A few nights ago, in bed, I made the effort to get up, find a pen and paper and write down some thoughts about death, murder and suicide.
Recently close to where I live in Belfast, a 91 year old woman, just returning from the Post Office having collected her state pension, was assaulted on the street by a criminal thug and robbed as she arrived home. I believe that this unfortunate, innocent, fellow citizen has survived after being hospitalised but clearly her sense of herself, her personal safety and integrity are “changed utterly” and negatively by her experience. Police afterwards issued a leaflet to folks in our neighbourhood appealing for information, presumably not unrelated to our local streets being included in a voluntary crime prevention scheme called “Neighbourhood Watch”. I hope that the above-mentioned cowardly miscreant is rapidly identified and removed from society until he learns some manners.
Back to death, murder and suicide. Death is “the only certainty” for humans, as for all forms of mortal life – cell, plant, animal and human. Let’s just agree that the life cycle represents “an iron law”, unavoidable and indisputable (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law) for my garden’s daffodils, as for my late pet dog, Basil, as well as for everyone, including me and you, good reader, who has lived, is living or will live on planet Earth. We’ll leave for the time being extraterrestrial life (per Webster-Merriam “coming from or existing outside the planet Earth” - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extraterrestrial).
I’ll try to shorten this up.
Murder, across the globe, is regarded as a crime. The saga of Cain and Abel resonates (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel). Each human death is a murder if and when directly attributed to the intentional actions of another or per Dr Google: “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another” (https://www.google.co.uk/#q=murder). And each such death is idiosyncratic. It is investigated, vigorously or otherwise, by governmental agencies seeking to identify the culprit. Lessons are learned or at least attempted by relevant media publicity. As for those left to grieve the loss through murder of a loved one, states generally accept their duty to bereaved citizens to ameliorate their loss by compensation, and, in some cases psychological support in the aftermath. In Northern Ireland, the Victims Support organisation provides this service:
“Victim Support NI is a charity supporting people affected by crime. We offer a free and confidential service, whether or not a crime has been reported and regardless of how long ago the event took place. We are an independent organisation - not part of the police, courts or any other criminal justice agency.” (http://www.victimsupportni.co.uk/)
SUICIDE NOT A CRIME
So that’s alright then. Now let’s look at death by suicide. Here since 1966, suicide is no longer a crime:
“The Suicide Act 1961 (9 & 10 Eliz 2 c 60) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It decriminalized the act of suicide in England and Wales so that those who failed in the attempt to kill themselves would no longer be prosecuted.
The text of sections 1 and 2 of this Act was enacted verbatim for Northern Ireland by sections 12 and 13 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The Act did not apply to Scotland, as suicide was never an offence under Scots Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_Act_1961).
In the Irish Republic (variously Republic of Ireland, Ireland, The South) the crime of suicide lasted for over a further quarter century until 1993:
The Criminal Law (Suicide) Act, 1993 at section 2 provides: (1) Suicide shall cease to be a crime (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irishancestors/Law/Suicide.html).”
Just like that – yesterday a crime alongside murder, viz. self-murder, but today not so. Reading the parliamentary debates (Westminster, Stormont, Leinster House – Ireland) leading up to legislative changes from 1961 to 1993 is revealing indeed. More on that may (DV) feature in a later blog, including the recent awakening in UK / Ireland of arguments in favour of legalisation of a so-called “assisted death” movement. Ironical indeed, given our national propensity to ‘assist death’ for political (i.e. power seeking) purposes in Ireland most recently for over 30 years from 1966.
SUICIDE v MURDER
For today, I’ll simply contrast our society’s treatment of suicide with that of murder. Clearly each suicide is idiosyncratic in nature, like any other death event. Police services, representing state resources, refer to deaths by suicide as having “no suspicious circumstances”, in other words, no crime. However, suicidology (“the scientific study of suicidal behaviour and suicide prevention” - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicidology) has tended to focus upon prevention, paying most of its attention to what are known as “suicide rates”, then to the attributes of those fellow-humans deceased by apparent suicide, and finally to supposed cause/effect relations between a ‘do nothing’ approach and the material / psychological elements of ‘suicide prevention’ strategies. Unfortunately, psychological autopsy, the method most often relied upon in related research, is deeply flawed:
“. . . as a diagnostic tool psychological autopsies should now be abandoned. Instead, we recommend qualitative approaches focusing on the understanding of suicide beyond mental disorders, where narratives from a relatively high number of informants around each suicide are systematically analyzed in terms of the informants’ relationships with the deceased (Hjelmeland et al., Death Studies, 36: 605–626, 2012).
The incidence of death by suicide, represented in statistics, is as reliable as the human, bureaucratic recording systems that generate them. Making comparisons across countries based upon “suicide rates” may represent a waste of time and effort:
Incidence of suicide tends to be under-reported due to both religious and social pressures . . . and possibly completely unreported in some areas. Since the data might be skewed, comparing suicide rates between nations is statistically unsound. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate).
One of the dominant stupidities of suicidology is its reliance upon comparisons, its search for commonalities, and its quest to generalise causes of suicide – most culpably represented in the ludicrous notion that all suicides are rooted in mental illness/disorder/disease. I tend to share Heidi Hjelmeland et al’s view that suicidology needs a paradigmatic shift from quantitative approaches (i.e. counting them) to “qualitative approaches focusing on the understanding of suicide beyond mental disorders” (cited above).
EACH SUICIDE IS UNIQUE
Each suicide needs investigated by the state “as if” it was a murder, albeit self-murder. Only when each citizen, from birth to death, is valued equally in social systems that render ‘profit’ below ‘people’, will our society begin the journey towards arriving at a deeper understanding of the human behaviour called suicide. This may not happen or even begin to happen anytime soon. Still Carroll and McCann (People before Profit Party) were recently elected to our local legislature. So don’t give up . . . . never give up.