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March 6, 1967


JAMA. 1967;199(10):752. doi:10.1001/jama.1967.03120100114028

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The contemporary physician sees suicide as a manifestation of emotional illness. Rarely does he view it in a context other than that of psychiatry. Yet historically the psychiatric concept of suicide is but a recent development. The ancients did not associate suicide with mental derangement. Self-annihilation was often considered a logical solution to many of life's vexing problems. "Amid the miseries of life on earth," reflects Pliny the Elder, "suicide is God's best gift to man." Many centuries later Thomas Browne expresses a similar thought in his classic Religio Medici: "We are in the power of no calamity while death is in our own hands."

Unlike permissive philosophers, theologians do not condone suicide. Yet, while proscribing the act, they equate it not with emotional disorder, but with murder. "Patricide is more wicked than homicide," asserts St. Augustine, "but suicide is the most wicked of all."

The religious view of self-destruction