Suicide isn’t painless

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics
  • Despite what it says in that stupid song, suicide is not painless.

Not for other people, anyway. The apparent suicide of Brian Drysdale, who drove his car on to a level crossing and caused the Berkshire train crash, left six others dead and many more injured. But even the quietest suicides leave wrecked lives behind them. The difference is that most don’t kill themselves in a way designed to achieve maximum media coverage, and the pain and anguish they cause is usually hidden in their loved ones’ hearts.

A colleague of the man killed driving that Berkshire train, said: ‘We all feel angry. If this was suicide, it was such a monumental act of selfishness from the car driver.’ Suicide often is a selfish cop-out. It can also be a cowardly betrayal of our common humanity.

I realise this argument is not popular, having received some stick last year for suggesting that there was really nothing heroic about David Kelly’s self-inflicted death. Of course we all feel compassion towards desperate people, and have no wish to upset their families and friends. But there is a bigger issue at stake here than the feelings of individuals. It is about deciding what attitude we as a society want to take towards suicide. Let us say loud and clear that it is a terrible and mean act that we cannot condone. Especially today, when cultural attitudes towards suicide seem to be shifting in a dangerous direction.

Since the crash at Ufton Nervet, there has been much venomous press comment about Drysdale’s allegedly ‘eccentric gay’ lifestyle. This is wrong, but also unusual. These days it is far more typical to empathise with suicides, and look for others to blame for their fate – thus all the emphasis on the ‘dark actors’ who supposedly pushed Dr Kelly to his death. There seems to be a growing reluctance to say that suicides are the ones responsible for their deaths. Even amid all the hostility towards Drysdale, there has been a debate about what ‘drove’ him to do it. The answer is he drove himself, in his Mazda.

The tone for much of today’s discussion of suicide seems to be set by the Samaritans, a worthy organisation that helps desperate people but appears to harbour some dangerous thoughts of its own. The Samaritans argue that we should not stigmatise suicide and that, as a spokeswoman told The Times after Ufton Nervet, ‘It would be wrong to say that suicide is always a selfish act.’ The Samaritans’ stated values include the belief ‘that everyone has the right to make fundamental decisions about their own life, including the decision to die by suicide’. That sounds like reducing the act of killing yourself to just another lifestyle choice.

If we stop stigmatising suicide altogether, where will we end up? In Japan suicide has long been seen as an honourable way out. It now has the highest suicide rate in the G8, and a new cult of group suicide, organised via the internet, among young people. In Britain, suicides are declining, thankfully. But the less critical tone in which the issue is now discussed suggests an increasingly downbeat attitude towards life.

Should we accept that some just want to give up on the stressful way we live now? Not on your life. Sixty years after the Second World War, our society may find it hard to comprehend that there might be causes worth dying for. But only a suicidal culture could give up on the belief that life itself is a cause worth fighting for.

  • Those Geordies must be loonies and losers, ignorant morons, bigots, white trash and fanatics.

Why else would they have voted the opposite way to what most of the media and cultural elite told them to do in the North East assembly referendum? Only joking, of course. If I wrote that in seriousness, I would expect to be sent packing northwards to apologise. But replace ‘Geordies’ with ‘Americans’, and ‘assembly referendum’ with ‘presidential election’, and you have a reasonable summary of European reaction to the victory of George W. Bush. I’m no fan of Dubya, but this ‘sophisticated’ Bushophobia is no better. The high-powered, global anybody-but-Bush lobby may have lost at the polls, but it has achieved one remarkable result. It managed to make supporting the incumbent President of the United States – the world’s most powerful leader – seem like a protest vote by the downtrodden and dispossessed.

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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