Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Spend or Not to Spend,

That is the Question.

Golden Gate Bridge officials have voted to hang stainless steel nets from the sides of the world-famous span in an effort to stop people from jumping to their deaths.

Mental health experts have long argued that a barrier would prevent impulsive suicides.

The exquisitely graceful bridge, a California icon with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, has lured people intent on ending their lives since it was completed in 1937. More than 1,200 have plunged to their deaths; the exact number is unknown because most events were unwitnessed. Thirty-eight people leaped last year and 19 so far this year, according to bridge officials.

The bridge may be the most popular suicide spot in the world. Many have traveled to San Francisco specifically for that purpose, taking a bus or taxi to the site or rental cars, which police find abandoned in the parking lot. Currents beneath the bridge are very strong, and some jumpers have undoubtedly been washed out to sea. The water may be as cold as 47 °F (8 °C) and great white sharks, which congregate around the nearby Farallon Islands, are often seen under the bridge.

Opponents believe that a barrier will not prevent people from killing themselves and that they would be better served by additional funding for mental health treatment.

Besides, there is another perfectly good launching pad, the Bay Bridge, right across town. It lacks the mystique of the Golden Gate Bridge, perhaps, but once they're dead, does this matter?

Board members said the steel nets, which would hang 20 feet below the bridge and extend about 20 feet from each side, would prevent suicides without harming the bridge's appearance. "This is a vote to save lives," said one board member.

The project will cost about $50 million. The lone dissenter on the board said he was worried about cost. "I want to ensure if we build it, we're not indebting our children," he said.

I cannot imagine a more horrible death than jumping from the bridge as I am convinced that most experience a change of heart on the way down. The deck is 245 feet above the water and after a fall of approximately four seconds, jumpers hit the water at about 88 miles per hour (142 km/h.)

The issue of suicide is extremely disturbing to me because I deeply want to be here forever to see how it all turns out. I don't know what the right and humane answer is. Perhaps there isn't one.

Am I my brother's keeper? Are we all our brothers' keepers? Should we be? Should there be safety nets to formalize this arrangement? Is it then but a short step to legislation which forces us to be our brother's keeper even though it takes away certain freedoms in the process?

The Catholic Church considers suicide a mortal sin, a violation of the fifth commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” I consider it a waste, perhaps an insult to God by throwing this gift of life back in His or Her teeth. But still, I would not condemn a soul for doing so because it is clear that such a person is in torment and deserves our compassion.

Fifty million dollars could perform a lot of real live miracles. Many people could eat or take their children to the doctor with that money so they could live. While I sympathize with those who want to end their lives, I think our greater concern as a society should be with those who are intent on living. I don't want to be heartless, but in today's painful economy there is simply more bang to the buck in helping those who treasure life enough to hang on tooth and claw through adversity, not those who have already given up on themselves and the future.

Besides, if we can build a society in which more people enjoy greater mental health, fewer will come to regard death as their best option.

46 comments:

Molly said...

I couldn't agree with you more!

thailandchani said...

I think it's a cosmetic measure. Trying to prevent suicides by eliminating a means won't solve the problem.

I can't say anything about the financial issue.. and wouldn't. I don't like putting monetary values on life or weighing and measuring the value of any life.

The best place to begin, as you said, is to address the social issues that make death a preferable alternative to living.


~*

meno said...

This strikes me as one of those things that makes everybody feel good, but accomplishes little. In other words, the perfect government project, focusing on the wrong thing.

But what politician would want it to be said of him/her that he/she "voted against suicide prevention."

RED MOJO said...

I agree whole heartedly. There are many other ways to kill yourself if that is what you choose to do. They may be less dramatic but they do exist.
The money is better spent getting people needed treatment, and on the development of better drugs for those who are in treatment.

Jocelyn said...

Such a complex question. Of course, if the nets are funded, it just means a different spot on earth becomes the #1 place for committing suicide.

Hmm.

Parlancheq said...

I wonder how many community mental health programs will need to be cut so as to have enough funds for the 50 million dollar nets.

Pam said...

Incredibly thoughtful post.I tend to agree with the comment from parlancheq.

Nick said...

I do agree, the money should be spent on helping people with mental and emotional problems rather than on highly expensive anti-suicide nets which will only relocate suicides rather than stopping them. If someone is miserable enough to want to end their life, they'll simply find another way.

Just think how many mentally distressed people could be given some relief with that $50 million. Or how many improvements could be made to everyday life so people are less likely to be suicidal.

furiousBall said...

I'm wid you.

A few years ago, the CEO of my former employer donated $10 million to a veterinary college in honor of their deceased yorky. I think they should have been issued a bumper sticker that read "fuck the homeless" along with their thank you note from the dean of the school.

Franki said...

I'm all for choosing my own way to die. We have no rights.

MsLittlePea said...

This is typical government silly thinking. That anything and everything can be prevented using "physical" means. $50million could help a lot of people get medial treatment for mental illness, could build a few homeless shelters or fund the ones that don't get enough money.

But meno is right, "what politician would want it to be said of him/her that he/she "voted against suicide prevention." "

Ian Lidster said...

I wrote a lengthy response to this and the #$@ system ate it. But, suffice it to say I agree with your take on it. And, from my knowledge of suicide, including a few people I know (have known), it is a matter of where there's a will, there's a way. My late father-in-law jumped off a high level suspension bridge near Vancouver. Nobody had a clue he was undergoing whatever inner torment he was undergoing. If the bridge had had a barrier, he would have found another way, I have no doubt.

Bob said...

I can't find it right now, but I read a study somewhere that concluded that most suicides are impulse decisions. The bay bridge - just a few miles from the golden gate - only has a handful of suicide attempts a year. So - there is something special about the golden gate that attracts people who (think) they want to kill themselves.

my opinion is that there are two primary agendas here - stop people from dying and stop people dying in their neighborhood.

I understand there were other possibilities than the net, including raising the height of the rail. Apparently the original plans for the bridge had the rail at 7 feet. (The afore mentioned bay bridge has a rail that is difficult to surmount=less suicides?) I don't know if it would be cheaper, but it would be more aesthetically pleasing.

$50 million is a hell of a lot of money, and in any politically based budget, that money could help a lot more people than the 50-60 a year who die off of the bridge. Like Chani said, though, how do you put a price on life?

That being said, I tend to side with Franki. Why shouldn't we be able to choose the time and method of our dying?

On a limb with Claudia said...

I'm pretty over people who suicide. I used to think it was a person's right to kill himself/herself.

After sitting with family's of people who suicide, I see it as a very very selfish act done by cruel people. When someone kills himself or herself, s/he vomits his/her pain and loathing on everyone who loves them. No one is spared the stench. It's an awful thing to do. I could tell countless stories of this cruelty.

I say, let the bastards kill themselves. Spent the money on the families who must live with the unbearable pain and loss.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I agree with you 150%.

And... I'm trying to picture this 'barrier' in my mind... wouldn't the jumper simply have to climb to its edge to finish the job? Even if it had some kind of fencing around it?

Very good point about the Bay Bridge... it's one or the other really.

Sharks freak me out. I shuddered just reading that. *EW* shudder and shiver!

Those who are alive definitely need the resources more; and a look around the blogosphere today (Blog Action Day on Poverty) proves that 10 fold.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Molly,

Oh, good. I love it when you agree with me.

Chani,

No, it won't solve the problem. It will simply move it elsewhere.

Meno,

But how wonderful those politicians must feel, forcing suicidal people to jump off some other bridge.

Mojo,

I cannot imagine wanting to die, but those who do will find a way, and I also believe they should have that right.

Jocelyn,

I think the larger question is not whether to allow jumpers access to a particular venue, but whether we have a right to interfere in ones personal determination to die.

Parlancheq,

Good point! Many, I suspect.

Pam,

I'm sure she's right, too. That money would be far better spent on counseling and general quality of life improvement.

Nick,

Exactly. It's just silly and wasteful, and won't help the truly determined.

Van,

Well, I prefer big dogs myself. I know, so not the point. Still, individuals have every right to do as they like with their money; it's different when that money comes from taxpayers.

Franki,

I also think people should have the right to end their lives, but it's still an insult to their families and to life itself.

Sweet Pea,

If people, including politicians, cared less about their image and more about their mission, we'd all be better off.

Ian,

I'm sorry about your father-in-law, and for the pain he bequeathed his family.

Bob,

I think they are operating on the notion that most suicides are impulsive acts, which discounts the premeditation involved in coming to San Francisco for that purpose.

I wasn't placing a value on life, anyone's life, but such a huge chunk of change could help many more people in one way or another than the handful who choose to fly off that particular bridge.

Claudia,

I think people have the right, but still shouldn't do it. Life can change dramatically for better or worse in a minute as light follows darkness.

The husband of one of my friends was a suicide. She called it "the ultimate fuck you," and I have to agree. It's the most effective way I know to take everyone with you when you go. And that is wrong.

Scarlett,

The barrier is supposed to wrap around the jumper like a tortilla, I think. I'm not sure of the mechanics involved.

But planning a dramatic exit and ending up as a fish taco would be the ultimate indignity.

And what if a second jumper closely followed the first and the net was already closed around its first prey like a Venus Flytrap... Would the second jumper then bypass the net and be home free, so to speak?

stephen said...

For me the moral issue of suicide boils down to whether we believe in death. Personally, I do not. I think we are either here, or we are elsewhere, but we are never dead.

Jumping off the Golden Gate is just taking the scenic route to elsewhere.

citizen of the world said...

I think that people who are intent on killing themselves will do so. It's horrible, but I'd rather see the money go into health care (mental and physical).

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Stephen,

Perhaps the moral issue, then, should be whether the suicidees (!) believe in death.

I also think that energy cannot die, it merely transmutes itself.

That scenic route does not offer much time to enjoy the view, however.

Citizen,

It seems absurd to be so concerned with a few people with a death wish when millions more with no resources are trying desperately to live.

seventh sister said...

What would keep someone from jumping into the net and then climbing out and jumping from there? This is just weird.

The Quiet Rage said...

No joke.... my mother-in-law's therapist committed suicide via jumping off the GG bridge in 1976. Exactly who needed the therapy?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sister,

Supposedly the net will activate a mechanism that closes it around the jumper.

You know somebody will take this as a challenge and leap, and oops! It didn't work. Well, dang. Back to the ole drawing board.

Rage,

Oh my God, if she had that effect on her therapist, one can only imagine what kind of mother-in-law she is.

Rebecca said...

My dad committed suicide in April and I would say that until you have been there yourself as a survivor, like me and my mother and my husband and everybody else loved by my dad, that you should keep opinions like this to yourself.

Glamourpuss said...

Interesting argument. People intent on suicide will always find a way. I guess my concern would be that the money is unlikely to be re-distributed where it is most needed, simply because we don't value such services. Nets on the bridge provide physical proof that the authorities are trying to do something about it in a way using the money more effectively wouldn't. Perhaps that's cynical of me.

Puss

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Rebecca,

I'm so very sorry for your loss, and for offending you.

I think this is a most serious problem which is trivialized by the idea of a circus net at one site (which may or not even work.) We need to save people long before they get to that point.

Puss,

I would much prefer that depressed people receive counseling, even if they can't afford it, so that they won't end up on a bridge.

This "solution" is a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Eww.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

???

The CEO said...

I have seen too many suicides in my life. I am glad I don't have to write everything that Claudia did as she describes it perfectly.

I'll tell you instead of a problem I ran into lobbying for a Kevorkian Law in the State of Maryland. In a hospital, when a patient has a DNR tag on their chart, they essentially starve to death in a coma, unless they blessedly have a heart attack or worse and end their lives. Groups such as the Churches do not want a doctor to decide that an overdose of morphine be given and the patient simply drifts off to sleep, and they stop breathing and die, is acceptable because the doctor decided.

They want the patient to decide. And they make the same argument about abortion, the person being put to death is the only one that can make the decision to terminate their life. In essence, in situations where it is impossible, they will only accept informed suicide. et the same people argue that suicide is wrong, an affront to G-d. Where religion is concerned, a person who commits suicide cannot be buried in a sanctified cemetary, only outside of it. Somehow, this is talking out of both sides of the mouth. We still have no Kevorkian Law in Maryland.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Monty,

I have always believed that Kevorkian should not have served time for assisted suicide, despite the law, because those cases were all mercy killings.

We can never know what is in the hearts and minds of others, what kinds of crosses they carry. The issue is far too complicated to have a blanket solution.

My only real point was that the circus safety net under the GG Bridge is pointless for all the reasons many of us have named, and that $50Million could buy a lot of mental health services.

Sienna said...

My Pop committed suicide, he had suffered some business troubles, ending up losing the business and was depressed. With such relatively, accessible help/awareness available now, eg www.beyondblue.org.au, I do wonder if his choices may have been different. There is a greater education and awareness of depression..

I like to think so. (It may have been picked up).

He was that illogical he tried to kill my Grandmother too, (first), but she lived thank goodness.

He planned it...very carefully, was all pre meditated. He was going to suicide, and that was in no doubt.

Just one, little, small story, I could see 50 million used for "before the horse bolts", that is just my opinion and experience and thoughts.

There are professionally trained people going to isolated/ rural communities, doing workshops for the locals all about suicide/depression education/awareness, things to watch out for...the feedback from the folk and communities is promising, and positive and determined..

Suicide, here, was the leading cause of death by injury, ahead of car accidents and murder..(Oz Bureau Stats).

Pam

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Pam,

I'm so sorry to hear this heartbreaking story. It's really too horrible to imagine. Were you a child at the time, and is your grandmother still alive?

As for "before the horse bolts," yes, I had the same thought about the GG Bridge net because if a person is suffering so much that he or she has decided to end things, the horse is already out of the barn. It's just a matter of devising a plan.

I cannot imagine someone doing such a shockingly drastic thing on impulse. Therefore, blocking one possibility really won't make much of a difference.

I still believe that the money should be used to counsel people so they will feel less isolated with their pain, and to help them find reasons to live instead.

Sending many hugs to you, now and always.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Fish tacos and home free jumpers?

The mental direction is going downhill fast. Of course, I was thinking of the sharks with it...

*shudder*

We should start talking about politics instead.

Scarlett & V.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

Or baseball. So how 'bout them Yankees?

Sienna said...

From what I understand of my Grandfather, he considered himself to be such a failure after losing the business, not being able to provide, a succession of real downtimes ....before all that, someone who loved his family and enjoyed life so much, very involved with my 2 x Uncles and Mum, loved being a husband and father. Highly respected in a small community, and had never shown any violence or signs of depression, until things started to go haywire.

Two generations later, the affects of a family suicide are never forgotten and permeates the family, my Uncles rarely talk about him, my Mum is half angry and half grieved.. my Grandmother died very suddenly of a massive heart attack 10 years after he killed himself.

Doing what they do has such an impact on their family, friends, the community.

The awareness/self help/counselling travelling education program is such a welcome initiative, tv advertising, "men's nights" in small isolated communities where people ...especially men, gather and talk and educate on men's health and wellbeing over a bbq and beer.

It is a complex issue, so many variants, and a heartfelt one for those more directly involved...but affects so many of us!

My personal thoughts are, a subject on the table has opportunity for discussion, contribution, education, awareness, appropriate funding..

Pam

the walking man said...

I've read this every day since you posted it Hearts. My first thought was if the fall doesn't kill them the steel nets will, at the very least, hospitalize them for awhile.

2+ years ago I attended 9 funerals, only three were from natural causes. Gassed by a car, OD's, hung in a garage. It was a trying summer to say the least. And now we wait what the CDC reports on suicides with these trying financial times.

I wonder why the usually aware SF is spending money for an image problem rather than a direct assault on the real problem of hopelessness. The nets may cost 50 million but what would the pictures look like of a body hanging in the net until some firefighter or other rescue person has to risk life and limb to get them out?

*sigh*

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Pam,

It's so very sad that men were not allowed to fail at anything and had to be invincible all the time. It's too heavy a burden on anyone.

I know that suicide resounds through the generations that follow with grief mixed with anger and even guilt, which is usually undeserved.

It's a horrible legacy to leave ones family, and as a society we should do everything possible to prevent it, both for those who do themselves violence and for their family members who become collateral damage.

Mark,

That is an unbelievable number of suicides in one time period. I can't imagine it.

You raise some interesting technical questions about the net, which I can't answer. The issue of emergency personnel risking their own lives to save intentional jumpers has not been addressed anywhere that I know of. The "solution" does seem to create new and terrible problems.

Sf is in many ways a city in which image is more important than anything else.

katrice said...

I saw a special about the GG jumpers a few months ago. They interviewed some who considered jumping but chose not to and a couple of people jumped and survived.

I think that in these trying financial times, you are absolutely right. The focus needs to start on prevention. Mental health needs are always underfunded. It's like because it doesn't require insulin, radiation, or chemo, lawmakers don't understand that it's a real health issue.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Katrice,

There have been a few survivors, amazingly. It seems like there could be no stronger message from the universe/Creator/life force.

The mental health needs of the non-wealthy are mostly untended in this country and all too often, lead to serious physical ailments requiring insulin, radiation and chemo. Or suicide by bridge or other means.

The net is just a commercial, advertising how much we care. Perhaps I'm cynical but the caring seems to be more for image than for those people in distress.

seventh sister said...

I have no experience with actual suicide by someone close to me although I had step cousin who tried several times to kill herself when we were teanagers. I have no idea if she is still alive or not. It does seem to me that survivors (family and friends) somehow make the suicide about them when it is undoubtedly about the person who chooses it as a means of getting out of a situation that is unbearable to them. I wonder if we could somehow work to remove the stigma attached to the act and on forgiving or understanding rather than condeming or judging since we don't ever actually know what is happening in someone's heart and head.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sister,

You're right. If we could de-stigmatize an act which in most cases is about an individual's unbearable pain, maybe some of the survivor's guilt could be assuaged as well.

PeterAtLarge said...

What a difficult subject to write about! There's no good answer here--but I believe you found it.

Angela said...

"While I sympathize with those who want to end their lives, I think our greater concern as a society should be with those who are intent on living."

Exactly. It is as you say, if one bridge won't end a life then people who are intent on doing so will find another way. I am glad to hear that someone/anyone cares, so please mark me down at being glad for that, but I agree with you that the money could best be spent elsewhere with hopefully better outcomes. (Those numbers are sobering, though.)

TaraDharma said...

you ask many good questions. part of me thinks, if you want to die that badly, so be it. but i also know that support for better mental health care would help a lot of folks live, and happily so.

could we plead with the angels of mercy to float back and forth across the bridge and grace people with their tenderness? And spend the money for mental health, jobs, better schools.

But someone was right on here, a politican who voted against the netting would be pegged as being "against saving lives." Ugh.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Peter,

It is a difficult subject with no perfect solutions. But I deplore what seems like hypocrisy when there is money that could be spent on making a real difference. True compassion is rarely flashy.

Angela,

I find it hard to imagine someone bent on self-destruction changing his/her mind because a particular famous bridge is no longer conducive. The GG Bridge is not the only act in town.

Tara,

Those angels of mercy must be extremely frustrated that so often, their good works come to nothing.

When image becomes more important than anything else, we are all in trouble.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Susan, it is one of the greatest puzzles of humanity that on the one hand there are people who persevere against all odds to survive, such as the escapees from the Khmer
Rouge killing fields or that guy a few years ago who had to saw off his own arm out in the desert, and other people so deep in a well of despair that only suicide appears to them as a solution.

What makes the difference?

It's a deep question.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Eastcoaster,

Yes, I have often contemplated that very question and can't answer it. There are simply too many variables. (And perhaps too many bridges.)