If you are interested in the history of suicide but cannot afford time to read all the major literature written about it, or don't know where to start, this book might come in handy. However, it does NOT offer a proper perspective on this delicate subject, and it stigmatizes people who attempt or die by suicide. For a better understanding of suicide, please visit suicide.org, or cross-reference the information you've got from this book with different sources.
In her preface, Hetch asserts that she ultimately aims to revivify "a secular, logical anti-suicide consensus" by first establishing a historical context for the discourse on suicide -- dated way back to the ancient world of Roman Republic, then presenting the reader an accumulation of unflinching and impassioned philosophical arguments against suicide.
I'll make no comment on the historical section because I'm not knowledgeable enough on that aspect. On the other hand, I've got a lot to say about her reasoning against suicide and the way she addresses it. Before we go further, I also want to make it clear that I am not supporting suicide as problem solving, with the exception of carefully advised and monitored euthanasia for extreme cases (such as terminal illness).
The book perplexes me on many levels. Why? Let's break it down!
Despite her statement that she passes no judgment on those who did or contemplate the act, Hecht's arguments stigmatize suicide and the suicidal all the same. She equates suicide with delayed homicide, even alludes to it as self-murder at times; presumes that suicide is a choice made in a lucid state of mind; and worst of all, puts a partial blame on people who die by suicide for triggering chained suicides, also known as suicide clusters.
I think the problem is that Hecht has spent an intensive amount of time researching historical materials but not enough on contemporary debates and conditions of the subject.
First, by definition, homicide or murder is the premeditated killing of another person, done with MALICE intention. Suicidal people kill themselves because they want their suffering to stop, thus suicide cannot be considered a crime in the same sense murder is.
Second, the current consensus is that suicide is caused by different reasons--depression, insanity, abuse, drugs or substance abuse, extreme loss, existential crisis, etc. But the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. 90% of people who died by suicide suffered from excruciating physical or/and emotional pain which caused them the impulses to end their life. Most people are not in a stable or coherent mentality when the thought of suicide occurs. Therefore, suicide-while preventable-is not a lucid choice.
Furthermore, even when suicide is contagious, it should not be one of the arguments for anti-suicide. On the other hand, it is nobody's fault that some mind is vulnerable or susceptible to external influences. And, really, people should not be responsible for others when they can't even function for themselves; I also think that telling people their decision to live or die can cause or hasten others' demise usually only fuel more anxiety and distress.
Her appeal to suicidal people who are, and I quote, "sufficiently lucid as to be available to be reached through argument": Live because we owe it to the community, family, and our future self.
I found this argument terribly trite because I see it as a common sense. One does not need to read philosophical literature to arrive at this idea. The concept that our life intertwines with those around us is neither new nor forgotten, it is ingrained in many cultures. At least, in my culture, we've always been taught that we owe each other to live. Same for the idea that perseverance will yield rewards.
However, this brings us back to the assertion that, in most cases, attempts of suicide occur when the mind is muddled and distorted, and there is no outside intervention. Thus, such reasoning might not be effective at all.
In a section of her book, Hecht cited Anne Sexton's heartfelt writing on her despair, and then asserted that her crisis wasn't uncommon. And if the writer understood she wasn't alone, she might have not chosen to die. This whole part perplexed me because Hecht seemed to either fail to grasp or choose to ignore the fact that Sexton clearly suffered from severe depression.
I applaud Hetch for her intention and intensive research. I also agree with her that we need to strengthen the bond between community and individuals, as well as among individuals. However, with all due respect, I disagree with her view on suicide and her conclusion on the subject.
Again, suicide can't be equalized with either delayed-homicide or self-murder. The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. Depression, as well as suicide, is not a choice. Depressed and suicidal people need to get medical or psychiatric help, not a philosophical lesson.
Most of all, suicide, like depression, should not be associated with any stigmas.