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Normalizing Suicide Parties


Back in the early 1990s, my late friend Frances invited me and others of her friends to attend her suicide party. We all said no with an exclamation point! Such a thing was unthinkable. We would help Frances through the difficulties in her life, but we would not validate her self-destruction. With those closest to her unanimous in their objections, Francies changed her mind.

(Frances in fact killed herself about two years later under the influence of how-to-commit-suicide proselytizing literature from the Hemlock Society — now Compassion and Choices. The event thrust me into anti-euthanasia advocacy with a piece in Newsweek called “The Whispers of Strangers.”)

What was shocking then, is being normalized now — and fast. Indeed, dying at the conclusion of a ”going away party” (as Frances wanted to call hers) is openly promoted in the mainstream media as best kind of good death, a phenomenon I have written about before.

The latest example comes in a New Yorker essay by Cory Taylor, a woman with a terminal illness. From, “Questions for Me About Dying”:

Yes, I have considered suicide, and it remains a constant temptation. If the law in Australia permitted assisted dying I would be putting plans into place right now to take my own life.

Once the day came, I’d invite my family and closest friends to come over and we’d have a farewell drink. I’d thank them all for everything they’ve done for me. I’d tell them how much I love them. I imagine there would be copious tears. I’d hope there would be some laughter. There would be music playing in the background, something from the soundtrack of my youth.

And then, when the time was right, I’d say goodbye and take my medicine, knowing that the party would go on without me, that everyone would stay a while, talk some more, be there for each other for as long as they wished.

As someone who knows my end is coming, I can’t think of a better way to go out.

For her maybe, but what about those invitees she loves? Has she considered the deleterious impact her “better way out” could have on them?

I cannot fathom anyone putting their friends and loved ones in the position of having to decide whether to attend a suicide party. Indeed, it seems to me such a course would be profoundly selfish as it would force friends and loved ones into either validating the suicide and becoming morally complicit in the death by attending — or risk “social martyrdom,” that is, ostracism by other friends and family for being “judgmental,” or even being accused of abandoning the suicidal person.

This kind of advocacy is also deeply subversive on a societal level. Suicide prevention experts believe that suicide is catching, and that glamorizing or approving of the act can be persuasive to other suicidal persons by making it appear attractive.

If we aren’t careful, we may get to the place that people who hang in to the end and complete a natural death process will be viewed as chumps — perhaps even selfish for wasting financial, medical, and emotional resources deemed better spent elsewhere.

Photo credit: StockSnap, via Flickr.

Cross-posted at The Corner.