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On Suicide

November 1, 2011

Ruth Madoff, the wife of Bernie Madoff who is serving a 150-year jail sentence for a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of victims, told “60-Minutes” last Thursday that both she and Bernie attempted to commit suicide by taking pills on Christmas Eve.  Mrs. Madoff said:

“We took pills and woke up the next day. It was very impulsive and I am glad we woke up.”

Their son, Mark did succeed in ending his life when he hanged himself in his New York apartment last year on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. He was married and had a two-year boy.

The issue of suicide is a very difficult and for many a painful one. We all know directly or indirectly someone who took his or her life.

Some psychologist believe that we all, at one point in our lives, contemplate it. I am not sure they are correct, but we can safely assume that many do.

Over one million people die by suicide every year according to the World Health Organization. It is the 6thlargest cause of death in the U.S. According to the National Safety Council, is the leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under the age of 35.

Suicide has negative emotional and moral connotations. In Judaism and in Christianity, it is considered an offence to God because of the notion of the sanctity of life.

The circumstances that precipitate suicide vary. According to a 2008 survey of 16 States, approximately 30 % of suicides are due to intimate partner problem, 22% to physical health problems, 12 % to job problems and 12% to financial problems.

Studies have revealed that the impulse toward suicide is often short-lived, ambivalent and often influenced by mental illness.

In many cases, the person who decides to take away his or her life strongly believes that there are no other alternatives to resolving the situation he or she is in.  Yet, we know that very often there are alternatives that the person just does not see at the time.

Some libertarians argue that we have a right to suicide because it is an expression of our freedom, as a friend once told me “it is the liberty that deprives of all liberties.” The conventional debate between the “sanctity of life” against the “right to die” does not take in consideration the other important value of not causing harm to others. We may have the right to terminate our lives but with that right comes responsibility. The responsibility is not only to ourselves but also to others, particularly our family and loved ones who will profoundly suffer because this action.

Should we engage in the prevention of suicide? I would strongly argue that we should. Saving a life and preventing emotional and psychological harm to those who are left behind is a moral obligation.

Help is always available. Most people are willing to help. There are many websites of suicidal prevention such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline -1-800- Talk (8255)

As the English novelist and essayist E.M. Foster, once said:

“The crime of suicide lies rather in its disregard for the feelings of those whom we leave behind.”

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