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Suicide Reflective Essays

Life is for living: a reflection on suicide

30 November, 1999

As today, 10th September 2008, is World Suicide Prevention Day, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has republished its recent pastoral letter “Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide”. This pastoral letter was published to mark the Day for Life in October 2004. As today is World Suicide Prevention Day, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ […]

As today, 10th September 2008, is World Suicide Prevention Day, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has republished its recent pastoral letter “Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide”. This pastoral letter was published to mark the Day for Life in October 2004.

As today is World Suicide Prevention Day, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has republished its recent pastoral letter Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide.  This pastoral letter was published to mark the Day for Life in October 2004.

A dark cloud has gathered over Ireland in recent years.  Many lives have ended in tragic circumstances and others have been darkened by the heartbreaking reality of the death of a loved one through suicide.  The lives of the young, in particular, have been overshadowed by this cloud.  A recent survey by the World Health Organisation shows that, after road accidents, suicide is the second highest cause of non-disease deaths for young people in Europe.  Recent reports and publications have also underlined the extent of this issue in Ireland. In particular, it is notable that the ratio of young males to females who commit suicide is approximately four to one.

In recent times more and more concerned people are asking the questions: “Why?” and “What can we do about this?”  We, the Irish Bishops, would like to address this issue within the context of God’s gift of life to our world.  We want to explore it with you and share with you our concerns and our support, in the hope that those who may think of suicide would reconsider their situation and those who have been bereaved through self-inflicted deaths may, eventually, with God’s help, begin to understand what has happened and find peace.

Until the relatively recent past, suicide was uncommon in Ireland.  It is still uncommon in many parts of the world.  Many factors in our culture were responsible for this.  In recent years, however, much of what supported people and prevented them from considering suicide seems to have vanished.  With economic success has come a weakening of faith for many and the loss of the sense of life as God’s gift.  With the laudable desire to remove the stigma which surrounded suicide from the families of those who have died has come the erosion of the recognition that suicide is an unthinkable option.  While no one should wish to return to the old condemnatory attitudes or attempt to restore the stigma the fact remains that all of us need to recognise that suicide has become a terrifying reality in our society, one which together we need to acknowledge and confront.  In particular we need to recognise the danger that resignation to the idea that
there is little we can do to prevent suicide could develop in our society today. 

Therefore, we would like to explore with you the belief that life is God’s gift to us, that He alone can decide when it should end and that God wants each one of us to live life to the full in this world of ours, to discover its beauty, to respect its nature and to enjoy its blessings.

Darkness
We recognise that all generations and many individuals have wrestled with darkness, both within themselves and within society, in varying degrees.  At times dark shadows cross our lives.  For some it seems as if the clouds create a land of shadow in which they are condemned to live forever.  And yet the fact remains that, no matter how great the suffering, the darkness passes eventually.

Our faith assures us that if we turn to God in our loneliness and pain then we can discover that our darkness is not something created by God.  It is a reality from which God wants to rescue us and through which we can triumph.  This is central to the message of Christ.  He offers us the opportunity to take suffering seriously, confront it and then go beyond it.  This is precisely what He did in his paschal mystery.  He accepted the suffering of the Cross himself, he endured it, gave it meaning and triumphed over it.

And it is this triumphant spirit, given to us in baptism, which allows us to do the same.  This is what gives us hope in the face of so much loneliness, pain and fear.  This is what convinces us that Isaiah was right when he said “He did not create the world in vain.  He made it to be lived in”.  (Is.45.18) Life is for living, therefore, and life is also worth living.

Despair
Many people in the Bible, suffering the pain of loneliness, depression and darkness, were tempted to despair.  They asked God to let them die and so end it all. The story of Elijah, for example, has a familiar ring to it.  Filled with fear and with a sense of foreboding, Elijah, together with a close friend, fled to the countryside.  Exhausted from fear and pain, he even decided that he could no longer cope with the company of his closest friend.  He abandoned friendship and then journeyed into the wilderness on his own.  We are told that, after a day’s journey in the blazing sun, “sitting under a furze bush he wished he were dead. Yahweh, he said, “I have had enough. Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.”  Filled with darkness and worn out by the heat and the
journey, he lay down, hoping and praying that God would take his life and end his suffering. However, we are told that instead God sent an angel to help him. He gave him bread to eat and water to drink. “Strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19.1-8)

This pattern has been repeated in the lives of many ordinary people, some of whom have become canonised saints.  St Therese of Lisieux, for example, who is often seen as having a very simple, straightforward faith, faced great difficulties and suffered excruciating temptations at the end of her life.  She spoke of feeling separated from God’s grace by “a great wall which reaches up to the sky and blots out the stars”. In the darkness, a voice seemed to mock her: “You really believe, do you, that the mist which hangs about you will clear later on? All right, all right, go on longing for death.

But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence.” Through that ordeal she continued to trust in God. “The only thing I want badly now is to go on loving till I die of love.” (St Therese, The Autobiography of a Saint, tr.R.Knox, Fontana 1958, pp201f.)

Nowadays many people are greatly burdened by personal or family problems, by illness and by the fear of painful death. They are often tempted to give up. Alone, at first, they try to cope with their pain. Then they attempt to leave it behind and then, like Elijah, some plead with God to end it all because they can cope no longer. Some even feel that God does not care about them. However, once they put their trust in God, in one form or other, God sends them support and they get the strength they needed to carry on.  After his ordeal, the sun was still hot for Elijah, the road long and the difficulties which faced him at the beginning were still there.  But, with God’s help, he overcame the temptation to despair and struggled on.

Life today promises easy and instant solutions to almost everything.  Advertising assures us that we can fly away to an idyllic holiday in the sun; that we can live in a luxurious and exclusive home, drive a dream car in attractive company and have all that we could ever desire.

We know that even in an Ireland, which has been blessed with exceptional economic success in recent years, if this is true in part it is not the whole picture. There are no easy or instant solutions to many of life’s problems or tensions.  Very often we find ourselves clinging to the wreckage of life when all that is left within us is the will which says “hold on.”  Many wonderful people have not been able to hold on but, equally, many great people have done so.  Today we pay tribute to those who continue to struggle and we appeal especially to the young, who have all life’s opportunities before them, to “hold on” and then go on to discover the wonder of life and living.

It is good to talk
This was the recent catch-phrase of a phone advertisement and it is also a central truth of our human experience.  Yes, it is good to talk and it is important to talk.  Men, in particular, seem to be poor when it comes to talking out problems but we all need to remember that expression is the conqueror of depression.

Those who suffer from deep pain need to talk to someone who can listen.  Ireland is blessed with many good listeners and listening agencies, organisations such as Aware, the Samaritans and many others.  They know how to listen.  Call them.

Life after suicide
During the dark days after the death by suicide of a loved one, friends, neighbours, relatives and every local community reach out to the bereaved family in sympathy and understanding.  Each wishes to echo words of comfort and hope in hearts that are broken.  They all unite to say: “There is life after death” – eternal life in God’s love for the one who has died by his or her own hand and ordinary life, even if the circumstances have changed radically, for the bereaved.

As the enormity of what has happened sinks in, the bereaved go through the predictable reactions of denial, an awakening sense of loss, anger, personal recrimination and deep pain. The question uppermost in their mind is why.

Why did s/he do it?  Why did I not notice something strange in their behaviour and prevent it? Why did he/she do this to me? And the list is limitless. And there is no answer to the why. Who knows why it happened? How could you have really noticed? In a recent radio interview the survivor of an attempted suicide explained clearly and with great honesty his thoughts at that time. He had drifted into the outer reaches of loneliness and darkness.

So much so that when he was closest to committing suicide, like Elijah, he could not even cope with what he knew to be the genuine concern and understanding of his parents, family and friends.  Because of this he disguised his pain and put on a normal, positive attitude to life when he met those he loved. His reflection may help to explain why so many people who have been touched by the suicide will tell you that there was no apparent reason for concern in the behaviour of the one who died. It is true that those who have died would want us to know that they did not take their own lives because of a
lack of love for us. At the same time, we all need to recognise that death through suicide causes terrible pain to families and friends and no one deserves this cross.

Our Christian faith assures us that there is life after death and that a merciful and loving God can see beyond our limited human condition. While we believe that “God is the giver of life, and he alone has the right to decide when that life should end” we also realize that God can look deep within the human heart, recognize its difficulties, understand and forgive. We should always pray for these who take their own lives, try to understand them and commend them to God’s mercy.

Life is for Living
Life is for living. We have God’s word for this. The Prophet Isaiah assures us that in creating the world “God made it to be lived in.  He did not create it in vain.” ( Is.45:18) Yes, God wants each one of us to live life to the full in this world of ours, to discover its beauty, to respect its nature and to enjoy its blessings.  In particular, he wants us to appreciate its wonder and to explore its potential.  Through his gift of life to us, God invites all of us to the adventure of discovering him in faith.

God did not create any of us for our own destruction.  He gave each one of us the gift of life and made the world for the enjoyment of all the generations that have lived and will live. He wants us to enjoy it.  He wants each one of us to discover the joy of living in this world which he has created and, furthermore, he wants each of us to create conditions in the world where every human being can live in dignity and enjoy God’s creation. For, as the Catechism tells us: “we are stewards, not owners of the life God has entrusted to us”. Ours is the task to appreciate life as God’s gift and then help others to do so by improving the conditions in which all God’s children live.

Finally, we call on everyone, individuals, families, schools, colleges, communities, the Government, the media and health care systems to join in the effort to make the causes of suicide more fully understood, the care of those at risk more urgent and the families of those bereaved by suicide consoled and supported so that everyone in our country will feel cherished and cared for, especially in these tragic circumstances.  In particular, we encourage and support the development of suicide prevention strategies.

Tags: Morality

Euthanasia Reflection Paper

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“Right to Die” Euthanasia Reflection Paper

“One of the most important public policy debates today surrounds the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The outcome of that debate will profoundly affect family relationships, interaction between doctors and patients, and concepts of basic ethical behavior. With so much at stake, more is needed than a duel of one-liners, slogans and sound bites.”

Q.)     What is Euthanasia?

A.)     Throughout North America, committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide is no longer a criminal offense. However, helping another person commit suicide is a criminal act. One exception is the state of Oregon which allows people who are terminally ill and in intractable pain to get a lethal prescription from their physician. This is called "Physician Assisted Suicide" or PAS.

The word Euthanasia originated from the Greek language: eu means "good" and thanatos means "death". One meaning given to the word is "the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies." 2 That is, the term euthanasia normally implies that the act must be initiated by the person who wishes to commit suicide. However, some people define euthanasia to include both voluntary and involuntary termination of life. Like so many moral/ethical/religious terms, "euthanasia" has many meanings. The result is mass confusion.


Q.)     Why is this an issue?

A.)     People have many different reasons for wanting to end their life by committing suicide:
     ► Some are severely depressed over a long interval. To them, suicide may be a "permanent solution to a temporary problem." There is a consensus that a better solution for most clinically depressed people is treatment, using counseling and/or medication. Such treatment can give to the person decades of enjoyable life which would have been lost if they committed suicide.
     ► They live in excessive, chronic pain. Some, due to poverty or lack of health-care coverage cannot afford pain killing medication. Others are denied adequate pain killers because of their physician's lack of knowledge, inadequate training, or specific beliefs. Most physicians feel that suicide in such cases is not a preferred solution either; a better approach is proper management of pain through medication. There appears to be a lack of collective will to make this happen. Many, perhaps most, people die in excessive, though treatable, pain.
     ► They have a terminal illness and do not want to diminish their assets by incurring large medical costs as their death approaches. As an act of generosity, they would rather die sooner, and pass on their assets to their beneficiaries.

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&#9658; They have been diagnosed with a degenerative, progressive illness like ALS, Huntington's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, Alzheimer's etc. They fear a gradual loss of the quality of life in the future as the disease or disorder progresses. A serious disorder or disease has adversely effected their quality of life to the point where they no longer wish to continue living.



Some people who decide that they wish to commit suicide are unable to accomplish the act. They need assistance from their physician. Physician assisted suicide helps them die under conditions and at the time that they wish. PAS is currently legal, under severe restrictions, only in the American state of Oregon and in the Netherlands. In other jurisdictions, they are forced to continue living against their wish, until their body eventually collapses, or until a family member or friend commits a criminal act by helping them commit suicide.

Q.) What are some of the recent cases?

A.) An analysis of the first full year of the availability of assisted suicide in Oregon showed that relatively few people requested help in dying. Some were probably deterred by the resistance of their physician. Only 23 actually obtained medication to induce their death. At least six of the 23 never used the pills, but died a natural death.

     Probably, one of the most well known activists in the “right to die” debate is that of “Dr” Jack Kevorkian. I say “Dr” in quotations because his medical license was revoked in 1990. Kevorkian operates on a simple philosophy: People have a right to avoid a lingering, miserable death by ending their own lives with help from a physician who can ensure that they die peacefully.

For almost 10 years, he managed to avoid legal penalties for putting that philosophy into action. But in late 1998, he crossed from passive to active euthanasia when he gave a man a lethal injection, rather than simply providing the man the means to kill himself, and videotaped the act for broadcast on national TV, daring prosecutors to charge him with murder.

They took him up on that dare, and in early 1999, Kevorkian was found guilty and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.
Supporters of doctor-assisted suicide say he forces society to confront a critical issue. The American Medical Association and other critics charge that he is hopelessly unqualified to assess his patients’ medical and psychological needs.

Q.)     What are the decisions at the Federal and State levels?
A.)

Q.)     Have there been any new policies, and if so, how effective have they been?

A.) There haven’t been any notable policies created recently.

Q.) What is my opinion?

A.)      Its hard for me to take a stand on this issue. I don’t think when someone is suffering or under great pain that they are able to clearly make the literal life or death choice. All I know is I would cling on to life with all my strength to see my family one more time. However one thing I do believe in is free agency… everyone has the right to make there own choices… however they in turn must be held accountable fo