Altruistic suicide

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Altruistic suicide is sacrifice of one's life to save or benefit others, for the good of the group, or to preserve the traditions and honor of a society. It is always intentional. It is sometimes planned and willingly entered into. It is at other times unplanned, and unwillingly entered into.

Unplanned Emergencies. In contemporary Western society, this is seldom referred to as suicide, and most often referred to as heroism. This only exists in times of emergency, and is always lauded, and is perceived as tragic death. Self sacrificial acts of heroism, such as falling on a grenade is one example.[1] Intentionally remaining on deck of a sinking ship to leave room in the life rafts (for women and children), intentially ending one's life to preserve the resources (fuel and food) of a group in the face of deprivation and the like are suicidal acts of heroism. Firefighters, law-enforcement individuals, undercover agents, sailors, and soldiers more often are at risk of opportunities for this form of unplanned self-sacrifice. These are all as a result of tragic, life threatening, emergencies. It is only an emergency measure, a willing, yet unintentional end to the person's life. It is never as a result of a planned action, yet of course may involve some planning.

Planned Rituals. In ritualistic context, the person ends life willingly, and it is not seen as a tragic death. Émile Durkheim notes that in some cultures there is a duty to intentionally commit ritual suicide. A Japanese Samurai intentionally ends life (Seppuku) to preserve honor and to avoid disgrace. Indian, Japanese, and other widows sometimes participate in an end of life ritual after the death of a husband, although Westernized populations have abandoned this practice. The elderly members of certain cultures intentionally ended their lives, in what is termed as senicide. In hunter-gatherer societies,[2] death "was determined for the elderly ... normally characterised by a liminal period and ceremonies in which the old person was transferred from the present world to the next." Durkheim also observes that altruistic suicide is unlikely to occur much in contemporary Western society where "individual personality is increasingly freed from the collective personality".[3] Altruistic suicide has been described as an evolutionarily stable strategy.[4] Altruistic suicide has a long history in India, even being noted in the Dharmashastras.[5] Some perceive self-immolation as an altruistic or "worthy" suicide.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blake, JA (Spring 1978). "Death by hand grenade: altruistic suicide in combat". Suicide & life-threatening behavior. 8: 46–59. PMID 675772. 
  2. ^ Brogden, Michael (2001). Geronticide: Killing the Elderly. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd. p. 57. ISBN 1-85302-709-X. 
  3. ^ Deniz Yükseker, Lecture on Emile Durkheim 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Vijayakumar, Lakshmi (January 2004). "Altruistic suicide in India" (PDF). Archives of Suicide Research. 1 (8): 73–80. doi:10.1080/13811110490243804. 
  6. ^ 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.