She was already ‘at death’s door’ – so that makes it alright then?

By February 26, 2015 Recent News

Hope 23 February 2015
If a young person tragically dies by suicide we are rightly upset. We feel immense compassion for the young person and for their grieving families. It is entirely natural to observe that part of the tragedy is that he or she had ‘their whole lives ahead of them’. And so, in our western society where youth suicide is tragically far too common, we invest significant time, effort and finances in suicide prevention – and rightly so.
But when our media reports a suicide of an older person, they and we often see it differently. Often, but not always, the story talks about someone who has had a wonderful life and simply wants to be gone. Reasons vary from the fear of deterioration or a difficult prognosis to simply not wanting to grow old. Wrapped up like a sugar-coated yet bitter pill, we’re encouraged to consider that such a suicide is understandable, perhaps even okay. It is not. We are encouraged to celebrate his or her ‘courage to choose’ without thought for the reality that to make such a suggestion at the suicide death of a young person would be deemed rightly as cruel and invariably wrong.
I cannot help but think that the easy acceptance of suicide amongst the elderly is somehow subtly tied up in our own fears about what we will face ourselves. The lack of suicide prevention campaigns aimed at our elders tends to support this thinking and the idea of euthanasia and assisted suicide as being for the aged and infirmed further compromises suicide prevention initiatives.
While it is again entirely natural to feel compassion for the older person’s circumstances we cannot apply the ‘whole life ahead of them’ commentary because it is less of a reality. That said person may yet have had many years to live is less clear than for our putative young person. Does the fact that we cannot find easily a point of reflection upon what is nevertheless a tragedy mean that we should not be just as concerned as we are at a younger person’s suicide? Should it mean that we fail to ask the hard and sometimes unanswerable questions?