How do I end my life peacefully

Suicide

Suicide, suicide, suicide

It is human to want to live. But the cultural history of mankind also includes the desire to take one's own life.

The question of whether a person can choose their own death almost always leads to passionate debates. It affects the basic understanding of life and therefore hardly leaves a person unaffected. You have to take a stand - even in the choice of words.

In the Middle Ages one spoke among other things of "self-evacuation", as if the "self" could separate from its body. The term "suicide" probably comes from the 16th century and goes back to a phrase used by Martin Luther. Here the deed is already rated as murder in the very term - entirely on the line given by the Church Father Augustine (354 to 430 AD).

"Freedom", on the other hand, is an expression that goes back to the philosophical work "Also sprach Zarathustra" (1884) by Friedrich Nietzsche. It says: "I preach free death to you, which does not creep up like your grinning death, but which comes because I want it."

But whether the decision to commit suicide is really a free decision and not an act of desperation is something that supporters and critics of the term argue about.

"Suizid" is derived from the Latin "sui caedere" (to kill oneself) and, in addition to the Germanization of "suicide", is a rather neutral description of the action.

There are also expressions such as "take your own life" or "put your hand to yourself". "Take" and "lay" sound like two rather harmless processes in comparison to "murder", "kill" or "wipe out". A way of at least linguistically distancing oneself from the violence of suicide.

In the Austrian-speaking world, people speak of suicides as those who "turn themselves home" - that is how poetic it can be.

Philosophical calculation of life

The expression "stoic serenity" goes back to the Greco-Roman philosophy school of the "Stoa" (around 300 BC to 300 AD). She taught an attitude to life of equanimity without major fluctuations in feeling, since this is the best way of quality of life.

A good life is not necessarily a long life. The Stoics taught that anyone who suffers from illness and pain, has to endure poverty, hunger or the rule of a tyrant should rather part voluntarily. Killing yourself because the negative side of life weighs more heavily than the positive - in sociology this is later called "balance sheet suicide".

The most famous stoic was Seneca (4 BC to 65 AD), who also brought up Emperor Nero. That didn't stop Nero later accusing Seneca of conspiracy and ordering suicide. Seneca allegedly obeyed in stoic calm and cut his wrists in the bathroom.

The stoic Hegesias even went so far in his advocacy of suicide that he was called "Peisithanatgos", that is, the "persuader to death". Hegesias believed that one could never achieve true happiness in life. In his lectures he described life in such dark colors that some of his listeners are said to have killed themselves as a result.

The "honor" of the vanquished

At the same time, the Teutons were also not afraid of suicide - albeit for different reasons. If defeat was threatened in a battle, they preferred death by their own hands. Servants had to follow their master "voluntarily" into death.

The model for the Germanic fighters was the god of war Odin, who is said to have killed himself with his sword. The warriors believed that they would dine at a table with Odin in the realm of the dead, Valhalla, and enjoy the highest respect for those who had died in the war.

Suicide in defeat - to save honor - was and is widespread. The Bible tells of King Saul who, after a battle was lost, ordered his servant to stab him. When his servant hesitated, Saul threw himself on his sword.

Ancient Roman politicians cut their wrists, voluntarily or on the orders of the ruler whose trust they had lost. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra (69 to 30 BC) was bitten by a viper when she had finally lost her power. She was only 39 years old.

Even in the 20th century, rulers chose death in defeat. Many commanders of the Nazi dictatorship evaded the Allied court by suicide, such as Hermann Göring, who was threatened with death. He did not want to be hanged by the victors, but chose a method of death that seemed more worthy to him: In his Nuremberg prison cell, Göring chewed a cyanide capsule.

The noblest duty of the samurai

In Japan a knighthood arose in the late Middle Ages, whose members called themselves "Samurai". One of their noblest duties was to kill themselves in case of defeat - in the prescribed form of "Seppuku", also known colloquially as "Harakiri".

With a small sword intended only for this purpose, they kneeled open their stomachs, from left to right and from top to bottom. The long agony that followed was sometimes shortened by a friend who severed the bleeding suicide's head with one blow.

In 1868, hara-kiri was banned in Japan. Nevertheless, many Japanese held their breath when Emperor Hirohito declared surrender to the war against the United States on August 10, 1945. Due to the lost honor through this defeat, it was feared that the emperor might call for hara-kiri despite the ban. Many of his loyal subjects felt obliged to obey the emperor.

The last keeper of this bloody tradition for the time being was the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. In front of journalists he committed an announced hara-kiri in 1970 and was beheaded by a friend.

Mass suicides

After a lost war, it is not just inferior soldiers or commanders who kill each other to save their warrior honor. Civilians also often choose to commit suicide. They do not act out of an injured sense of honor, but out of despair and fear - because they fear the vengeance of the invading victors.

When Roman troops defeated the Germanic warriors, their wives killed first their own children and then themselves. They did not want to fall into the hands of the Roman enemy.

The most famous mass suicide in history took place in the Masada fortress in Israel. In the year 73 AD, Jews had withdrawn onto this ledge in a hopeless battle against Roman troops. Shortly before the impending conquest, their leader Eleazar ordered collective suicide in a fiery speech. In a single day, 960 people died by their own hands. The State of Israel declared Masada a national memorial.

Such tragedies also occurred in the 20th century. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, in May 1945, 900 people committed suicide in Demmin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania within three days. They hanged themselves from trees, whole families went into the river, adults strangled their children and grandchildren.

The suicide hysteria arose out of fear of the invading Red Army. There were no escape routes because all the bridges leading out of Demmin had blown up. It was known that the city had been approved for destruction by the Russian army command - out of revenge: A group of Demmin National Socialists had killed 20 Russian soldiers.

The Christian fight against suicide

In early Christianity, the position on suicide was initially undecided. There were, among other things, Christian sects who viewed the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of his apostles for their faith as voluntary death. In order to follow them, they also sought martyrdom for themselves.

Even with the slightest punishment from Roman provincial governments, they took their own lives or they provoked the secular administration, as for example in North Africa, where they organized raids through villages and desecrated temples of foreign religions - all only to be sentenced to death in the end.

The North African bishop Augustin stopped this Christian suicidal hysteria at the end of the 4th century. He also applied the commandment "You shall not kill" to those who took their own lives. He put them on a par with murderers who were threatened with eternal damnation.

His judgment shaped the history of the church. Now the suicides could no longer plead the death of Jesus, but were compared to the traitor Judas, who remains forever guilty because he hanged himself. The funeral mass was no longer allowed to be read for suicides. They were also not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground and, from the 7th century onwards, were no longer allowed to be buried in church.

The ecclesiastical outlawing of suicide was taken over by the secular authorities in the Middle Ages. In Europe, suicide carried punishments similar to those of murder, insofar as these punishments could be carried out on a corpse.

Suicide victims were sentenced to "repeated" death by hanging after their death. The bodies were whipped, dragged through the streets and then hung up. The state often confiscated the property of the deceased, which hit the relatives particularly hard, in addition to the public disgrace.

The churches and active euthanasia

The question of whether suicides are forever doomed is now left to God by many Christian clergy. You condemn the act, not the perpetrator, so it was said in the Catholic Church in 1983 (in Codex Iuris Canonici), when burials of suicides were officially permitted and recommended again.

Nevertheless, nothing has changed in the basic position of the Christian churches. This is shown again and again by debates about active euthanasia.

Christian theologians and church leaders reject active euthanasia: If a terminally ill person has to decide for himself whether he is too burdensome for his relatives and caregivers and is therefore considering calling for active euthanasia, then that is an inhumane pressure of conscience. One should not leave the decision about one's own death to the sick person and leave him alone with it. People belong in a community in which one stands up for one another and accompanies one another.

The churches therefore promote voluntary hospice work - intensive and personal support for the dying. Christian theologians argue that the dying also belong in a communion with God, and that they should leave the responsibility for the end of their lives to him.