Tuesday, September 13, 2011

intervening in suicide

Freakonomics mentions suicide; specifically asking the question, would you stop someone from committing suicide? This was motivated by an anecdote told by a taxi driver who picked up a passenger who said he wanted to be taken to the Golden Gate bridge so he could jump off of it. The taxi driver didn't object, so the passenger said "you're not going to stop me?" and the driver said "No, why should I?" It's a free country after all.

Two things:

1. It's a very bizarre line of argument to invoke our `free country' in a discussion about interactions between individuals. Yes, it's a free country, and the government should butt it's big head out of our decisions about when and how to end life, or any other victimless action. But also, it's a free country, and if someone I care about is suicidal, I damn well am going to try to talk them out of it or intervene in more direct ways and get them help. If they want to kill themselves so bad, being stopped one time by trying it within my sphere of influence is a minor setback.

2. This is a strategic interaction, not a one-sided decision to interfere. The taxi driver didn't magically come across information about this guy's intentions; that guy told him outright. That itself was a strategic decision:

On that Freakonomics post, they also have a poll asking if you would intervene. Predictably, a vast majority of people say they would, at least in certain circumstances. I'm not the least bit surprised by this, and I'm sure the taxi passenger was also aware that most people would react in that way (as evidenced by his surprise at the driver's reaction...) When he made the decision to state his intentions, therefore, he expected to be interfered with. To me, it sounds like he was looking for the universe to provide any sign of unambivalence, and the taxi driver cruelly didn't provide it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't mind people who just jump. I do mind people who dither about it, which means that emergency vehicles come and gum up traffic on the bridge. (It's pretty narrow, and blocking off even one lane has a major impact on the traffic.) If the passenger is the type of person who's daring a random taxi driver to stop him, he's probably going to tell other pedestrians on the bridge or otherwise dither about the jump, which means that everybody who wants to use that bridge for hours is going to be majorly inconvenienced. So, I wouldn't do it. (However, if the passenger told me he wanted to go nearly anywhere else to die, I probably would do it. It's not my business to determine whether someone else's life is worth living.)

Anonymous said...

Suicide is obviously no joke and at times need to be taken care of seriously. In this instance I would not say the man was very serious about it, especially the way the cab driver reacted. While it is hard to decide on if it is okay to kills one’s self, it is even harder to have the nerve to convince them not too. On a personal level I think most people would try to stop it. Normally the problem is much deeper than just what you find/found out about them in that certain time period. Yes we all have freedom and we should be able to do as we please but at a certain point intervention can be necessary.