred towards atheists: what is brave or even sane about choosing to undergo a most painful death (crucifixtion) solely based on what might very well have been mere delusions? What kind of a father would want his child to die in such a horrible way?

    You worship someone who basically killed himself (suicide by cop) by voluntarily handing himself over to his tormentors knowing full well they’d kill him yet you somehow object to this man’s suicide? What about the suffering of Jezus’ mother Mary? Your argument could be levelled against the very core of your religion.

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