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What is suicide?

  1. May 29, 2007 #1
    I was going to post this in the thread "When is suicide justified?", but I decided that it deserves it's own thread.

    Is refusing treatment, or refusing to prevent your own death the same thing as suicide? For example, there are religious groups who refuse blood transplants, or for an even more ambiguous suggestion, the same religious groups may refuse a vaccine that has been derived from blood. If they then are infected by the disease that the vaccine was for, is that suicide?

    If I go lie down on the train tracks, and simply don't move if the train comes, am I committing suicide, or merely choosing not to prevent my death by stepping off the tracks? Does it change if, when I lie on them, I'm not sure if the tracks are in use, or if I believe they are not?

    What if someone has a termnal illness, and chooses to do something that will likely kill them, in order to better the world or another persons life? Like diving into a river to try to save a drowning victim, or taking a bullet or knife for someone. How far off does their death have to be before this would be suicide? Since we are all going to die someday, does this mean that there is no such thing as suicide?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2007 #2
    That is a good question... is suicide an action? If so, should inaction fall under the category of suicide? What is suicide is only a decision? In this case, deciding to take no action can in fact be considered suicide.

    It is clear that we are simply trying to derive conclusions from a defintion. So the problem reduces to nothing more than establishing a definition... a human-made definition. This means the problem is one of social agreement. Therefore, there is nothing inherently natural about the concept of suicide... it is a human-made concept.
  4. May 29, 2007 #3
    The first time I went skydiving, the instructor had a rather profound statement. he said that most people go through life accidentally managing to not get killed, and that's not really living. Making a conscious decision to live(pulling the chute cord in this instance), is an affirmation of life rather than an accidental life. Of course, that ignores the emergency chute which automatically deploys at a specific altitude if the main chute hasn't but we'll ignore that for now.

    To take your analogy even further, what about those who smoke, or drink to excess, or eat foods they know will shorten their life span. Is this a method of slow-suicide?
  5. May 29, 2007 #4
    I agree with your argument daveb. In order to exclude living an unhealthy lifestyle from the category of suicide, we would have to include a statement in our definition of suicide that limits suicide to decisions which have immediate consequence.

    something like...

    suicide: the decision to immediately end ones own life... (insert any other limitations)
  6. May 29, 2007 #5
    If we're going to use that definition, then how about someone who slashes their wrists, not with the intention of killing themselves, but then can't stop the bleeding and dies?

    The point I was trying to make with this thread was that suicide is not as clearly defined as everyone seems to think. Before we can argue about what is moral/justified/understandable/right, we need to clarify what exactly we mean when we say suicide.

    The word probably has different meanings to someone who has had a happy and relatively pain free life, to someone who was raised into drugs, pain, and hate, to someone who has had friends or family members kill themselves.
  7. May 29, 2007 #6
    Suicide is killing yourself intentionally. It's both a decision and the course of action that implements this decision. The ambiguous scenarios presented in this thread are resolved by looking for both intent and behavior. Refusing treatment for religious reasons is not suicide since the intent is not death but faith. Lying on the track and staying there is suicide if death is the intent. Sacrifice for the benefit of another is not suicide since the intent is to save a life, not to lose yours, even if it is the consequence.
    Last edited: May 29, 2007
  8. May 29, 2007 #7


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    This gets an interesting problem with causality in general. At what point in the causal nexus is a particular event or agent so far back that it no longer counts as a cause? Simply deciding to get out of bed and go to work on the day you get hit by a car contributes to your death. Heck, so does taking the job in the first place, or deciding to live in that particular city. The only place we find clarification with respect to cause of death is the law. For first-degree murder, there needs to be intent and forethought. One needs to decide beforehand to kill someone and do it on purpose. For second-degree murder, things get a little hazier. Usually, there is intent but not forethought, but there does not always need to be intent, either. Gross negligence, or the reckless disregard for human life, can be enough. For instance, a quality control inspector that decides to allow a combustion engine to be shipped knowing it will one day explode can be charged with second-degree murder should that engine eventually kill someone.

    It's interesting then that the question of intent should come up. One can certainly commit a homicide on accident. It may or may not be a crime, depending upon the negligence shown in the act, but it is a homicide either way. Why then must suicide only be considered the intentional killing of oneself? Is there a presupposition here that suicide must be a crime (whether illegal or not)?
  9. May 29, 2007 #8
    Any event which occured outside the lightcone of the event invent in question has no bearing on that event. If you wanted to put an error bar on the limits of the lightcone, you could say c * hbar / delta E (from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle).
  10. May 29, 2007 #9
    I'm fine with that. There may or may not be any penalty for attempted murder of oneself, but that's a different matter.
  11. Jun 15, 2007 #10
    Just like in wars and murdurs. Deep down inside all humans are destroying themselves and eachothers.
  12. Jun 22, 2007 #11
    I think suicide is when you have the intention of harming yourself. Like NeoDevin has said, even if someone slashes his/her wrist without intention of killing their selves, it still has, 'potentially', the ability to kill ones selves.
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