Human Exceptionalism

Misplaced Suicide Priorities

Apparently there has been a backlash against advertising with “suicide” themes. From the Seattle Post Intelligencer story: Washington Mutual has stopped running a spot that showed actors playing bankers poised atop a building as if about to jump. These ads are clearly not pro-suicide, but are oriented toward humor.

It seems to me that not only is this overly sensitive, but it misses the real pro-suicide content of the public discourse. There have been many stories published in mainstream media that give a positive spin choosing suicide. Indeed, Jack Kevorkian became such a media hero that Time invited him as an honored guest to its 75th anniversary gala. Assisted suicide advocacy explicitly states that suicide is acceptable in some circumstances. And yet, not only is there no backlash, but there is much editorial support for the idea.

Oregon has such a terrible problem with elder-suicide that the state is looking for ways to reduce the toll. The Dutch are very worried about a youth suicide epidemic. And the leaders of these pro-assisted suicide sovereignties somehow miss the profound irony: This is the same state that says suicide in some cases is now a sacred right. Such mixed messages in the law do far more harm than humorous ads.

Finally, a brief story: A few months ago I received an e-mail from a suicidal person. I wrote back asking for contact information. He gave me his phone number and permission to have someone call him. I tried to find a suicide prevention center in his area code. There were none. I had to find an adjoining county to get the man help.

This really alarmed me. When I was a young lawyer in Los Angeles, suicide prevention education was everywhere. I received training. There were ubiquitous ads almost begging suicidal people to call suicide prevention hotlines. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t see such emphasis any more. Is it possible we are becoming less “anti-suicide?” I say yes.

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