Altruistic suicide

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Altruistic suicide is suicide committed for the benefit of others. Falling on a grenade is one such example.[1] Émile Durkheim notes that tribal people sometimes see it as their duty to commit suicide, as when a wife kills herself after her husband dies, or a man kills himself in old age; but Durkheim also observes that altruistic suicide is unlikely to occur much in modern western society where “individual personality is increasingly freed from the collective personality.”[2] Altruistic suicide has been described as an evolutionarily stable strategy.[3] Altruistic suicide has a long history in India, even being noted in the Dharmashastras.[4] Some perceive self-immolation as an altruistic or "worthy" suicide.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the character Spock commits an altruistic suicide when he takes a lethal dose of radiation poisoning in order to make repairs so that the starship USS Enterprise can escape destruction.[6] He is noted for justifying his sacrifice with the line "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one."
  • In the Power Rangers series, Power Rangers in Space, in their season finale, Countdown to Destruction, Part 2, long-standing franchise character Zordon instructs Andros to destroy his energy tube, which would destroy all the evil in the universe at the time, but take him with them.
  • In Alien 3, Ellen Ripley, the main heroine of the Alien franchise, learns that she has an unborn alien queen inside of her, which the Weyland-Yutani company plan to exploit as a bioweapon. She subsequently jumps into a vat of molten lead so the new alien queen cannot be born and reproduce.
  • The film The Ledge centres on a character who commits suicide in order to save the life of another.
  • The film Seven Pounds portrays a man who commits suicide and donates seven of his organs.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), after defeating the T-1000, asks Sarah Conner to lower him into the vat of molten steel (as he cannot "self-terminate") so as to ensure that all traces of Skynet - including himself - are destroyed and prevented from being reverse-engineered so that Skynet cannot destroy the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blake, JA (Spring 1978). "Death by hand grenade: altruistic suicide in combat". Suicide & life-threatening behavior 1 (8): 46–59. PMID 675772. 
  2. ^ Deniz Yükseker, Lecture on Emile Durkheim 
  3. ^ Mascaro, Steven; Kevin B. Korb; Ann E. Nicholson (2001). "Suicide as an evolutionarily stable strategy" (PDF). Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2159: 120–132. doi:10.1007/3-540-44811-X_12. 
  4. ^ Vijayakumar, Lakshmi (January 2004). "Altruistic suicide in India" (PDF). Archives of Suicide Research 1 (8): 73–80. doi:10.1080/13811110490243804. 
  5. ^ Coleman, Loren (2004). The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster. p. 48. ISBN 0-7434-8223-9. 
  6. ^ "'Wrath of Khan' Plot summary". Viacom. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.