Letters to
the editor

Language on suicide must change

Martin McKenzie-Murray’s excellent article “Ending the silence” (December 5-11) goes only part of the way in dealing with the stigma of suicide. Few words in the English language cover such a range of contexts and carry such baggage as “suicide”. Martin carefully describes the suicide associated with mental illness of gradual or persistent nature, such as depression and schizophrenia. He separates these and the impulsive suicides associated with acutely disturbed mental states due to loss, shame and grief – also depressions but of a different kind. But he ignores other categories reported by coroners as just as common as youth suicides – those occurring in the chronically and terminally ill, the frail aged and the lonely. Many of these events are carefully planned and rational – the antithesis of the mentally disturbed. They do not deserve the application of the word suicide, but English has only one word for deliberately ending one’s own life. The use of phrases such as “taking one’s own life”, “killing oneself”, “committing (as of a crime) suicide” involves pejorative and stigmatising language for what may be an informed and rational act to end suffering. If we want to remove the stigma, we need to rethink the language. And we need to reform the Coroners Act to allow doctors to truthfully report such deaths without the need for the coroner to take the body and the police to investigate. Such actions are harmful to families who are already grieving.

– Dr Rodney Syme, Toorak, Vic

Show restraint on terrorism coverage

Thanks, Martin McKenzie-Murray. It was astonishing to read that the media’s general reluctance to report on this issue stems from a fear of exacerbating the problem due to the supposed “contagiousness” of suicide. If only a similar public interest approach was taken towards reporting terrorism. The sensationalist and nauseatingly repetitious coverage of recent terror events dramatically over-inflates the threat posed by political actors employing terror tactics, and ignores the fact that acts of terror without media amplification are rather circumscribed in their effect. Terrorists pursue political goals using violence to induce fear in a target population. The incessant incantation of this threat in the mainstream media – our national broadcaster included – therefore makes these organisations somewhat complicit. This is not to advocate silence. Rather, it is a call for the media to consider the public interest in its reporting of terrorism, as it has, albeit misguidedly, in its silence on suicide.

– Dave Lisle, Mullumbimby, NSW

For some elderly, home death not an option

Chris Fotinopoulos in “There’s no place like home” (December 5-11) asks many questions about dying, and implies that dying in an institution rather than at home is a failure of healthcare or a “bad death”. Many people as they approach death are unable to move, incontinent of urine and faeces and experience pain, breathlessness, anxiety or agitation. They require around-the-clock care, people to assess and administer medications, clean up after them and two or three people to physically move them so they can remain comfortable. This care often exceeds the elderly frail partner or is beyond the family skill set, and institutionalising death allows for the patient to die with dignity and in comfort. I am also concerned by the suggestion that elderly suicide is an attempt at self-euthanasia. Geriatric depression is very common and under-diagnosed. Euthanasia is not and never should be seen as the panacea to care of the elderly. As a society we should strive to provide better care to all members of society, especially the old and those near the end of their life.

– Dr Andrew Mulligan, Flemington, Vic

Tony Abbott’s climate legacy

Sophie Morris’s article “Why Paris won’t save renewables” (December 5-11) was published about a week after more than 140,000 people attended climate marches across Australia, and an estimated 785,000 people joined similar marches across the globe. Despite such calls for government action, Malcolm Turnbull’s announcements at Paris have been nothing more than empty rhetoric. Evidently, he was completely constrained by the policies put in place by his predecessor Tony Abbott, of whom, some years ago, Turnbull had said: “The fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human-caused global warming.” And now, in 2015, although about 60 per cent of Australians want more action on climate change, the government’s woefully inadequate policies reflect the wishes of an ignorant and selfish minority. Tragically, the legacy of Abbott continues, and for the foreseeable future, fossil fuel subsidies remain, new coalmines continue to be approved, and each Australian, on average, is set to account for double the greenhouse gas emissions of the average OECD citizen.

– David Nash, Manly, NSW

In praise of a positive perspective

It is wonderful to read a positive article about a moderate Muslim refugee (Lauren Williams, “Settler’s rest”, (December 5-11). Too often news reporting centres on the extremes in our society, whether they are paedophile priests, homegrown bigots, murderers of women and children, or homegrown terrorists. Understandably the dark side of life will always be more newsworthy. Nevertheless, positive news about the work of moderates in our society, who are in the majority and so provide the glue that enables our peoples to peacefully coexist, needs to surface from time to time in our news streams, otherwise our perspective of who we are and what we value becomes distorted.

– Dr Ellak I. von Nagy-Felsobuki, Arcadia Vale, NSW

Letters are welcome: [email protected]
Please include your full name and address and a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and content, and may be published in print and online. Letters should not exceed 150 words.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 12, 2015.

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