I didn’t know Martin Manley until after he’d died. Never heard of him when he was alive.
On August 16 I read in a Facebook group about a guy in Kansas who’d taken his life and left behind what amounted to a huge suicide note in the form of a website. Apparently he had been experiencing some serious memory issues and in looking at his future decided that he would rather end his life on his 60th birthday than degenerate. He chose to get out while the gettin’ out was good.
In his website he meticulously outlined his decision-making process about selecting his end game. It’s a fascinating read, not for any sensational reason, but because in it he discusses at length a topic that rarely gets discussed at all, which is controlling our own destiny about death. Can someone choose when to die?
As I was reading it I wondered why Martin had to present his story as he did — sneaking it onto the web just before he pulled the trigger. It meant, of course, that he deliberated his destiny alone. (I read that he’d worked on his site for a year before going live with it.) Why couldn’t he gather with a few folks in a church or support group and discuss his thought process about ending his life?
The answer I came up with is that some well-meaning but in my opinion misguided person would have had him committed as a suicide risk. Then he likely would have been drugged. We’re not allowed to discuss topics like this — seriously contemplating our suicide — without someone judging us as already looney tunes.
I’m definitely not advocating suicide, and Martin wasn’t either, even though he took that route. However, I think we should be much more free about discussing life-and-death issues. Ultimately, conversations about suicide segue into a plethora of quality of life issues. For Martin, part of his apparently strong desire to die now was that he had no trust in or respect for the health care industry for seniors. He felt too alone and too vulnerable, as I read it. The frank discussion of his fears opens up many issues about how we mistreat and demoralize people through some of our social paradigms.
COME ONE, COME ALL
A friend of mine is in her early 60s and her husband is in his early 80s. She sometimes fantasizes about life without him and life for herself when she reaches his age. A few months ago we discussed whether or not society would ever become more supportive of voluntary choose-your-death options. She made the point that the Baby Boomers are entering retirement and by sheer numbers could eventually overwhelm the resources of the medical establishment.
Despite some well-entrenched social ideas — suicide is a ticket to hell, modern medicine creates miracle cures (despite the crippling costs it charges), life is precious and should be prolonged no matter what — my friend believes that bunches of people won’t want to tough it out in a lifestyle where they’re glued to walkers or bed or medical machinery.
Living into old age no matter what may not be some people’s idea of time well spent. This is especially true for those who have no family left or who don’t have a support community. The burden on society will be unprecedented. She believes that this situation may fuel a new look at end-of-life options, but that’s years off.
Way back in my twenties I had two ideas for works of literature. The first is eerily like Martin Manley’s website. I wanted to write a novel in which my main character explained his frustrations with a world devoted to hate, war-mongering, materialism, and highly conditional love. It would ultimately be a suicide note in book form. This was during a phase of my young writer’s life when I still felt — as do so many artists today — that we eventually get to what’s right by exposing all that’s wrong, often to the point of overkill. It was also before I understood that what I wrote affected my mood and outlook on life!
The other idea was a novel called Suicylum System. It was about a radical psychologist who created an assisted-suicide facility. They would guarantee to help put someone into a gentle death, but before that happened, the clients were required to participate in a support group program. During that time they were treated to unusual high amounts of pleasure of all kinds, a process intended to re-shape their outlook on life and change their minds about aborting their lives. For me this stemmed from my belief that many people who are suicidal do not fully know their options and would benefit from a radical shift of thinking.
Suicylum System was a positive telling of the book-length suicide note project. In the latter case, society was stepping up to the plate to deal with social unrest in a positive way.
LIFE (AND DEATH) CHOICES
I am exposed to many culturally unusual sources of input. For example, I like to attend local IANDS meetings where people gather who have had or who are interested in learning about near-death experiences. A ubiquitous belief among these people is that death is only physical. Consciousness is eternal. Our body dies, and we go on. Mainstream science has not pursued very seriously if this is true or not. Yet if it were ever proven so be so, I believe that it would have a profound impact on our cultural beliefs about choosing when to die.
As it is now, suicide is something like those back room abortions from decades ago. You cannot check into a clinic and have a nice death. If you want to leave physical life, you have to find another way to do it, which is usually illegal and often messy. If we had a clear scientific idea that consciousness survived death, would we be more willing to let people go peacefully instead of how Martin went?
Among some of the books and speakers I have heard on after-death communication, there appears to be an emerging view that suicide is not universally or necessarily the fast pass ticket to hell as it is often portrayed. Circumstances vary widely, of course. Those who intent to inflict pain on those they leave behind (from suicide bombers to suicidal revenge) or to escape a life catastrophe they created (like the warden in Shawshank Redemption) fare worse than those who have health issues like depression, mental illness, or terminal diseases.
Spirits (as channeled through mediums) appear to have a much different perspective on suicide than flesh humans do. Even those who took their (physical) lives say that. For example, a spirit might witness a human “take their own life” in a manner that may not legally be considered suicide here, like through alcohol, drugs, smoking, malnutrition, ignoring physical health issues, voluntary violence, etc.
Meanwhile, an interesting possibility that some mystics discuss is a woo-woo form of life-termination. Here people through meditation could voluntarily separate from their bodies while in trance. While this may strike the rational mind as spiritual tall tale fodder, it does still bring up the philosophical question about if it could be done, would it legally be suicide?
I may have missed it, but I did not see any mention from Martin that he considered the possibility that he might have blown himself into another dimension — that he could kill his body but he couldn’t kill his consciousness.
The response to Martin Manley’s end-of-life scenario, especially as expressed in various comments printed along with articles and blog posts, struck me as judgmental and short-sighted. Words like selfish, narcissistic, vile appeared frequently. People seemed to get juice out of ridiculing or condemning him.
Others judged him as not truly Christan. A “true Christian,” the logic goes, would trust more in God/Jesus to fix a life gone sour. A true Christian would not insult the deities by trashing life via suicide. What I saw in many posts was the sentiment, “I’m not going to be a bad ass like him because my faith in Jesus makes me superior.”
Others lamented what a sad, lonely man he must have been, often tacking on their own posthumous advice on what he should have done to wake up from his moral demise. I was saddened by the lack of compassion offered him in so many venues.
Martin Manley apparently contracted with Yahoo to have his site up for 5 years, the maximum a person could buy ahead. The day after Martin took his life and the day after his site went live, Yahoo apparently pulled the plug saying that it violated their terms of service, with no other details provided. By then, other mirror sites had been set up by other parties so the site has a life (and more publicity from some people’s disgust with Yahoo.)
Some people have applauded Yahoo’s decision to kill the site. They considered Manley a narcissist and felt that the site might encourage copycat suicides. They also felt it might be too painful for people to read — people who have either had a close brush with suicide or people suffering from depression.
I would prefer that we start facing what’s going on in our world and addressing why so many want to leave it.