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The (a.s.h) FAQ

Last-modified: 23.4.00

The ASH FAQ has 4 parts:

  1. Introduction - the bare essentials
  2. Subculture - how ashers behave, think and talk
  3. Are you for real? - FAQS about ashers
  4. The debate - FAQs about suicide as a legitimate option

The latest versions of these can always be found at

Contents - Part I

This is part 1, written by Ramble, Hermotimus and EverDawn. If you have any comments send them to ash_intro <AT> (replace the <AT> with @).

1) What is a.s.h about?
1.1) What is a.s.h?
1.2) What is the a.s.h subculture?
1.3) Who is an asher?
1.4) Does ash encourage suicide?
1.5) Is ash pro-suicide or pro-choice?
1.6) Is ash a support group?
1.7) What is ash good for?

2) Posting guidelines.
2.1) Anti-choice posts.
2.2) Anti-suicide posts.
2.3) Pro-suicide posts.
2.4) Is it OK to try to help ashers in a conventional sense?
2.5) Is it OK to talk about happy events in one's life?

3) Reading/posting to ash.
3.1) Are there other ways to read/post to a.s.h?
3.2) The dangers of posting to ash.
3.3) Protecting yourself.

4) Other resources
4.1) Related newsgroups.
4.2) Mailing lists.
4.3) Are there any other ash faqs?

1) What is a.s.h about?

1.1) What is a.s.h?

a.s.h (or ash) is the common abbreviation for the usenet newsgroup A.s.h is an unmoderated newsgroup which was set up in late 1987/early 1988 to discuss why suicides increase during the holiday seasons; this topic however, quickly ran thin. Currently, common topics on ash include poetry, philosophy, psychology, relationships, depression, and of course... suicide.

Because of the wide range of topics, we define ash as follows:

The ash newsgroup is the "home" of the ash subculture. Any topic can be discussed as long as it is in the spirit of the ash subculture.

1.2) What is the a.s.h subculture?

A culture is a set of values, norms, ideas and patterns of behavior which are shared by all members of a society. A subculture is the culture of a group which is part of the surrounding society.

Sociologists distinguish between two kinds of subcultures according to the way in which they differ from the surrounding culture[1]. A norm oriented subculture accepts most values of society, but in some areas has different norms, i.e. different ways of acting and behaving. A value oriented subculture does not accept some of the basic values of society. To be more precise it does not accept the order of precedence that society has set for certain values.

The ash subculture has different values than the rest of society. Society attributes the highest value to human life. In contrast, we think that the value of individual freedom is superior to the value of life, when it does not physically interfere with another's freedom. This includes the individual freedom to take one's own life if desired. Note that we value life as well, we only disagree with society on the "order" of importance of these values.

In short, we believe that, in general, people have a right to commit suicide.

Most newsgroups are home to norm oriented subcultures which are more easily defined by topic - the norm is to talk much more about that specific topic. Value oriented subcultures are more difficult to define by topic because people with different values have a different view of life. Discussion on the group can be almost about anything, but "through" this view, through this different way of looking at the world.

Note: although the ash subculture started out in the ash newsgroup, they are separate entities. For example, the ash subculture can continue its existence without the ash newsgroup, by migrating to other online forums.

1.3) Who is an asher?

Usually, the term "asher" is used in conversation to describe a reader of ash who is suicidal or at least depressed, i.e., the stereotypical asher.

However, for the purpose of defining who is and who is not an asher, we provide a more "formal" definition.

Formally, an asher is somebody who is aware of the existence of the ash subculture and shares its values.

One doesn't have to be suicidal or even depressed in order to be an asher. Also, an asher doesn't have to read or post to ash. Similarly, posting to ash doesn't automatically make one an asher.

In short, an asher is a member of the ash subculture.

1.4) Does ash encourage suicide?

The ash subculture does not encourage suicide, i.e., we do not persuade people to commit suicide.

However, we believe that people have a right to commit suicide and thus, in general, do not try to dissuade people from doing so.

This attitude combined with other content which appears on the group may cause some to believe that we are promoting suicide, but what we are promoting is merely the right to choose to commit suicide.

This is analogous to abortion rights activists, who are not seen as "encouraging abortions" but as enabling women to choose abortion.

1.5) Is ash pro-suicide or pro-choice?

As mentioned before, we believe people have a right to choose to commit suicide. Some ashers will call this position "pro-suicide". What they mean is that ash is pro legitimizing suicide, or pro legalizing suicide. However, "pro-suicide" can easily be misunderstood as promoting or encouraging suicide.

We recommend to state our position as "pro-choice".

Although it could be mixed up with pro-choice for abortion rights, the meaning is usually clear from the context. If you fear you could be misunderstood you can use "pro-choice-suicide" or "pro-choice-abortion" to clear things up.

1.6) Is ash a support group?

Ash is not a conventional support group for suicidal people, where the focus is mainly on prevention. If you are seeking for a forum aimed at supporting people not to commit suicide, or a forum with the purpose of eliminating suicidal feelings then ash is the wrong place for you. If you are searching for such an online forum, see Section 4.1, on related newsgroups.

This does not mean that ash is not a support group in general, but to determine whether ash is or is not one we have to define what a support group is. We use the following definition:

A support group is a group which consists mostly or exclusively of peers facing the same problem or situation. A support group may help by providing advice, but more importantly, it gives participants a sense of comfort, understanding, and relief which comes from talking to people in a similar situation.

The purpose of a support group is not necessarily to cure or change the situation: in some cases it is not even possible (e.g. chronic disease) and in others undesirable (e.g. support group for single mothers).

An example for a support group with some similarity to ash is, in which pushing people toward the conventional accepted goal for fat people, namely weight loss, is specifically inappropriate.

So ash could be viewed as a worldwide support platform where people can rant, receive advice or simply talk, with little fear of attack for feeling suicidal.

Ash allows many of us to acknowledge our feelings and deal with them better than conventional approaches which we have found to be useless, self-delusional and even harmful. The conventional approach to suicidal tendencies focuses on eliminating them rather than dealing with them, but this is not always possible.

1.7) What is ash good for?

Albert Camus wrote that, "Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art". Psychologists, and common sense, agree that talking freely about feelings of suicide, bringing suicidal thoughts out of the "silence of the heart", is a good thing, and can ease the sense of alienation [13][15][16] that often contributes to suicidal thoughts. [2]

There is no evidence that open discussion of suicide increases the risk of suicide.[3]

But it is often difficult to talk openly about suicide in a culture that regards suicide as a taboo. Traditional support newsgroups reinforce that taboo by relentlessly insisting that suicide is wrong. Messages that attempt to delegitimize suicide by describing the act as sinful, shameful, or selfish can have the effect of making the person who feels suicidal feel abused and humiliated. Not only does this, in many instances, fail to counter suicidal thoughts, but such feelings of humiliation are recognized as being a very common triggering factor in suicides and suicide attempts.[4]

Traditional support newsgroups often attempt to delegitimize suicide by offering a "positive" view of life, "like a lighted window in a winter storm," as one author put it.[5] But to the person viewing that life from outside, it only acts to emphasize the distinction between the warm ideal of life and the person's own cold despair.

The effect, then, of the approach of delegitimizing suicide is to further alienate the suicidal and discourage them from participating in traditional support newsgroups, to force the suicidal feelings back into "the silence of the heart" [8][9]. So, while the kind of talk taking place in a.s.h. probably isn't what most psychotherapists have in mind as "support therapy", the basic a.s.h. premise of accepting suicide as a valid option encourages people to talk freely about suicide [11][12][16]. These people might otherwise feel they had no place to express those thoughts. In fact, many ashers report that participating in a.s.h. makes them feel better [10][11], and eases their urges to act on their suicidal thoughts [14][15]. And that may in fact cause a reduction in the number of suicides - even though that is not the object of the newsgroup.

2) Posting guidelines.

Please behave respectfully and civilized during your presence on ash. Just because we disagree does not mean we have to call each other names.

Anything that is regarded as bad netiquette, such as spamming, commercial advertising and excessive crossposting is not welcome. Read any introductory document about Usenet/Internet for info on this sort of posts, for example, or

Also, please read the points mentioned below very carefully. If you are uncertain as to whether or not your post is appropriate, then keep in mind that the best judge for this is ash itself. But this involves risking getting flamed by the entire population for not adhering to the ash guidelines ...

2.1) Anti-choice posts

The regular posters on ash see suicide as a valid option. They are not interested in reading anti-suicide or pro-suicide messages, both of which are seen as denying the right to choose.

Anti-choice postings are not proper netiquette, since they are off-topic for ash. It is not proper netiquette to invade a group with postings that oppose the nature of the group. (Like it is not welcome to go to a 'real-life' alcohol-dependency support group and shout 'you should all just grow up').

2.2) Anti-suicide posts

Anti-suicide posts are usually counterproductive. Some of the readers are having a hard enough time in life without being confronted with stuff they do not want to hear. They have little energy to deal with this, as they need all their energy to go on living.

We feel alienated from society because of the views it tries to impose on us. Ash is the only place where we feel safe, and can discuss issues freely. Anti-suicide posts reinforce our alienation from society, as such posts forcefully intrude into our only sanctuary. Instead of allowing us to get the kind of support and understanding some of us need in order to survive another day, anti-suicide posts corner us into defending our views.

Being told over and over again that they are wrong to decide in favor of suicide might be so hurtful to suicidal people that it pushes them over the edge, causing them to commit suicide sooner. To those people, you would be the catalyst in the process that you want to stop.

In general, discussing why you think suicide is not an option for yourself is acceptable, but you should not tell others not to do so, or make broad denials of the validity of suicide as an option for others. You are welcome to join our discussions, as long as you respect the basic premise of ash, that suicide is a legitimate choice. Also note the following guidelines:

  1. Don't post arguments that have been dealt with countless times already by the newsgroup. The people on ash have witnessed many posts by people who insist suicide is a bad idea. Many of the most-frequently recited arguments have been collected and answered in the Debate faq, which newcomers should read at: . Repeating trite assertions that have been argued and answered already will only serve to annoy the readers of ash and reinforce the idea that the anti-suicide poster is fundamentally disrespectful of the readers and the group's nature.
  2. Do not make unsubstantiated or unsubstantiatable claims. Probably the most common, and most insulting, unsupportable assertion is a general prediction about how suicidal people the poster has never even met will feel at some vague time in the future. Illogical arguments, and those that don't go beyond saying that the poster's emotional position is "right" and different feelings are "wrong" just make for pointless discussions. For information on logical argumentation, check out .
  3. Don't preach. A preacher is someone who, during relentless attempts to persuade others, ignores, unjustly dismisses, or uses fallacious reasoning to counter the arguments of others. Preachers seem to be standing on a podium, unwilling to engage in any dialog.
  4. Avoid religious argumentation, for example, that people who commit suicide go to hell, or that suicide is wrong simply because it says so in the Bible (or any other scripture). Many ashers consider themselves atheists, so your posts will offend rather than convince. Offended people will rarely be willing to seriously listen to anything you might have to say. Those who are offended usually start posting anti-religious posts, which in turn could weaken the belief of those ashers that are religious. That very belief may be the only thing that stops them from committing suicide. Furthermore, those ashers that are of the same religion as you already know what your religion thinks of suicide. They have either accepted that view (and are still suicidal) or have come to the conclusion that the religion is wrong. Should you disagree on this, it will be a religious disagreement, which should be taken to the appropriate newsgroup.

2.3) Pro-suicide posts

Pro-suicide posts, urging people to commit suicide, are also inappropriate. Apart from being stupid and distasteful they also cause people to feel unsafe to post.

It is not clear why such posts appear sometimes on ash and what kind of people post them. But we guess they are of one of the following groups:

  1. People who are using reverse psychology. These people actually don't want us to commit suicide. However, they don't believe we are serious. Instead they think we are just seeking for attention, so their reaction is something like "go kill yourself already" to make a point that our attempts of getting attention are not working. The problem with these people is that they don't understand that we are not looking for attention (also see [6]).
  2. People encouraging suicide for an external cause such as religion, politics, the environment (CoE), etc. Usually, these people are not ashers; ashers tend to emphasize the individual, his importance, desires and authority. Holding other entities, such as god, country, or earth as more important than the individual implies that we should follow an external, imposed agenda - denying the individual the right to choose.
  3. Mean perverted trolls whose goal is to make trouble.

Anyway, people who post pro-suicide posts are not ashers in the sense defined above.

2.4) Is it OK to try to help ashers in a conventional sense?

In general, unless they specifically request for it, ashers are not seeking for conventional life-affirming advice on ash. There are many other forums for that. Most ashers are familiar with such advice since they have heard it numerous times. Repeating such advice not only annoys ashers, but also insults their intelligence.

Still, in some cases such help is welcome: if there is reason to believe that the person has not thought things through (for example, a recent breakup with girlfriend), or if there is reason to believe that the person is misinformed (for example, if there is a new treatment for their otherwise terminal disease).

However, a lot also depends on who is dispensing such advice. Advice from an asher would carry much weight in the eyes of the group and the person to which the advice is given. Ashers are able to take the specific circumstances of an individual into account and assess whether conventional advice has any merit or novelty.

Non-ashers are not capable of this. Regardless to the situation they always dispense pro-life advice, since their motivation is to keep people alive. Therefore, their advice cannot be trusted.

Of course, sometimes even non-ashers give good advice. This may even be identical to some advice given by an asher. However, even a broken clock is correct twice a day, yet it is not something you would rely upon or keep hanging on the wall. Non-ashers, similar to a broken clock, always provide the same biased advice, and this is why it is not welcome.

2.5) Is it OK to talk about happy events in one's life?

This depends on whether you are an asher or not. If out the blue, a newcomer posts about how wonderful life is, this will not be well received. It is not obvious how it relates to ash and is of little interest to ashers. Some ashers might view this as a covert, pro-life attempt to "cheer people up".

However, if happy events occur to somebody who is known as an asher, then such posts are most welcome. Ashers are interested to know what happens to people they care about, and they are glad when good things happen to other ashers.

3) Reading/posting to ash.

3.1) Are there other ways to read/post to a.s.h?

The particular news server you are using may have a poor newsfeed. Some news servers lose messages or expire them too quickly for you to read. Others take a lot of time to receive posts from other sites. Furthermore, some news servers don't even carry ash. For these reasons you may want to read ash using other means.

Uzi Paz's document on Usenet access is an excellent resource on doing just that. It also covers numerous other aspects of Usenet. It can be found at:

3.2) The dangers of posting to ash.

There are two main sources of danger from posting to ash.

In the short term somebody may act upon something you posted. Anybody can be lurking out there. On top of this, if you are posting from work or university the system administrator might be reading your posts. Many people are against suicide and will try to intervene.

The risk is increased if your posts indicate you are actually going to commit suicide in the near future. For example, if you post a suicide note or announce a date or place where you will commit suicide.

Your university, internet service provider or local police department may be contacted; the outcome may vary from embarrassment to hospitalization [7]. For example, college friends of one poster found out about her posts. The college got involved in what developed into quite an embarrassing situation...

Even if you are not posting under your real identity chances are that you can be tracked down since most service providers will reveal your identity if they are informed you are about to commit suicide.

As for long term dangers, some machines archive usenet posts. The most well known of them is dejanews. This machine archives all posts (except ones which contain an explicit request not to be archived).

Anyone can then search dejanews for all the articles you posted in the past. This could be an employer trying to check you out before hiring you. Friends or family.

3.3) Protecting yourself.

Unless you are absolutely sure that it is impossible to track you down, it is important not to give any indication about plans to commit suicide. Do not post suicide notes. Do not post the time or place in which you intend to commit suicide. Do not carry a "countdown" of the time left till you die. Such posts are an invitation to intervene.

3.3.1) How do I post anonymously?

With e-mail, unless you are a hacker, your name and site are sent along with your mail. However, some sites allow you to 'remove' your identity from the mail. You send your mail, with instructions on where it is to be sent to a 'remailer' which then strips your name off the mail, and sends it to its destination with a new 'anonymous' identity.

This article offers a nontechnical overview of remailers:

And some more links:

Setting up for usage of an anonymous remailer is a hassle, but that is the only negative aspect. Nobody will mind you using an anonymous name on ash.

Not everybody on ash really has a reason to go anonymous, but you should try to query dejanews for all the articles you have posted. It might give you quite a scare.

3.3.2) How do I prevent my message from being archived?

If you do not want news archivers like Deja News to archive your message (i.e. if you do not want your message in their database), please add the header

x-no-archive: yes

to the headers of your post. This will also be recognized if this string occurs alone as the first line in the body of your message (use this method if you do not know how to add headers to your post.)

This will not prevent your messages from being archived if they are copied or referenced in a reply to your message. Furthermore, not all news archivers have to respect this header.

Also see .

3.3.3) How do I delete an already archived post of mine?

To remove your post from dejanews go to

4) Other resources

4.1) Related newsgroups.

There are several newsgroups which are related to suicide: alt.suicide, alt.suicide.methods, alt.suicide.finals, and alc.suicide. Of these, alt.suicide.methods is the most relevant to a.s.h., as it discusses suicide methods. However, these newsgroups are carried by fewer news servers and have relatively little traffic.

There are also numerous traditional support groups for people dealing with suicidal feelings, including:,, and

The (a.s.d) newsgroup is a traditional support newsgroup with a great deal of traffic. As suicide is often associated to depression, many people read both a.s.h and a.s.d .

However, a.s.d. has a very conventional response to suicide, strongly opposing suicide as a valid option and urging intervention to prevent suicides, according to the a.s.d faq:

Because of the very different premises of a.s.d. and a.s.h. regarding the legitimacy of suicide, it is strongly urged that people not crosspost messages between the two newsgroups. Such crossposts often generate long flamewars and seldom provide any useful posts.

There are also numerous support newsgroups and online resources dedicated to specific circumstances that may be involved in suicidal feelings, such as depression, loneliness, grief, particular disorders, etc.. Comprehensive listings of these newsgroups can be found at .

4.2) Mailing lists.

There are two mailing lists related to ash. These have a much better signal-to-noise ratio than ash.

For more details, the ash mailing lists web page is at

4.3) Are there any other ash faqs?

Besides this 4 part FAQ, there are other FAQs and documents available at and

The "information FAQ for Newcomers" is posted weekly by the a.s.h Webmaster.

Note that anybody can put the word FAQ in the subject line. FAQs which have not been mentioned here may have their origins outside the ash subculture.

Other faqs are in the making. If you are interested in helping contact the maintainers of this faq.


[1] "Starting Sociology", J. Levin and J.L. Spates, New York, Harper and Row, 1976, pp. 76-77

[2] Frequently Asked Questions About Suicide, version 1.24, Graham Stoney,

[3] "Death Wishes? The Understanding and Management of Deliberate Self-Harm," H.G. Morgan, 1979, p.58

[4] "Suicide And The Meaning of Life," Margarethe Andics, 1947

[5] "The Savage God: A Study of Suicide," A. Alvarez, 1972

[6] "Are You For Real?" (to be published).

[7] "Caught in the net", Neely Kim, Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 1994. This is a case of a university student who was committed to a mental hospital after posting a suicide note on the net.

The following are excerpts from actual posts which appeared on All excerpts are quoted with permission by original author:

[8] steward : "Some people have created a part-time, artificial, electronic environment known as where they can withdraw from an environment they see as poisonous to themselves, on a temporary basis. This may, in fact, remove the need of some people to remove themselves "permanently" for a short-term or even a long-term basis. Indeed, numerous people who no longer post here have left this newsgroup counting on it as a refuge should it be necessary again."

[9] LBN : "that's the beauty of a.s.h. it's the one place where we can discuss this with people who share similar thoughts and views. one of the great wonders of the internet - it allows all kinds of misfits to find each other.... my point is that the discussions that take place on a.s.h would at least get one labeled "unstable" in real life if not hospitalized. very few people in real life are as understanding and supportive of catching the bus as you'll find here...."

[10] stephie: "If it weren't for the posts here, and A.S.H. itself, I'm sure I'd be screaming like a lunatic, awaiting the men in white coats to sedate me into oblivion...

Posting here the first time was terrifying, but I don't regret a thing."

[11] syxx : "I have only been posting here for about a week, but I have been more open with my thoughts here than I ever have been with a person irl. And that is because here I know you guys all understand. We are here because of our common dilemma, this is the only place we can share our thoughts and experiences.... I like to think that this NG can bring us a little peace when we confront the reality of dying alone and afraid."

[12] call_me_dan: "It is not, in truth, the fact that I may freely speak of my desire to die that I have grown to love a.s.h, but rather the fact that all of my losses, and more importantly my predisposition to and tendency toward complete and utter failure - which prior to now has been my personal demon - are now able to be vented and cast forth in an open and public manner. I have seen many, many replies to (my first a.s.h.) post, to the effect of "I wish you good luck, feel free to return should things not go your way..." and this is the very heart and soul of this group. Our failures are not cause for derision and expulsion, but rather deserving and receiving of empathy and comfort."

[13] katrin: "For me it feels that ash has become my family where it is allowed to talk about suicide without to justify oneself.

And in the same time there are people who give you the feeling of being with you. So i have the feeling of however i will decide i won't be left alone. I am glad to find the way to ash."

[14] jenwolf: "this group has saved my life. i don't care how much that makes everyone puke, but i like this place, depressing as it is at times..."

[15] pacifier: "... What I also want is to share my feelings with others. This is IMHO one of the worst things for depressed people: that there is nobody who under- stand them. Here in a.s.h. we share these feelings. I think the knowledge that there ARE people who are also depressed is giving some kind of good feeling to some ashers so they won't commit suicide..."

[16] laterain: "I hate not being able to talk to anybody in my life about what it feels like to be up at 4a.m. thinking about whether I can do it or not. If I were to broach the subject with friends, they would see it as a ploy for attention. they don't understand that what I really want is a chance to really DISCUSS this as a viable option. that's why I am so grateful for you all. I'm so glad that there is SOMEPLACE on this (cyber?) earth that I can go to be with like-minded people."

Part II: Subculture

This section is part 2 of the FAQ, co-authored by Meredith, Ramble and EverDawn. 


Ash culture is a fluctuating thing. Like any Usenet newsgroup it varies from week to week and with who is participating at any one time. Furthermore, it is many things to many people.

A document trying to describe the ash subculture cannot avoid generalizations. Indeed, we do not claim it is accurate. However we hope this document may prove to be useful, especially for newcomers to ash, to obtain an initial idea of how ashers think, feel, talk and behave.

Note that at any given time, any forum related to ash may have non ashers participating in the discussion. This article talks only about ashers.


1) Suicide
1.1) Is suicide good or bad?
1.2) Is suicide a right?
1.3) A right for whom?

2) How ashers react to various situations
2.1) When newcomers arrive, or oldtimers return
2.2) When an asher commits suicide
2.3) When an asher who attempted suicide returns to ash
2.4) Why didn't I get a reply?

3) Attitude to outsiders
3.1) Friends of people who committed suicide
3.3) Psychologists and psychiatrists
3.4) Posters who are against suicide

4) Ash Lingo

1) Suicide

Ashers do not think suicide is immoral, irrational, or selfish. For further information about our views on these topics please read the "ash FAQ - Suicide The Debate".

1.1) Is suicide good or bad?

A newcomer to ash may think that since most of society believes that suicide is bad, and we disagree with society, then it must be that we believe that suicide is good. But this is not the case.

In most societies, the common belief is that suicide is bad in general. The ash subculture believes that suicide may be a good option at least for some people. Therefore, the faq "is suicide good or bad" is misleading, since for each individual the answer may be different.

However, in contrast with the dominant culture, we do not presume to know what the answer is for each person. This is one of the reasons why we are pro-choice.

1.2) Is suicide a right?

It is important to distinguish between a legal right and a moral right. Depending on the laws of your country, suicide may or may not be a legal right. But the question of the legality of suicide is not of much interest to ashers.

As for whether suicide is a moral right, we think it is. This is our main disagreement with society.

1.3) A right for whom?

The common opinion on ash is that suicide should be a right for all, with the exception of children, and adults who are not responsible for themselves. However, there are may variations and divergence from this view.

In one extreme, some believe that children should have this right as well. However, there is usually some age below which they agree that suicide should not be a right. It seems that the real issue here is disagreement about the definition of a child/adult. It is obvious that current definitions which uses arbitrary age limits are inaccurate, however they are easy to use and clear-cut.

On the other side of the spectrum, some believe that the right to suicide is superseded in the case of other existing moral or legal obligations, such as having young children which require care, or even having pending financial obligations.

2) How ashers react to various situations

2.1) When newcomers arrive, or old-timers return

Sometimes someone who posted a farewell message returns later to inform us s/he failed the attempt. Or decided not to go through with it at the last moment. Other people leave ash because they want to go on with their lives without the presence of ash, to return later because they found out they still needed ash in their lives.

Those that remained behind on ash sometimes experience opposite emotions about these returns. Whenever you know somebody is in pain and really wants to die, one feels saddened for that person if it did not work out the way it was supposed to. At the same time, a lot of ashers feel ashamed for being glad that this person is back. Glad because of their presence, ashamed because we basically get something positive out of this persons misery.

These opposing emotions are the origin of the customary ash welcome: "Welcome to ash, sorry you're here."

Our true wish is that ash would be empty, but not because the former readers would have committed suicide. We wish that all ashers find happiness and contentment, however we know this is not always possible. Due to our altruistic desire for ashers to have better lives, some ashers find it difficult to admit that they are selfishly happy when someone returns to ash. However, ashers understand this conflict - nobody has every been offended by being welcomed back.

2.2) When an asher commits suicide

Whenever an account of suicide by an asher reaches the group, those staying behind deal with their own emotions. We understand that suicide was probably the best option available to this person. We respect this decision, we are glad that they have finally managed to escape their pain.

At the same time we are often saddened. After all, this is a person we have come to know, often even come to like. Because of their presence, they added something to our lives. A nice remark, an insightful post, a good joke, everybody has something to add to our subculture. And because they added some extra flavor to our lives, they made our lives just a bit more bearable. Because of this, we feel sad to see one of us leave.

2.3) When an asher who attempted suicide returns to ash

Ashers understand the difficulties of committing suicide, and are sympathetic of people who have attempted.

Some ashers who have attempted suicide, feared they might be ridiculed for their unsuccessful attempts. Many feel ashamed having failed in death on top of their perceived failure in life and were afraid to return to the group.

However, it is precisely at such times where ash can help most. As alienation from family and friends can increase after a suicide attempt, ash may be the best outlet to talk things over. On top of this discussion about unsuccessful attempts is usually of great interest to other ashers as it provides information on what does and does not work.

2.4) Why didn't I get a reply?

When someone makes a post, sometimes there are no follow-up posts and the reasons for this vary:

The main thing is to not take no replies (especially to a first post) personally. If you don't get a response and want one then it's OK to ask (nicely) again.

3) Attitude to outsiders

The key to understanding our relationship with other groups is the concept of social control. Social control includes any process or mechanism which is designed to achieve conformity. The goal of social control is to ensure that members of society behave appropriately [1].

Involuntary treatment is a form of formal social control which ashers might have to deal with. In this case some formal institution or authority attempts to force conformity.

Informal social control, on the other hand, is much more common. It takes place during normal, everyday interaction in the form of negative responses. An example of informal social control on ash is posters who try to persuade ashers that suicide is immoral.

In this section we describe how ashers relate to other groups either online or in real life. Groups who tend to apply more social control on ashers are usually those who are disliked the most. The section is roughly organized such that groups which appear later apply increasing degrees of social control to ash and ashers.

3.1) Friends of people who committed suicide

As long as they acknowledge our values and do not try to "help" us, there are tolerated.

In fact, participation of such people in our discussions can help both sides. They can gain better understanding of suicidal people and learn to accept the suicide as a valid option. In turn, ashers can learn what pain suicide leaves on those left behind, and although such pain is not an overriding reason to denounce suicide, it is a factor which can be taken into account if so desired.


The existence of ash and (asd) is proof to how differently people can express suffering and pain. Though each group's membership consists of people who are in enough emotional pain that they are considering ending their lives, the environment of each group is vastly different and in a way they are almost opposites. In ash, people can make choices about what they wish to do with their lives (be it change it, continue it, or end it.) Asd is more of a traditional suicide support group whose goal is to help its members find reasons to continue their lives and to find solutions to the problems they face. Both try to offer a safe supportive environment for their members. Since both are unmoderated Usenet newsgroups the success of this varies.

Ashers are happy to give their experience when asked, but you have to ask. Asd assumes that you want to feel better and that you desire their advice, opinions, support and e-hugs (which they express by putting your name inside of brackets {{{{{name}}}}}}, something you should not do on ash.)

On ash, you are perfectly free post "I want to die" and generally no one is going be say "No, you don't." More likely, the replies will be along the lines of "Yes, I feel that way too and it's hell." On the other hand, posting the same thing on asd will often get replies like "Yes, you may feel that way now, but the feeling will pass, and in some time period it will feel different." Asd assumes that you want to be talked out of suicidal tendencies, ash does not.

Given that the two groups are so fundamentally different, please never crosspost between the two, no matter how appropriate it may seem. Instead, ask both groups separately and you will get some very different and potentially useful opinions from both. Crossposting usually causes horrible flame wars and your question will go unanswered. The members of each group often do not really understand the mindset of the other, so a flame war between the two can cause serious psychological damage (which can be quite dangerous). These groups are sometimes the only support that some of the participants have and when that support is disrupted by a flame war, then some folks may choose to take their lives sooner than they would have if that support had been there. This may sound trite, but this is not a game we're all playing. Agree with it or not, some people do live and die by these groups and it's important to respect that.

A note to ashers. Some ashers dislike and ridicule online forums like asd, that provide a more traditional forms of support, as useless and requiring insincere displays of affection. This view is quite subjective. The support on asd suits those who read it, and not ashers. In fact the number of participants in asd substantially outnumbers those in ash. In short, don't put asd down. Many people find it useful.

3.3) Psychologists and psychiatrists

Our relation with mental health professionals is ambivalent at best. They may be helpful in many cases. However, there are also some serious problems.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are not magicians. They cannot solve all problems. Furthermore, like any profession, some of them are good and some are not. Many ashers have had bad experiences from traditional therapy - long yet unhelpful treatment, long lasting side affects from psychiatric drugs or being put into a mental institution against one's will. However, the reason for these experiences may be just that their particular doctors were lacking.

The real problems are more fundamental. The mental health establishment and us have different value systems that are difficult to reconcile. Our differences are simply a reflection of our disagreement with society in general. A society which does not acknowledge the right to commit suicide.

Mental health establishments attitudes are based on current laws/government, which, in turn, are reflections of the current society's values. To be licensed as a therapist you have to agree to uphold a code of conduct. Furthermore, mental health practitioners belong to a professional association and are obligated to adhere to a code of ethics as a condition of membership. The code is a statement of standards of conduct towards clients and others. In most cases, the law sets only minimum standards of conduct. Ethics demands more. This is especially true in regard to suicidal individuals.

The attitude of mental health practitioners in your area depends largely on the legislation in you country and the codes of ethics of the professional associations with which they are affiliated. But most of all it depends on the individual beliefs of values of the therapist.

From the point of view of ashers, mental health practitioners are agents of social control. This does not that there are not some therapists who are understanding and may acknowledge the right to suicide in some cases, but legal and ethical codes make finding such therapists a difficult task.

The use of psychology as a device for social control is not new - runaway slaves and homosexuality in America, masturbation in England and political dissidence in the Soviet Union have all been classified as mental illness in the past, and thus exposed to enforce treatment[1]. Such treatment can be as coercive as any other form of social control.

For therapy to succeed the doctor and patient must establish a relationship of trust. This allows the patient to be open and discuss anything which may help in the process of therapy. The patient trusts the doctor to do everything possible for the patient's best interest. However, ashers face serious obstacles in establishing trust with their doctors.

Ashers consider suicide to be a valid option. The mental health establishment rejects this. Note that an essential prerequisite for making a rational decision is that all reasonable options be taken into account. Therefore, from an asher's point of view, just by entering the mental health system, the asher compromises his ability to exercise a rational decision process.

To exemplify this, consider the following scenario: after many years of treatment, the doctor of an asher concludes that the situation is hopeless - there is nothing the doctor can do to help the asher out of depression. The asher could have used this information to make a rational choice: if life in the current situation is unbearable then suicide may be considered, otherwise it may still be possible to continue on living despite depression.

But the doctor has reasons not to disclose this information. Many doctors simply accept the values of society - for them suicide is indeed unthinkable. However, even if the therapist realizes that suicide might be a reasonable option for a patient, there are external forces at work.

The suicide of a patient is considered in the eyes of relatives, other patients and professional peers, as a failure for the therapist. The cost to the doctor can range from a decline in stature and prestige, to law suits and disciplining acts within their professional association.

To prevent suicide, the therapist might prolong the treatment indefinitely, adopt different or more coercive forms of treatment, raise false hopes, or refer the patient to another professional. These options are not inherently bad. However, not addressing the possibility of suicide is a betrayal of the patient.

The patient trusts the doctor to do what is best for the patient. The problem is that they disagree on what the best thing is. A doctor denying the possibility of suicide is serving as an agent of social control. The doctor becomes part of the problem rather than the solution.

For these reasons there are voices on ash against the existing mental health establishment, but on the whole, ash is not against it. With all its problems we recognize that traditional therapy may be helpful to some people. If somebody believes they can benefit from such treatment then we would recommend trying it out. Keep in mind that you may likely need to talk to several therapists in order to find one that you feel comfortable with.

However, one must always remember the limitations of such therapy: if while in therapy you are to make a decision about whether to suicide or not, you will have to make this decision by yourself, without the therapist's assistance. Furthermore, to avoid involuntary hospitalization you might have to lie, claiming that although you are suicidal you have no intentions of acting upon this, or better yet deny that you are suicidal altogether. It is unfortunate that the delicate relationship between doctor and patient has to be underlined by deception.

3.4) Posters who are against suicide

Ashers are very protective of ash as it's a unique place. At the time of this writing there are over 35000 newsgroups, yet ash is the only one that is devoted to talking about suicide in a non-judgemental environment. People who deliberately disrupt ash are dealt with sometimes quite harshly, but this usually happens after the person has been gently told where to find the FAQ (or even been emailed it). They decide that their viewpoint is somehow important/unique (it isn't, we've heard it all before) that they should receive special status and post their anti-suicide opinion anyway. Then they have earned the title of troll.

There is a group of regular ash posters who are fiendishly good at having a good deal of fun at the troll's expense. Ashers protect the group because they do not want newcomers to misunderstand what ash is about.

4) Ash Lingo

4.1) Pdoc

A Pdoc is a shorter word for "psychiatrist" or "psychologist".

4.2) 'suicide' vs. 'attempt'

A suicide is when a person has killed themselves. An attempted suicide is where a person has tried, and failed.

4.3) "catch/climb on/get on/board the bus".

The the bus phrase is a much loved ash metaphor for committing suicide. "Does anyone know if XXX caught the bus?" means "Does anyone know if XXX died (by suicide)?" The original idea was created by "just another onionhead" and can be found at .

Ash itself is often described as a bus stop where several people have decided to stop and chat before deciding on whether or not to get on the bus. The image resonates with many ashers.

4.4) Shiny-happy people

Shiny-happy people is an ash term that we shamelessly stole from the REM song of the same name. It refers to those who are not ashers yet want to cheer ashers up, however, they can not understand or sympathize with someone who is not happy. The most common characteristic is if they imply something like: "I'm happy and you should be to and here's how...", a message not appropriate for ash.

Calling them evangelists for happiness would not be far off the mark. Shiny-happies give those folks who have gone through bad times and are now OK or even happy (something that ash respects) an undeserved bad name.

4.5) Troll

An intrusive poster who willfully disregards the posting rules spelled out in the FAQ.

4.6) come out/come out of the closet

To come out in an ash context means to tell someone that you are suicidal. Some will also use the term when telling a person they know that they are depressed.

4.7) >>cuts<<

This is a play on {{hugs}} which is normally used in conventional support groups. The word "cuts" refers to some ashers tendency towards self harm.


[1] Society in transition: a humanist introduction to sociology, Rodney D. Elliott, Don H. Shamblin, Prentice-Hall 1992, p. 123

Part III: Are you for real?

This section is part 3 of the FAQ, co-authored by mori qendi, Ramble and EverDawn.

1.1) You don't really want to die, you just talk about suicide because it is cool
1.2) You don't really want to die, you just want attention
1.3) People who failed in their suicide attempt are just looking for attention
1.4) You don't *really* want to die, otherwise you would have done so by now
1.5) You don't *really* want to die, you just want to have a better life
1.6) It is easy to commit suicide.

Not all ashers are suicidal or depressed [1]. However, many of the posts on ash express suicidal viewpoints. Some people don't believe such expressions are for real. They may question the honesty of an individual poster who is considering suicide, or even doubt that any asher is truly suicidal.

There are many problems with arguments which claim that "ashers are not really suicidal." Often such claims make sweeping assumptions about the situation and reasoning of ashers.

Some claims assume that ashers post about suicide only because of some ulterior motive and are therefore not truly suicidal. However, suicidal expressions may have several motivations; just pointing to a different motivation (which may or may not be true) does not mean that one is not honestly suicidal.

Most other claims are the result of a basic misunderstanding of the issues related to suicide, and of what ash is about. For an introduction to ash please refer to the ASH FAQ part 1: Introduction [1].

The rest of this article expands on common judgments, statements, and opinions which doubt the sincerity and motives of ashers.

1) You don't really want to die, you just talk about suicide because it is cool

Some people think we talk about suicide in ash because we consider it "cool" or shocking. In fact, ashers try to take a realistic approach to suicide. We wish that society would accept this approach and not be shocked when suicide occurs or is even merely discussed.

To shock people, one would have to talk about something that is not acceptable to those people. In ash though, suicide is accepted, so talking about it does not shock anybody. By reading some posts, it will also become clear that the people in ash don't think suicide is cool. Suicide is merely part of life, one possible decision to make.

2) You don't really want to die, you just want attention.

Any form of communication is a call for attention. Every time you talk or write to somebody about any topic, you are requesting the attention of the recipient. This is also true for posts to ash.

However, this particular statement generally refers to wanting another form of attention. In this context, "getting attention" means either an indirect request for psychiatric help or an effort to get others to be more attentive and caring. The hope in this scenario would be that the shock of such an extreme action as suicide would cause everyone to reevaluate their relationship with one who attempted (or even mentioned) committing suicide.

On ash, discussion about suicide is to the point--we are not alarmed by suicidal ideation. If somebody wants startled responses, there are many forums which could provide it (any of the support newsgroups for example). ash is the last place to get this sort of attention.

3) People who failed in their suicide attempt are just looking for attention.

Some ashers have had failed attempts in the past. Perhaps some failed attempts are attention ploys, but it would be a mistake to generalize this, especially to ashers. Failed attempts happen frequently, even if the person was serious in his/her intentions. Suicide is often not easy to carry out (see item (6) below).

Trying to commit suicide is often accompanied by high emotional stress which in turn may cause confusion about one's intention to commit suicide or about the application of the chosen method. Some people may want to exit, yet at the same time have hopes for rescue and a better life. Other people fail attempts due to apathy--at the time of the attempt they do not care whether they live or die. Such half-hearted attempts are likely to fail. For people whose attempt has failed for these reasons, the motivation for suicide may persist, and thus they might commit suicide in the future.

Note that even if drawing attention is one motive for displaying suicidal gestures, this does not exclude the possibility that these people are also truly suicidal and may eventually kill themselves.

Most people who accuse us of wanting to get attention seem to focus on some sort of supportive attention that would be the result of the attempt. But in many cases, the attention one gets after a failed attempt is far from supportive. People stay away or treat you differently after an attempt. Chances are you will be closely watched by all sorts of people, maybe even be "persuaded" to get involved with mental health care. The problem with asking for attention by way of a suicidal gesture is that you can never be sure what kind of attention you will get.

Mental health practitioners consider suicide attempts to be one of the best indications of a risk for suicide. About 30 to 40 percent of suicides have made a previous attempt. Furthermore, the probability of completed suicide is 100 times greater than average in the first year after an attempt. [2]

Just because someone fails in an effort to kill themselves doesn't mean they weren't sincere about it and clear in their intent.

4) You don't *really* want to die, otherwise you would have done so by now.

Obviously, some people really want to die since people do manage to commit suicide. This includes people who used to post to ash. [3] There is a stigma that people who commit suicide do it irrationally, spontaneously or without much thought. The conclusion would be that if people have suicidal thoughts then they would commit suicide within a short period of time.

In fact, many people give much thought to whether they should commit suicide as in the case of Dan Reinfurt [4]. This is only logical since the decision is perhaps the most difficult one ever has to make. However, there are additional factors which prolong this decision making process.

In any important life decision it is possible to consult books, people or experts to help one decide. Ironically, for the most difficult decision--to be or not to be--no assistance is possible.

Many complicating factors require significant time to think through in order to decide whether or not to commit suicide. But even if one has decided to exit, there is also a matter of choosing, planning, and carrying out a suicide method. Suicide is not easy (see below) and many people require much deliberation before deciding how to go about it.

Finally, there are people who are suicidal, yet still choose not to commit suicide, at least for the time being. Some are not able to eliminate their suicidal tendencies even though they have tried to do so. Others may feel that being suicidal is part of their true identity. In either case, they choose to accept that they are suicidal rather than fight it. They have the desire to die, yet they decide to live.

Suicidal ashers are in various stages of deliberation. By open discussion, ash encourages people to evaluate their situation carefully and rationally. Some are trying to make decisions about their lives, others just like to talk with like-minded people. This is what fuels the paradox of a crowded pro-choice-suicide group, and what keeps ashers around for many years.

5) You don't *really* want to die, you just want to have a better life.

Some ashers believe that if they had a better life, they would not want to die. Others believe that they would want to die no matter what changed in their life. A better life is simply not attainable for some people. If one's body, family, spirit, emotions, or mind have been irreparably damaged, there may be no way to attain a better life in the ways that truly matter. Some have tried for a better life for so long that they no longer believe it is possible. They desire only death.

It is possible to want a better life and at the same time crave death. If you are hungry, you may want a sandwich and at the same time crave a pizza. Either would take away the discomfort of hunger. Either death or a better life would take away the life of misery many ashers experience. Regardless of their motivation, ashers have chosen to accept suicide as their most likely way to deal with their present situation.

6) It is easy to commit suicide.

This claim is commonly used to support the argument above (i.e., if you wanted to die you would have done so by now).

On the surface, the availability of methods, such as jumping from a high place, supports the claim that suicide is easy. However, availability is not the only obstacle. Three stages are necessary to commit suicide. All of them introduce problems.

  1. Getting the physical means of suicide: Many of the more reliable methods are difficult to obtain. For example, suitable drugs/poison in lethal quantities are only easily accessible by doctors, pharmacists, or chemists. Guns are readily available only in some areas.
  2. Using the physical means appropriately: To apply a method quickly, painlessly, and with high probability to succeed, it is vital to know how to apply it correctly . Although a small number of authoritative books on methods are available, the information they contain is not completely reliable since no real tests can be performed for confirmation. For example, the toxicity of various substances is measured by administering them to laboratory animals, whose reactions may differ from those of humans. For most other methods there are no empirical data to confirm successful method usage. Although there is a lot of information on the net, it is of low credibility; at best it relies on the books already mentioned above.
  3. Getting over the psychological barrier: Suicide is against our instincts. We are programmed to fear death, to survive. Overcoming this fear is not easy. It can be terribly hard to take the last step. To jump. To pull the trigger.

There are methods in which some of these stages are easy, but usually the other stages will be very difficult. For example, methods which are physically easy to execute usually require much more determination in order to carry them out (taking a bunch of pills is a lot easier than jumping from a high building), and thus the psychological barrier is more difficult to overcome.

Indeed, of the three stages the psychological barrier is the most significant. Many factors contributing to the psychological barrier are the consequence of problems with using the physical means appropriately (the second stage). The following are just some of these factors:

There are other factors which contribute to the psychological barrier:

These factors explain some of the difficulties facing one who wants to commit suicide, however, their effect varies for different people. It may be difficult for some and not for others.


The common claim that ashers "do not really want to die" usually implies that ashers are hypocrites and probably not suicidal at all. However, in light of the issues addressed in this FAQ, it is not at all clear what the phrase "really suicidal" actually means.

For example, in the context of the claim "You don't really want to die, otherwise you would have done so by now," the expression "you don't really want to die" only means that up until now you did not want to die enough to actually do it.

All other claims presented here do not make any substantiated argument that indicates that ashers are not suicidal. "You are not really suicidal", is just a meaningless slogan intended to delegitimize our right to contemplate or even just talk about suicide.


[1] ASH FAQ part 1 : Introduction

[2] Suicide (Part II), The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 13, No. 6, December 1996

[3] a.s.h web expressions index page at

[4] Article from the Boston Globe, Wednesday, August 20, 1997 Michael Hill. The article describes the suicide of Dan Reinfurt, 45, a high school football coach from Watervliet, New York, who was suffering from depression for 20 years. He tried counseling, group therapy, medication, self-help tapes, but nothing helped. Quotes of his sisters: "Nobody could have tried harder than he did, and it didn't work" "So you can never, ever be mad at him for what he did. You think: 'Oh my God, how did you go on as long as you did?' "

[5] "Advances in Youth Suicide Research Update", David Shaffer, In the Lifesavers newsletter, Fall 1993, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

[6] "Suicide Contagion", Madelyn S. Gould , In the Lifesavers newsletter, Spring 1992, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Part IV: The Debate

This section attempts to answer claims which state that suicide is necessarily immoral or irrational. Such claims and answers to them were collected from the usenet news group (ash), and other sources. This article is part 4 of the FAQ.

The first version of this section was written by EverDawn. In this later revision the foreword was edited by Mori Qendi. Many sections have been moved to other places. Some to part 3 ("Are you for real?") and others to an article which is still just a rough draft, called "To be or not to be".


0 Foreword
0.1 Goals of FAQ
0.2 Organization of FAQ

1 Duty to god
1.1 Life is a gift from god
1.2 People who commit suicide go to hell
1.3 Believe in god and he will save you
1.4 Only god decides in matters of life and death

2 The Philosophical Debate
2.1 Duty to society (Suicide is selfish)
2.2 Life is the only thing you have

3 Layman clichés
3.1 Suicide is not a solution
3.2 Suicide is not natural

4 The Suicidological Debate

5 Layman clichés about rationality
5.1 Suicide is the easy way out
5.2 Suicide is an act of a coward
5.3 Aren't all suicidal people crazy?
5.4 Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem



0 Foreword

Suicide is not uncommon. It is the third most common cause of death among young adults in North America after car wrecks and homicides [2]. The subject of suicide is highly sensitive and complicated. It involves philosophical, psychological, medical, theological and legal issues.

Most people believe suicide is foolish, crazy, and/or immoral. When suicide is discussed it is routinely condemned, however, since the topic is taboo, people are rarely willing to discuss it even hypothetically.

It is ironic that an event as common as suicide is one that permits little discussion in any venue due to the fiercely held opinions against it.

Although some people may agree in theory to a person's right to suicide, they are unwilling to address the individual's right to a reliable means of death. A suicidal person has no access to professional assistance in self-delivery.

Suicide is reported in the media and many people have known someone who committed suicide. Why is such a relevant topic not explored in open conversation? How can such an intractable issue be approached? Why are so many people so sure about their convictions? Why is it that ash, one of the few places where the pros and cons of suicide may be discussed freely, is seen as a terrible influence that should be bombarded with the same invalidating, condemnatory comments again and again?

Clichés allow society to bridge the gap between the inherent complexities of the problem and the will of society to preserve life. Some clichés divert attention from the topic. Some exploit the psychological situation of people who want to commit suicide. But many of them are simply irrelevant, illogical or rely on questionable assumptions [3]. Clichés are simple enough for everyone to understand but they don't really address the issues.

The current state is one of paranoia, where any suicidal tendency is regarded as an illness to be cured. In some cases, suicidal desires are indeed a symptom of illness, but many other situations are not so clear cut as society would have us believe.

Even dying patients in excruciating pain are not allowed to end their life. How can society be so numb to the needs of its citizens? In the 21st century, we are still using the Hippocratic oath[4], which is more than 2000 years old, as our moral guide.

Changing these attitudes is not an easy task. This is demonstrated by the fight of euthanasia organizations around the world to change legislation and allow the terminally ill and the aged to end their lives in peace. Their slow progress is due to the democratic society we most live in. Indeed democracy is the rule of the majority via representatives, and people who wish to commit suicide are always the minority (and are a weak one at that since suicidal people often do not have the energy to be politically active).

However, democracy is not simply the rule of the majority. The essence of democracy is in the restrictions that should be placed on the government to preserve the individual's rights from the will of the majority.

We are lucky to live in times where values are constantly changing. Minorities around the world are reclaiming their natural rights, from the progress of women's liberation movements to the fall of apartheid. Sexual preferences, for which in the past one could be sent to jail, are increasingly recognized as the private concern of the individuals involved. The control over our bodies, the ultimate civil right, is yet another limit our governing bodies should acknowledge and embrace.

0.1 Goals of FAQ

The ash newsgroup is under constant attack from pro-life advocates. This is an attempt to organize these attacks and answer them. No attempt is made to show that suicide is right, permissible or moral in general or in particular cases.

The only thing demonstrated here is that suicide is not proven to be wrong by these attacks.

This should come as no surprise. Most moral questions are difficult or even impossible to resolve one way or the other. What *is* surprising is the conviction of some pro-life posters and total disregard to the opinions of ashers. Although this document might actually convince some pro-lifers that they are wrong, its real purpose is to help people who are new to ash to *understand* our point view and realize that the issues are far from trivial.

For regular ashers, the FAQ can serve as a repository of answers to various pro-life arguments, but as a whole it serves another purpose. Being depressed, suicidal, and always hearing 'suicide is not a solution', 'only madmen contemplate suicide' makes some people feel more guilty and more depressed. Seeing it as a choice can help people, without having to burden them more by getting more depressed by their depression.

0.2 Organization of FAQ

We tried to include most of the arguments we could find. Some of these have been the discussion of philosophers for centuries. Other attacks are silly but are still frequently posted. Not all arguments could possibly be added to this FAQ. The basic criteria for exclusion is if the answer is too simple to be of interest.

The first question if obvious: "is suicide immoral?". This breaks up into three different questions. Is suicide immoral towards god? towards society? or towards oneself?

Suppose that the conclusion is that suicide cannot be proven to be immoral. The debate is not over. A pro life advocate can still claim that suicide is irrational. Informally, we consider an act to be irrational if neither the person doing the act, nor anyone else, is able to explain the act by showing that there are good reasons for doing it.

Immorality towards god is discussed in section 1, and towards society and self in section 2. Section 3 contains arguments which usually appear on ash as unsubstantiated statements against suicide in general.

The first 3 sections answer a-priori arguments against suicide, i.e. arguments derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions which are independent of experience. Such arguments claim that no person can be justified in committing suicide. In contrast, the following 2 sections implicitly acknowledge that in some cases, suicide is justified, however, in practice, most cases are not. This direction is pursued, using findings from suicidology, in section 4. The arguments in section 5 makes generalizing claims about the rationality of those committing suicide.

The question of whether society has a right to prevent people from committing suicide (e.g. by legislation) is not in the scope of this FAQ.

1 Duty to god

Many ashers are atheists, therefore claims about moral obligations to god have no effect on them. On the other hand someone who strictly follows a particular religion must accept some of the following claims, however, these are a minority among ash readers since religion provides inherent psychological solutions, which would prevent such people from coming to ash in the first place.

To make things interesting we assume that answers to the following cliches are made by a somewhat sceptical theist who believes in a super being but questions the insight of common religions. Such a combination is possible: David Hume [1], an 18th century philosopher, believed in god but did not consider suicide to be a crime against ourselves, society or god.

1.1 Life is a gift from god.

What this cliché implies is that we should take care of our lives. This is our duty to god. God gave us this gift for us to keep.


If life is a gift then I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it once it's mine, this includes throwing the gift away.

What the cliché suggests is that since god has given us the precious gift of life (and thus has been good to us) then we should return the favor and preserve ourselves to the best of our ability since this is gods wish ( well that's the reason he gave us life in the first place isn't it? ). Many ashers will say that life is a burden, not a gift, so they feel no need to return gods "favor".

1.2 People who commit suicide go to hell.

The basic Christian belief about suicide is that God has given us the gift of life and that there is some divine purpose to it. But to convolute this "purpose" we are also given free will. This free will is so that we can choose good or evil. Committing suicide is evil since one abandons hope in God, and without God all that is left is evil. After death those who have chosen good end up in Heaven and those who have chosen evil are eternally tormented in Hell.

Islam has clear principles regarding suicide. The prophet Muhammad said that people who commit suicide will spend eternity killing themselves just as they did in this world. Do you really want to spend eternity shooting yourself in the mouth or poisoning yourself?

In Buddhism , the basic belief is that whatever effects from whatever karma you're suffering from now will follow you into your next life, and in fact probably have followed you from your last life because you didn't deal with it then. In other words, you might as well deal with it now and change whatever is bothering you as you'll have to eventually.


This is a good method of social control to convince people that depending on their behavior, they would wind up someplace totally pleasant or unbearable for eternity, after death. But the fact is that we don't really know what happens when we die and we shall probably never know.

This can be viewed as an issue of religion evolution. A religion which would encourage suicide would not survive very long. However, a religion which condemns suicide is more attractive ( to most people ) so such religions have prevailed. Most people are not in a suicidal state, so such religions are a better match to their point of view.

People who commit suicide for the usual reasons (emotional problems or deep pain of some sort) often act out of fear or hurt rather than willfully, they are not fully responsible for their actions. I have a hard time believing that God will be anything less than fair and merciful to these people, even if they do kill themselves.

1.3 Believe in god and he will save you from suicide

"my belief in God and faith in his love and power is the only thing that's held me back from committing suicide"


It wasn't the grace of the benevolent and merciful god which saved you from suicide, but simply -your belief- in him. Your power of decision.

1.4 Only god decides in matters of life and death

... life is God's gift to man, and is subject to His power, Who kills and makes to live. Hence whoever takes his own life, sins against God, even as he who kills another's slave, sins against that slave's master, and as he who usurps (holds without right) to himself judgment of a matter not entrusted to him. For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life ...
St. Thomas Aquinas [5], Summa Theologica II-II, 64,5


Were the disposal of human life so much reserved as the peculiar province of the Almighty, that it were an encroachment on his right, for men to dispose of their own lives; it would be equally criminal to act for the preservation of life as for its destruction. If I turn aside a stone which is falling upon my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I invade the peculiar province of the Almighty, by lengthening out my life beyond the period which by the general laws of matter and motion he had assigned it.
David Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul [1]

The paradox is that if life and death is totally in the hands of god then to extend our lives or to terminate them is equally sinful. In this case a rock is about to fall on someone's head. This is a natural event. Since god created the universe and all the physical laws which govern matter then the fall of the rock is god's will. To avoid the rock would be a sin.

2 The Philosophical Debate

These clichés refer to the relationship and duties of the person committing suicide to society.

2.1 Duty to society (Suicide is selfish)

We all have duties to society, family and friends.
... every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community ...
St. Thomas Aquinas [5], Summa Theologica II-II, 64,5


This could be turned on its head, of course: *not* to suicide, in the light of the vast overpopulation of the world, is an extremely self-centered act. Therefore evil or negative. It's an equally valid point, which makes it fair rebuttal.

From a more traditional point of view suicide might be considered a selfish act, but aren't most actions we take selfish? And don't our family and friends want us to continue to live for their own selfish reasons? Note also that in some cases the people around you (society, family and friends) are the ones contributing to (if not causing) your torture, and thus to your will to commit suicide, should we be bound by duties to others in such a case?

The sole argument that suicide is selfish doesn't mean that it shouldn't be allowed. Let's consider a man who leaves his country, family and friends, and goes for instance to India to join a secluded religious sect. He too has abandoned all of his previous duties, but his acts are not illegal.

I wonder what people who use this cliché would say about an old lonely man who has no friends and family and is retired ( so he is also of no use to society ). Would they approve the suicide of such a man? I guess not. However the death of this man does not cause any harm to the community. Furthermore, even if it might be possible for this man to contribute to society ( doing some volunteer work at a hospital for example ) then the cost of suffering for this man might still substantially outweigh the benefits for society.

2.2 Life is the only thing you have.

"Maybe life is depressing. But it's all we got. How can you give it up for nothing?"


People who use the cliché are performing a "mapping" from the state of mind of an individual to ... lets say the non negative integers! Where death = 0 and anything else is positive. The analogy seems logical since when we die we don't exist, there is nothing, zero. The problem is that they are mixing up between the physical state and the mental state. Nobody can have a negative amount of bodies, but why map the mental state ( which is what matters ) into the non negatives? Are there mental states which are worse than death? I think there are but there is no way to prove it one way or the other.

3 Layman clichés

The following sections are common lines which appear in many posts. These are usually stated without any substantiation.

3.1 Suicide is not a solution.


Of course it's a solution. A solution is an action which when taken at a state with a problem, results to another state without that problem. So when one commits suicide he definitely solves his problems ( all of them at once as a matter of fact ), however he might create new problems to other people, but this is a different matter.

Perhaps what people really mean when they say this cliché is actually a bit more complicated. What they mean is that committing suicide is not in the framework, it does not conform to the moral system of the society.

Like if somebody comes up with an original solution to a riddle. Suppose the riddle involves crossing a river with some limited means and somebody tries to solve it by saying "They can cross the river with a helicopter" albeit a helicopter was not mentioned in the riddle. Someone might then say "that's not a solution" because the framework was broken. Generally in riddles you should use only the presented objects.

Society has its own framework - values. And when it's broken some people might reply "that is not a solution".

But perhaps the real problem in this cliché is defining the problem to which suicide is or is not a solution. Indeed there are many problems that suicide does not solve, Islamic fundamentalism and global warming to name a few. If the problem is "find happiness" then suicide is not a solution, but if it's "stop pain" then it is. At least give us the credit of defining our own problems.

3.2 Suicide is not natural

... everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature,... Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law
St. Thomas Aquinas [5], Summa Theologica II-II, 64,5


It is not true that all things naturally avoid self destruction. It is a well known phenomena that groups of whales get stranded on beaches, and ultimately die. This does not seem to be just an accident.

Furthermore, some people are also naturally inclined to kill themselves. For instance, people suffering from inbarable pain and who are terminally ill.

Another point is that the fact that an act runs against one's nature this doesn't mean that this act is immoral or unlawful. Ear piercing is quite unnatural, and in fact painful, yet acceptable for women ( and men ) in most societies.

4 The Suicidological Debate

Suicidology is a field of research which employs methods and findings from sociology, psychology and psychiatry for the research and prevention of suicide.

Some suicidologists feel that the philosophical approach to the issue of suicide is too distant and abstract[8]. They claim that this approach has lead people to the misguided conclusion that rational suicide is to be accepted. According to [7], a better approach might be to use the knowledge and findings made by mental health practitioners and researches which are familiar with suicide in reality, and thus have a better understanding of the issues involved.

However, the suicidological approach has several problems. Suicidology, as any social science, uses empirical research that can only provide predictions which are probabilistic by nature. For example, even if it would be possible to perform some research which would conclude that suicide, in practice, is irrational, the most that could be hoped to predict is that it would be irrational for a high percentage of the population. Yet still for some of the population it could be rational.

No research in the social sciences can lead to a conclusion that suicide is categorically wrong or irrational. The refusal of the mental health establishment to assist in cases where suicide is rational is evidence that the real reason behind their approach is their moral values, which brings us right back to the philosophical debate.

Another problem is cultural. All findings are based on research which is performed in a society which is predominantly pro-life. This may have a great affect on the results of the research, not just because of the assumptions of the ones carrying out the research, but mainly because the subjects of such research have grown up in such a society.

Note that the subject of suicide is mostly taboo. Mental health professionals provide no counseling on choosing whether or not to commit suicide. They can only help in *exploring* *life*. By not providing counseling on choice, mental health practitioners are encouraging irrational decisions about suicide.

Finally, the fact that suicidologists are not versed in philosophy makes much of their research prone to logical fallacies. These are usually circular arguments where the researcher assumes that suicide is wrong and the research is used to reaffirm that assumption.

Returning to the problem of choosing between the philosophical and the suicidological approaches, the question remains: what is the *appropriate* tool for analyzing the problem of suicide. Perhaps philosophy may seem too distant from the problem, but suicidology is too close. One main goal of suicidology is to prevent suicide. One cannot expect a discipline which is based so deeply on the assumption that suicide is wrong, to be able to turn back and question its own foundations. Only philosophy allows us to look at our cultural influences and false beliefs from a distance, and clarify the big picture.

5 Layman clichés about rationality

These clichés analyze the reasons why people want to die and then claim that these reasons do not justify suicide. Perhaps some of them our true for some people. But doing something for the wrong reasons is only bad if the action, suicide in this case, is itself wrong. These clichés don't deal with this aspect at all. People can do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons.

5.1 Suicide is the easy way out.


What the cliché implies is that people who commit suicide are choosing the easy solution instead of the "correct" solution. This cliché simply defers the discussion from the real issue - is suicide a solution.

The fact is that committing suicide is not easy ( see part 3 ), however if at a given situation suicide is indeed the easiest solution, this alone is not a negative property and does not comprise a reason not to take it. In fact easiness is usually positive, isn't this what the western society is all about. Doing things more efficient, faster, easier.

5.2 Suicide is an act of a coward.


This is very similar to the previous cliché, but with a twist of slander. It is also a dangerous generalization. There are many reasons to commit suicide. The obvious example is the terminally ill who simply want to alleviate their suffering.

Again, committing suicide requires courage, however even if it is least courageous option it does not make the action itself wrong. In combat a soldier might commit an act of bravery just because he is afraid of the reaction of his peers if he would not do that action ( this is part of the way how soldiers are conditioned to behave like killing machines ). A good act was motivated by a seemingly bad reason ( cowardliness ). The action also required courage, but perhaps less than facing the other soldiers in his unit.

5.3 Aren't all suicidal people crazy?


No, having suicidal thoughts does not imply that one is crazy, or necessarily mentally ill [9]. For example, Appleby and Condonis[10] write:

The majority of individuals who commit suicide do not have a diagnosable mental illness. They are people just like you and I who at a particular time are feeling isolated, desperately unhappy and alone. Suicidal thoughts and actions may be the result of life's stresses and losses that the individual feels they just can't cope with.
Note that the definition of depression as a diagnosable mental illnesses is inexact, and varies according to the culture and also the person making the diagnosis. It is not unlikely that in a society which objects to suicide, more suicidal people would be unjustly classified as mentally ill in order to be able to enforce treatment upon them. Of course, some people who are suicidal do have some mental illness. Even so, describing someone as "crazy", which has strong negative connotations, isn't helpful and is more likely to dissuade someone from seeking help which may be beneficial, whether they have a diagnosable mental illness or not.

5.4 Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem


First of all, for many, the problems are not temporary. The obvious example is the terminally ill. Depression also, is not "curable" in all cases.

However, even in cases where the problem is temporary suicide could still be a rational decision[11].


[1] David Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul, 1783,
Version 1.0, ed. James Fieser (Internet Release, 1995) historical/david_hume/suicide.html

[2] Robert Wright, The Evolution of Despair, TIME Magazine August 28, 1995 Volume 146, No. 9 archive/1995/950828/950828.cover.html

[3] Alt.Atheism FAQ: Logic and Fallacies - Constructing a Logical Argument

[4] The Oath, Hippocrates, 400 B.C

[5] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, 64,5

[6] Fred Feldman, Confrontations with the Reaper, Oxford University Press, 1992

[7] Karolynn Siegel, Rational Suicide, in "What we Know about Suicidal behavior and how to treat it", Ed. Stanley Leese, 1988.

[8] Maris, R. Suicide, Rights and Rationality. Suicide Life Threat. Behav. 13:223-228, 1983

[9] Greyham Stoney, "Suicide - Frequently Asked Questions" General information about suicide and suicide prevention.

[10] Appleby and Condonis, "Hearing the cry: Suicide Prevention", 1990.

[11] "To Be or Not to Be", To be published


Many of the clichés and answers to them were taken from posts on ash made by Last Year's Man, xopher, steward, chrisleonard, Tiffany H., JDD(Jeff), transhumanist and Mark M. . Special thanks to Skito and xopher for their comments. and to Schop for his comments for his advice on html.

Last update: Tuesday, August 22, 2000 20:07


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