Friends Don't Let Healthy Friends Commit Suicide

Immediately following is the response Kitty Antonik Wakfer made to a commentary by J. Neil Shulman highly upset by the suicide of someone he thought of as a friend, done by making use of Method #22 in the book, Final Exit (Third Edition): The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. It can be seen at Rational Review News Digest, dated 2/28/06.

J. Neil, you have taken the only appropriate action against someone you consider to have created "an attractive nuisance like an uncovered swimming pool". You are socially preferencing against Derek Humphrey for his book, Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying and letting others know why you think they too should think poorly of this author. There are many, however I am quite sure, who have found the information in his book of great value, otherwise it would not sell as it does - and you admit that you have no argument with access to that book for those who "ha[ve] nothing to look forward to but agony during the short time they have left".

However, there is something far more important that needs to be critically examined regarding this event, the suicide of a physically healthy 50 year old man with family and apparently with friends. While you refer to David as "my friend", I have to question the level of friendship you had with this man who didn't tell you *anything* about what clearly turned out to be for him the most devastating events of his life - the loss of his major client and the "cascade of financial reverses". You say he told no one - not his wife, not his adult children, brothers, friends. This sounds like a person who you, his wife, his children, brothers, "friends" knew only superficially, not having any concept of what was most important to him until reading his notes after his death. David created the "bubble", as you refer to it, around himself. He kept all of you at arm's length letting none of you know his most personal thoughts - what he really thought about himself, what he considered made him of value to himself and others. David had a wife, adult children, siblings, many acquaintances he apparently saw with great frequency - but he apparently did not have any real friends. In a *real* friendship the individuals hold most, if not all, the same values and consequently the level of trust is of such a high degree that there is complete openness to each other and a sharing of the most intimate of thoughts and feelings. The best of marriages consist of such a friendship, but in many (likely most) each considers someone else to be hir "best friend", whatever that might really be. The losses that David saw as insurmountable were, from what you describe, all other-oriented - loss of a luxurious lifestyle in the entertainment business with which he highly identified himself and apparently considered that others did also. Had there been real self-esteem present - conviction that he, David, was a person of worth (regardless of income and/or the opinions of others) - then he would have spent money at a rate that left lots of buffer for downturns, especially in a business like entertainment that fluctuates mostly on the whims of others. He would also have known that lots of money and prestige were neither the makers nor the breakers of personal satisfaction and happiness.

You are angry, J Neil, but I think you are really angry at David. He didn't confide in you, ask you for assistance or advice, or even hint that he was greatly concerned over something. He didn't do this with *anyone*. And I wouldn't be surprised if his wife, children and brothers also are experiencing much the same anger. This situation is not uncommon when the quality of most so-called friendships does not encompass the entirety of the persons involved; when the major portions (often all) of each person's inner being is an unknown to the other. There is also probably some unacknowledged anger at yourself for not being more than a good acquaintance, rather than a real friend and possibly for not being more sensitive to his self-perceived hopeless situation. Only you know how many opportunities were missed for you and David to *really* get to know each other *well* - and if overtures were made, who failed to pick up on them, perhaps because of some silly penchant for personal privacy.

A real friend is invaluable, s/he is part of one's self to an extent. Because both hold the same foundational values (otherwise there is no basis for a real friendship, as opposed to an acquaintance based on a common but narrow interest - eg. sports or even pure libertarianism for that matter), the sharing of intimacies of thought and feelings are like doing so with one's self, but with the advantage of a slightly different viewpoint as if both were gazing at a sculpture. In a true friendship, no privacy of thoughts is required since there is no fear of being betrayed or injured; each party wants only the best for hirself and the other. Growth is together, not apart, for each seeks to increase the knowledge of the other while doing so for hirself. To have one real friend is a treasure, but it must be developed rather than just found like an interesting sea shell on the beach. One must possess values that are admirable by another who also has values that are admirable to you, each has to take some initial risk in letting personal parts of hirself be known, and time (in duration and/or frequency) needs to occur in which exchanges of information take place. Real friendships don't get born at cocktail parties, business meetings, football games, libertarian conventions, places/event where the purpose is to see and be seen in a sea of others. The in-depth information sharing on ideas and feelings that begins a real friendship doesn't even require being in the same room; intimate phone calls are good, but letters/emails are often even better, letting each person convey hir thoughts uninterrupted and with time to choose appropriate words, which in turn can be fully absorbed and studied by the receiver. In this age of soundbites and action-packed movies/books/TV/music videos I wonder at how many people take the time to write down their own thoughts or even share them with the person(s) they consider to be friends.

The suicide of your "friend" David didn't surprise me after reading your description of the "bubble" he had built around a self he apparently didn't like - or else he wouldn't have killed himself. The fact that you are blaming the author of a book about suicide for those who are terminally ill for this "friend's" death is also not really a surprise. Likely you think it's OK to be angry at Derek Humphrey, a provider of information, but not at the person who used that information to escape facing financial problems and most importantly his own character weakness which resulted in his failure to develop real friendships, and finally not at yourself and his other so-called friends who let him down by not requiring of him a much more intimate relationship. I think you, J. Neil Shulman, have a lot more thinking to do on this subject.

**Kitty Antonik Wakfer

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Less than 3.5 hours later by the time tag in the comments following his commentary, J. Neil Shulman replied to my message. His response follows with my comments interspersed. It has also been posted back as comment on the original site.

Kitty, it's nice that you chose the comment section following my article to post an essay of your own, but nothing you said has anything whatsoever to do with what I wrote, or with David's suicide. This was just an opportunity for you to expound your predigested ideology, with its buzz-words about friendship sharing true values, and self-esteem, and the rest of the catechism I expect from post-Objectivist secular fundamentalists.

Right off the top Neil exhibits duplicity since it is soon obvious that he does not think it was "nice" for me to respond as I did, with "an essay of [my] own" in "the comment section following [his] article". I wrote a moderate length reply because a brief off-the cuff snippet could not adequately examine the important issue involved. It appears that Neil wanted only non-reasoned agreement or effusive sympathy, rather than a detailed well-considered disagreement and reanalysis of the situation he had presented. His statement that "nothing [I] said has anything whatsoever to do with what [he] wrote, or with David's suicide" is ludicrous. Possibly he is in such a state of grief that he can not even reread the original commentary to recall that he provided readers with the description of David and the isolation that his "friend" created for himself.

Neil's dislike for what he refers to as "buzz-words" in my response (which words he means is impossible to know), demonstrates to me his rejection of anything that properly describes a person's mind. As for "predigested", should not all ideas be digested, and thereby fully understood, before being expounded? As for the rest of his last sentence above it is merely a vitriolic attempt to put down someone with whom he disagrees, rather than any attempt at reasoned counterarguement. No, Neil appears, at least at this time, to want only to deal with emotions, failing to recognize that emotions are based on ones's values, no matter what those values may be. His own contradictory statements in his original commentary and also in his replies to others and to me leads me to conclude that whatever his values are, they are in contradiction with themselves; hence his state of emotional/intellectual confusion.

If you had bothered reading what I wrote, you would have discovered that I do not blame Derek Humphry for David's death. But, no, that was in your mind to write your essay about, no matter that it was addressing a straw man.

In his reply to Derek Humphry's comment, Neil very pointedly blamed Derek for the death of physically healthy suicides, including David's: "What has Derek Humphry done with this grand opportunity, to counsel healthy readers to seek alternatives to death as an excape[sic] from their psychic pain? Nothing." Because Humphry did not write his book in the way that J. Neil Schulman thinks he should have, and because his "friend" David used the information in the existing book, Neil maintains that Humphry "fails the test of being fully human."

I knew David. You didn't. For you to start dissecting his life is the typical hubris of intellectuals who live in their head and have only a passing familiarity with reality. For all I know, you could be living in the same sort of emotional bubble David was in, mistaking those who chant from the same Objectivistic songsheet as you do for friends you can count on in a clutch. But I don't know you or your friends so I can't say.

For Neil to lash out with "I knew David" after all that he wrote about what he didn't know would be laughable, if it were not so sad. In his response to Humphry's comment, he wrote also "But for someone whose choice of death is only because they lack the vision -- the memory of past happiness projected forward -- to imagine that there can be joy in their future -- to do nothing to speak against an abdication of life is evil." But Neil (and everyone else in David's life, apparently) knew so little of David that the enormous burdens he carried totally escaped them. I find it ironic that the exact same phrase "to do nothing to speak against an abdication of life" could more realistically be applied to Neil himself and all other of David's so-called friends. As for "dissecting his [David's] life", Neil had done all that was needed. I was merely observing that when a person is living in an emotional "bubble" it is the job and the responsibility of any true friend to shake him out of that "bubble", otherwise such a person has no right to call hirself a friend.

From Neil's strange comment about "mistaking those who chant from the same Objectivistic songsheet as you do for friends" I can only wonder at how well he knows anyone. Repetitions of quotes or slogans show only that someone can mouth the words of others, nothing about what that someone actually thinks or what s/he will do under any given circumstances, especially ones that are negative in nature. Living one's philosophy - a state in which emotions are in tune with one's values - is a world apart from simply wearing a philosophy along with a variety of apparel, changed/modified as the occasion calls. Real friends challenge each other, not just on the tennis court or over a chessboard, but on ideas and choices; not in order to demonstrate superiority but to help. A real friend is observant and does not shrug off or ignore attempts by hir friend to erect or maintain a "bubble". S/he will take the initiative when a problem is even suspected, take conversations to the "touchy subjects", make it very clear that there are alternatives to choices with major negative outcomes, be repeatedly in hir friend's "face" when it is obvious that a secret is being kept. Real friends don't keep secrets from each other. A person who does not really want anyone else to know hirself and be valued for who s/he is does not really want a friend, but only hangers-on at most. And those who are satisfied with such a relationship with someone, can't correctly call it a friendship and have that word mean anything more than acquaintance.

David had people who loved him, but he hid from them with a totality that would have earned him praise if he had been a secret agent. One hears about people like this from time to time, airline pilots who marry women in different cities, who never find out that their husband is a bigamist until his plane crashes.

Those who say they loved David, could only love what they knew of him - and by Neil's description, no one in David's life really knew the inner David. But since they knew only the more superficial portions of him, those areas that he had "learned" were safe to let others know, what kind of real love could that possibly be? Had David possessed really high confidence in his relationship with his wife, adult children, brothers, or any of the others termed as "friend", he would have shared his innermost concerns with one or more of them. But clearly he did not trust them sufficiently - again what kind of love is that? I suspect that David had no real conception of close friendship possibly due to no previous experience with such a mind-melding intimacy.

But my point is -- as if you care about my point -- that David allowed Derek Humphry into his bubble at the last ... and Derek Humphry, who knew healthy but distressed people were using his book as a suicide manual, puts the lie to his concern for the pain of the dying by doing nothing to save those like David who could still live ... if someone convinced them there is hope.

I never missed Neil's point at all - "that David allowed Derek Humphry into his bubble at the last". It was this very fact that I was spotlighting in my response, but which Neil has failed to grasp. David had no *friends*, and when he saw all the "chips down" he did not know anyone with whom he felt sufficiently comfortable and trusting to seek advice or to just talk with about it. It's quite possible that he didn't think that such a relationship could exist because he probably had never seen such a relationship. Likely he thought that what existed for him in the way of interrelationships was as good as they got. He was in the entertainment business (albeit behind the scenes), a most sought after field of endeavor, populated by a highly admired collection of people (judging by money spent on movies/music/TV), containing a significant percentage of the most highly paid individuals in the world, but, from all accounts, also some of the loneliest and psychologically unhealthy people in the world.

Derek Humphry's authorial voice was all of our voices at that moment ... and his indifference toward the life of the healthy suicide and their loved ones is, in my mind, proof that Derek Humphry lives in a sterile bubble of his own, cut off not only from our humanity, but his own.

Derek Humphry as the sole author of a book was speaking for himself and he clearly wrote that book for those already dying, though many in that category choose not to make use of his information.
I'll interpret Neil's statement, "Derek Humphry's authorial voice was all of our voices at that moment" as referring to the voices of those who knew David beyond a passing acquaintance - those who others would think to have been David's *friends* and are grieving at his suicide. I don't think Derek Humphry lives in a "sterile bubble". He replied himself, "Some people choose to hasten their end because of physical or mental suffering. That is their choice and responsibility." He is quite correct. And each person is also responsible if s/he has not developed the types of relationships that will be a source of assistance to hir or decides to enlist other means of handling situations. OTOH, as I stated above, David's friends are the additional persons who bear responsibility. They are responsible for not truly behaving as friends - for not doing whatever is necessary to prevent a friend and loved one from coming to harm!

To paraphrase the anti-drunk driving campaign slogan, "Friends don't let physically healthy friends commit suicide."


If Neil wants to prevent suicide among physically healthy individuals, especially those he knows, then he would best address the real problem - the lack of truly meaningful friendships. Neil is currently grieving, saddened greatly by the suicide of David, someone for whom he used the term "friend". When J. Neil Schulman recovers from his shock and grief, hopefully he will reevaluate his thinking on the matter of friendship and what that relationship really entails. He has authored some good fiction in years past; maybe he can create a book that addresses the matter in depth and with thorough analysis. Until then, he will be simply flailing around in his box of anger, pain and frustration.

If the person who has been considered a friend repeatedly refuses serious attempts to help - ie. refuses to respond positively to one's recommendations and urgings about serious unhealthy practices or violational activities, then a friendship cannot exist. Continued narrow activities may take place and be thought of as a "tiny imperfect relationship" (not "tiny perfect" because of known negative personal information), but no friendship in the real meaning of that word is possible. In fact, the knowledge of the negative personal information and the lack of response to one's serious attempts to help implies that negative social preferencing is the proper action as a kind of anti-reward acting as negative feedback in an attempt to correct such behavior. That these two people can be acquaintances and no more is a fact that should be understood by both. In that manner the party who continues the negative thoughts and activities sees the consequences of hir refusal to listen to hir former friend, and should s/he meet with disastrous consequences, the other does not take upon hirself undeserved guilt.

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