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.