Now That's What I Call A Moral Conundrum Vol. 43

Christmas has always seen it's fair share of people who decide to take their own lives for whatever reason. I have personally known two serving police officers who have done just that.

The act of suicide is a very complex area, and can be difficult to understand. A lot of people come to the attention of the police, and to a much greater extent, the Ambulance Service, having dialed 999 and expressed an interest in taking their own lives.

Such people generally fall into one of two camps. There are the genuine 'lost souls' who are asking for help in their own way. They should receive treatment which will hopefully lead them from the path of self-destruction. The second group are attention seeking time-wasters who never had any intention of killing themselves. I have no time for these types, and suggest they are using valuable resources that would be better deployed elsewhere.

The first group remain of interest. The act of suicide has a ripple effect on others. It is not merely a matter for the one person alone. Family and friends suffer to a terrible degree, not only from the loss of a loved one, but from the personal guilt and social stigma that is still attached to suicide. The emergency services and medical professionals also suffer a degree of stress and ethical difficulties. I use the following example to illustrate the last point:

The police are called to a woman hanging from a tree. She is close to death, but due to the diligence of the police officers concerned, she is cut down and revived preventing her death. The work is continued by the ambulance crew who ensure she is safely conveyed to hospital.

The injuries sustained by this female were great. She became paralyzed and suffered a degree of brain damage as a result of the hanging.

The moral and ethical quandary is this: This female, presuming she was of sound mind, had decided to take her own life. This is no longer an illegal act in itself. She was prevented by doing so, and has been left in the situation as described above. This cannot be anything but a hellish existence. Should she have been left to die, the police officers and ambulance crew would have been subject of criticism, and indeed would have been likely to have lost their jobs.

Is it morally right in society for people to be allowed to take their own lives?


Anonymous said...

A good question, for which I have no good answer. But is there not another way of looking at this particular dichotomy?

Presumably, anyone who is serious about commiting suicide is, to use a well worn phrase, "at the end of their tether". Given the (lack of) support, from whatever source, that leads to suicide, do we have the moral right to prevent a similar attempt, especially when the outcome is as unfortunate as that described?

Just a thought ...

blacksanction said...

If you are going to commit suicide well do it properly or suffer the consequences.

Suicide is a selfish act the causes damage not only to those left behind but to those emergency workers who have to deal with the person and rest of the situation. Doing death notices to families "Why? Why?" and not having much answers can have a nasty affect on front line officers.

Now add to the fact your question whether to act or not to act leaves you decide whether the person really wanted to die or was acting out a call for help and instead got a lethal helping hand.

So if the sad little soul is serious don't leave survival to chance and do it right the first time.

Anonymous said...

The answer is yes, definitely. Unfortunately it is not possible, under present UK laws, to clearly and irrevocably commit suicide, aside from one's own errors, there is always the possibility of interference. Even worse though, is that I can not see how to make it easier and more definite to committ suicide without making it "too easy" for those who are not so clearly set on doing it.

Tim Neale said...

There is a good argument that anyone wanting to take there own life is temporarily insane and so not responsible for their actions.

I think "society" should err on the side of caution on this one. After all if you really wanted to kill yourself (no going back), just find the nearest tall building.

The "attention seeking time-wasters" are obviously in need of help as well.

Nick said...

When I studied psychology we were always taught that often a person will attempt suicide, be saved and then regret the attempt - it's a tough call to make whether somebody should be allowed to kill themselves and I have no idea!

One thing that's always stuck with me though is something I was told by a chap who picked up the bodies of suicides at beachy head. That fact was that hardly anybody who throws themselves over beachy head dies from the fall! It is not uncommon to find a person who survived the fall but was so badly injured that they could not move. Many of them do regain consciousness and have no choice but to lay there, often for many hours, as the sea closes in on them and they wait to slowly drown! Apparantly, most of the (few) people who are saved before drowning have changed their minds as they lay there waiting for the water to reach them.

gemmak said...

A very difficult question and one without a 'cut and dried' answer I suspect. Each case is different, for some suicide is genuinely the better response to their problematical lives, but for others it is a temporary phase which can be overcome with the correct help. As I see it the ES personnel have no choice but to make an attempt at saving the life of a failed suicide, the issues surrounding each individual are so complex they couldn't possibly all be addressed and considered at the point of attempt and consequently the police/ambulance service etc. have to err on the side of caution.

Anonymous said...

The whole suicide thing is very complex and having had family members, an Uncle and a mother in law who both atempted this self destruction, each have said, that at the time they where clear in their own minds that what they intended to carry out was The Right Thing for them to do,it was crystal clear with no thought for anyone else.
In the case of my uncle he had treatment sigend himself out and the same day threw himself under a train, that worked, obvioulsy the treatment didnt. My mother in law lived until she was 90 and only died naturally last year.

John said...

The book Final Exit which deals with self-deliverance problems takes great care to emphasise these two concerns; respect for those who might find the corpse and risks of permanent disability if one does not do it 'right'