Choosing Suicide For Your Birthday

by Chris Bodenner

Several readers are seizing upon this story:

Sports journalist Martin Manley, who left the Kansas City Star in early 2012, killed himself in front of a police station on Thursday on his 60th birthday. He left a website that explains his decision making. The gist: he didn’t want a slow lingering death in nursing homes or heroic battle with cancer that he would ultimately lose. He wanted to control his death – every detail.

And that’s one thing I haven’t seen discussed on your great thread about suicide – the need for control. I think about suicide all the time; I have for years. That troubled me until I realized it gave me a sense of control. I, like Manley, am single, in my 60s and have no desire to deal with a lengthy illness or long-term care. Unlike Manley, I’m also broke. And for me, the idea of ending my life is a great comfort. But, of course, it has to be my little secret.

It’s called rational suicide, and I think it will be part of the legacy of the Boomers. We’ve got to get a national conversation going about the need to let people who are at the end of life, have some control about ending their life. Thanks for helping make that happen.

Another reader:

Now that Yahoo! has taken down his site and his sister is battling them to put it back up, I think it’s appropriate for you to add this to your suicide thread: I wish he’d been able to choose some other sure method that would have been less dramatic.

This would require a major shift in how we think about death. We’d have to accept that there are some people who can cooly, dispassionately decide that it’s their time to go, while others will fight to survive for as long as they can – and that both are valid choices. A system that accommodated that, and treated the person choosing suicide with respect rather than as a danger to himself who must be stopped by any means possible, could include counseling to ensure that the choice wasn’t being driven by depression or influence from third parties. The longer we force people to be furtive about it and shame surviving families into silence or into condemning the loved ones they have lost, the worse it is for everyone.

I hope the sister wins her battle. I still have not read his entire website, but what I’ve read presents an interesting and complex picture – neither a hero nor a coward. He had concerns that are not unlike the concerns of others at his age. But to me, his choice doesn’t seem radically different from that of my aunt when she decided not to undergo radiation for breast cancer for a third time. She died within days of the date the doctor said she would upon making that choice, and, of course, it was unclear whether what finally did her in was the cancer itself or the increasing doses of morphine she was taking to counteract the pain.

I respect her decision, as I do Manley’s. I just wish he hadn’t been in a situation where he felt his best option was a police parking lot.