Recently, a 60-year-old man named Martin Manley committed suicide and left a website detailing his life and why he chose to do this. The site has since been shut down. In this thorough, public recounting of his life, he claims that he was not depressed, and that suicide was something he was planning to do for many years. He was strategic about it as well, so that only police officials would have to find his body, and he claims that this was a rational decision (that he didn’t suffer from any mental illness) and that he did this because he wanted to take the ultimate form of control: he wanted to be the one to decide when his life would be over.
Of course, anybody’s immediate reaction would be that he a) didn’t respect his life or honor it and b) he didn’t take into consideration the feelings and lives of those whom his life touched: his family, friends, relatives, coworkers, etc. More drastically, some would consider this to be the most cowardly act, and would argue that being so thorough and public about it is even worse.
We have come to know the act of suicide as something as an indicator of serious mental illness. Up until very recently, some organized religions have indicated that those who commit such an act will be damned to an eternity in hell, but have since reformed their stance on it because studies have indicated that it is usually because of mental illness, something they consider to be out of the individual’s control.
So in very brief summation, we, as a culture, are of the belief that suicide is both the result of mental illness and consider it something that is cowardly and “weak” because the person didn’t respect their life nor did they respect the lives of those they were acquainted with. But what Martin Manley did challenged all of that.
Do we know, with certainty, that Manley wasn’t mentally ill? Of course not. Some would argue that he indeed was. But in reality, there is also no way to know whether or not every single person who commits suicide is– we only know about those who have sought professional help and have been officially diagnosed. What if there are people who consider this their right– the ultimate act of self-ownership?
Before this goes any further, I believe it’s crucial that I make it a point to say that I do not condone suicide, and my reasoning is as follows: I believe that we are all on spiritual and otherwise journeys of growth, and that even if we take an “early exit” so to speak on one experience, we will end up right in the same place because in one way or another, we need to have the experience at hand for the sake of our development. Simply put, I believe that we will continue on to a different experience that provides us the same challenges that inevitably give us the circumstances for growth that we need. Thus, suicide does not solve anything, but it does bring a tremendous amount of pain.
But I am also fascinated by the idea that one could consider suicide to be their right and choice. What if we saw it that way? What if we took the same concept that we frequently argue in other cultural disagreements of opinion and applied it to the ultimate act of control: deciding when we live and die. Because what we, on the opposite end of someone who has committed suicide, are really upset about is that we have lost someone, and they are the ones who have done this to us. What if, in light of my own beliefs, we just let people go on to another experience and go through their journeys and accepted that we will never be able to control other people, even in this most extreme way. What would life be like if what Martin Manley did was seen as acceptable? I don’t have the answer, because I don’t see it that way, but I want to know what the rest of you have to say about it.