All around the world most of us cling to life desperately. Even those convinced that they are going on to a “better place” are in no rush to shuffle of this mortal coil. It is our first and strongest instinct: stay alive. Its gift, the enjoyment of each moment and the promise of what we might do next, is so precious that we consider stealing that gift the most horrible crime imaginable. When someone willingly relinquishes it, or attempts to, we are frozen with puzzlement and if we were close to that person often guilt. It seems alien to want to end it, to give up and go into truly undiscovered territory, whether that place is heaven, hell, oblivion or something else completely unimagined. We are angry, often rightfully so, when someone ends their life. I think, however, that sometimes it is the acceptable choice. Sometimes, like the case of Charles D. Snelling, it is difficult to fault the person leaving us.
For the record, I absolutely believe that most suicides can and should be avoided. There are many people dealing with mental health issues that see it as a way out. I know, I was one of them. Still there are plenty of extreme circumstances where allowing folks to kill themselves is the humane thing to do. Mr. Snelling led a full life. He spent six years taking care of the woman he loved and watching her slip away from him. There are people out there with horrible, incurable, humiliating and debilitating conditions. Are we going to ask them to suffer through that to protect our delicate sensibilities or to adhere to our own dogmatic view of the cosmos?
I understand this brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions. What about the person suffering from an incurable, untreatable mental illness? Do we let them commit suicide, knowing that their ability to rationally make that decision is impaired? I don’t have the answer to that. I’ve been in a spiral of depression before and was able to get out so I can imagine being stuck in it for years or decades without anyone able to help and just wanting to let it all go. I am not saying we absolutely should give people in that circumstance the right, I am just saying we owe the issue a much deeper discussion than we allow it.
Life is fragile and precious. I have learned to be grateful for it no matter what challenges it sends my way or how much they hurt at the time. That said, death is also precious because it gives life it’s finite quality which is what makes it so very valuable. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, our lives and our deaths are our own. While we should be there to help a friend, loved one or even just a fellow member of our community to understand that suicide is a permanent solution to a usually temporary problem, we should also respect those for whom it really is the clear option.