E O EkeFriday, June 8, 2012



rom my years of treating people, some of who took their own lives, and many who had a change of heart, and found reason to believe that their lives were worth living; I have learnt that making suicide a moral issue is unhelpful. In fact, sometimes taking ones life, when one has examined it, and judged it not worth living could be a logical decision, understandable in the context of the factors that may have compelled the victim to commit suicide. That to judge, or condemn a man who has taken his own life, can be hash, if not insensitive or foolish thing to do. This is because a man can decide whether his life is worth living or not. After all he is the one who lives it.


Therefore in helping those who are contemplating suicide, one must first look for the presence of mental illness for which there are effective treatments, and then engage with the would be suicide, in exploration of their thoughts, beliefs and world view. It could be unreasonable to try to compel them to accept that life is sacred and should never be taken, or give them reasons why they should choose life. This is because often, they have considered these reasons before deciding that suicide may be a logical solution to their problems. They may also see this as judgmental and a confirmation that they are not strong enough.

The least one can do when faced with a man who considers his life not worth living, and planning to end it, is to listen, try to understand, empathize, appeal, cajole and amuse. Then, maintain that often individuals are not the best judge of their own lives. That it is wise to try to see ones life from the eyes of the spectators and to weigh careful and consider thoroughly what they have to say. To judge one’s life is like an artist judging his performance. It ignores the fact that the part is ours, and the judgment the audience’s or judges. Suicide becomes a rational decision in a mind which has usurped both roles. This may be why it is impossible to dissuade a determined suicide from a solution to his problems which seems perfectly, right, and rational.

To help, one must weaken the foundation on which the rationality for suicide is based, i.e. the judgment of the suicidal that he is a failure, and that his life is not worth living. One may not argue with the suicidal that he is a failure for there may be evidence that he has failed in certain affairs of life. However one can point out the dysfunctional thinking that makes him generalise that he is a failure instead of stating that he failed in some areas of life like most normal people. In addition, one may question his definition of success and logically argue that it is not his role to judge his life no matter how badly he believes he has performed. Then one should attempt to persuade him to give up the role he has usurped. Once a man is persuaded to relinquish the role of the judge of his life, he would be in a position to consider his life from the perspective of another person which he may not have done in the past, and may be rescued.

However, a man who takes the duty of the judge of his life, and refuses to relinquish it, is a man who will see in suicide; a logical solution to the absurdity of his life. Under this circumstance, one may conclude that suicide was a rational choice for a man whose rationality could not allow him to delegate the duty of judging his life.

But, is a man who judges his life wrong? Is a dancer who believes he is a better dancer than the biases judges would acknowledge wrong? Is a bad artist good because the judges pronounce him good, or a good artist bad because the judges wish to deny him the converted prize? Who really is the best judge of our lives, and performances? Can a man who completely believes the judgment of others even when it contradicts his own judgment and sanity rational? Can we in this world, safely suspend our own judgment and live in the judgment of other imperfect mortals like us? When is right for a man to abandon his judgment or reject the bias judgment of other? To the last question, I will answer when he is contemplating suicide.

These questions make it important that men must refrain form judgment, especially of their own lives and recognize that their role is to perform. When faced with men who are considering taking their excit by their own hand, offer only that which may be useful, for beneath the irrationality of suicide, is logic often difficult to dismiss.

Therefore, suicide should neither be viewed through religious, nor moral lenses, but as one of the possible outcomes in the journey of life which would inevitably end in death. It should not really matter whether a man leaves a football match early or waited till the end.Everyman must retain the right to leave any match when he has had enough and life itself must not be different. I do not argue for the morality nor the rationality of suicide, but just bringing a perspective that is often ignored in the shock of suicide.

Suicides are not really failures, even though they often judge themselves as such. The are just spectators who decided to leave early before the end of the game. We must not take away anything from them because they opted to leave early. Those who see Life as a game, see humans as players. They know that there are winners and losers. Some will play till the end, while others may be forced or choose to quit early. However we all know that it would best if we can all play till the end,win and leave as happy winners. Unfortunately this is not how it is. The reality is that in the end there will sad losers and happy winners.

How can we honestly say that sad losers would not have been better off if they had left early? Suicide can also be good readers of the game who have come to the right conclusion that waiting till the end will not be in their best interest. For these and more, judgment should be reserved when a man ends his life, for in deed there is a method in madness.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.