Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON-- Americans, always fascinated by celebrity suicides, have a number of recent excuses for sympathetic voyeurism. Andrew Koenig, 41-year-old son of actor Walter Koenig, hanged himself in a Vancouver park after leaving a despondent note. Days later, Michael Blosil, the 18-year-old son of singer Marie Osmond, jumped from his eighth-floor apartment after writing that his depression had left him feeling friendless.

A few years ago, Brad Delp, lead singer for the band Boston, killed himself after writing, "I am a lonely soul." South Korean supermodel Daul Kim wrote before her suicide last year, "The more I gain, the more lonely it is. ... I know I'm like a ghost."

People seem naturally interested in news indicating that the famous share our struggles. In this case, it is true. Suicides outnumber homicides in America, making self-hatred more lethal than violence by others. In 2009, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 1.1 million Americans had attempted suicide during the previous year. By one estimate, "successful" suicides have left behind 4.5 million family survivors, who live with ghosts each day.

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Suicidology is a well-studied academic field. Suicide is most prevalent among the young and the old. It is associated with depression, feelings of hopelessness, substance abuse and low levels of serotonin in the brain. Females attempt suicide more often than males. Males complete it more often than females. Suicide rates are higher among people who are divorced, separated or widowed, and lower among the married.

But such quantification provides only the illusion of control. The mind does not experience itself as a scientific object, but rather as an interpreter of reality. One's brain can contemplate one's spleen objectively. One's brain cannot consider one's brain objectively, because its judgments seem real even when they are distorted.

The rational arguments against suicide are compelling. It causes intense suffering for loved ones that few would intend in their right mind. It is not a valid expression of autonomy or choice, because it ends all autonomy and choice. It represents the tyranny of one moment of hopelessness over every future moment of possibility.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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