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Help Suicide (1897) The Emile Durkheim Archive : Suicide Inuit suicide rates put health-care workers on alert
Le Suicide

Over four times more men than women die by suicide, but women make more suicide attempts. One possible explanation for this pattern is that when men attempt suicide, they tend to use more violent methods, such as shooting themselves, whereas women have a greater tendency to take poison or overdoses of medication, which lets them survive if they do not ingest enough.

Suicidal people are often terribly ambivalent: they want both to live and to die. The methods they choose to attempt suicide sometimes also reflect the degree of this ambivalence.

About 30 to 40% of people who take their own lives have attempted suicide previously. The risk that someone will succeed in killing themselves is more than 100 times higher than normal during the year following a suicide attempt.


“There is only one philosophical problem that is truly serious, and that is suicide.” Thus wrote Albert Camus in the opening lines of “The Myth of Sisyphus”, the 1942 essay that made him famous. This idea, which underlies the entire essay, draws attention to the fact that human beings are the only animals who can consciously decide to end their own lives.

Historically, suicide had long been condemned by both secular and religious authorities, until the psychiatric theories that were advanced on this subject in the 19th century. The impressive number of hypotheses that have been offered about suicide since that time bears witness to the complexity of this phenomenon, which is very often associated with depression.

In addition to philosophers and psychiatrists, the sociologists who have studied suicide have drawn attention to social integration as an essential variable for understanding this phenomenon. In their view, the more sense of belonging you feel, the less likely you are to commit suicide. In other words, the wider your social network, the greater your chances of finding someone to listen to you if you have serious problems, and the less likely you are to resort to suicide.

For example, in the late 19th century, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim found that the rate of suicide among bachelors was higher than among widowers and much higher than among married men. In other words, being integrated into a family group seemed to reduce the risks of suicide.

Many studies have subsequently supported the idea that a higher incidence of suicide often accompanies the disintegration of communities and the resulting isolation of individuals. This social disintegration is often caused by rapid social changes that render traditional standards of behaviour obsolete without providing any new ones that individuals can clearly identify.

But suicide is a phenomenon that involves many variables, in particular individual biological factors. When Durkheim himself tried to establish a typology of suicides, he discovered that social relationships that place excessive social pressures on individuals can also lead them to commit suicide. Thus, Durkheim classified suicide due to insufficient social integration (for example, by an elderly person living alone) as egoistic suicide and suicide due to deterioration in a person's links with his or her social network (for example, as the result of divorce or job loss) as anomic suicide. His two other categories were altruistic suicide (of which the Japanese kamikaze pilots during the Second World War and the suicide bombers in today's Middle East are examples), and fatalistic suicide (for example, a student who kills himself after failing a crucial exam).

Some societies place excessive value on certain kinds of performance or maintain veritable cultures of fear. They may thereby contribute to the suicide of some individuals who want to conform to these societal values too much or who, on the contrary, refuse to do so. These people then see suicide as a way out, a means of flight from whatever is causing them to despair and to experience feelings that they cannot tolerate.

The idea of ending one's own life raises even more significant ethical questions when other people are directly involved. This is the whole issue of assisted death or euthanasia, from the Greek eu (good) and thanatos (death), in which third parties, usually physicians, provide someone with a “good death” (meaning one that is easy but premature) in order to shorten their suffering.

Someone can also ask a physician to deliberately provide him or her with the means of committing suicide. This situation is referred to as assisted suicide. In assisted suicide, the patient retains control over his or her own life, because the physician's participation remains indirect. But this practice is the subject of fierce debate throughout the world, because it raises fundamental questions about human freedom and dignity.

Link : L'euthanasie Link : La mort médicalement assistée Link : Euthanasie légalisée aux Pays-Bas Link : L'Euthanasie en France Link : 4 years into prison term, Kevorkian all but forgotten

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