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What Is Altruistic Suicide?

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Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

Every human who has ever existed and those who still exist have a lot of things in common and one of those things is the need to create a strong lasting impression in the minds of other people.

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History tells us stories of great men and women who took up responsibilities and fought wars for the greater good and became heroes and heroines as a result of their selfless sacrifice for the betterment of other people.

In the present day, we have the movie industries paint us motion pictures of fictional characters with superpowers who take on an identity completely different from their everyday person for the sole purpose of saving the world from impending doom, villains, or an alien invasion. These characters are not just tagged regular heroes but superheroes because of the unique powers each of these individual fictional characters possesses.

While you watch Superman and the other superhero characters do their thing and wonder how the world would be if they were real, someone somewhere just might be reinventing himself to play the role of your fictional superhero in real life.

The question now is, who or what does this person aim to save and how does he/she plan to achieve this goal?

With suicide attacks been an inexpensive and effective way to destabilize political dispensations and drawing attention to religious, political, and ethnic demands, some set of people have chosen to lay down their lives to achieve their superhero goals but is it worth it? Let’s take a little journey to understand altruistic suicide and why people commit altruistic suicide.

What is an altruistic suicide?

Altruistic suicide is one of the four types of suicide identified by Èmile Durkheim. This kind of suicide, just like the egoistic suicide, is influenced by social integration. Altruism means a social behavior of doing good for the benefit of other people.

Hence, altruistic suicide (also called benevolent suicide) happens when a person sacrifices his/her life to save other members of the society, for the benefit of a group, or for the purpose of preserving tradition.

Altruistic suicide happens in a society where there is an existing over-integration. In this kind of society, people have a sense of belonging and thus may feel the urge to put other members of their society first before themselves even in life-threatening situations.

This means the society is void of individualism and people have access to maximum social support. Suicide, in this case, is a social practice that isn’t driven by psychopathology only but is influenced by support from the society. Thus, the act of self-annihilation by the victim is result driven.

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Let us view two examples of suicide in a society with an existing over-integration. Meet Mr. Albert, he is a 43 years old husband and father of four children who has managed to build a healthy relationship between himself and his family over the years and tries his possible best to give them the life they deserve. Mr. Albert notices strange symptoms in his 18yr old son Sam. He becomes very uncomfortable and takes him to the hospital for proper diagnosis of his condition.

The doctor reveals that Mr. Albert’s son has cancer and must start treatment before it gets too late.  Sam knows his parents cannot afford his chemotherapy because of their standard of living thus they will have to secure an interest loan of a huge sum of money for his treatment.

He loves his parents and hates to see them worried or overwork themselves just to take care of his siblings and himself, so he drowns himself in the bathtub to prevent them from spending the little they have and getting a loan.

Sam has committed an altruistic suicide even though his family has to bear the pain of this early demise. What mattered to him at that point was his seemingly good intention of saving his family from debt and stress.

Let us also meet Anna.

Anna is a member of the military in her country and loves her job regardless of the fact that she hardly ever spends time with her family. She feels a sense of satisfaction and achievement because she has fought for her country many times and her family are super proud of the life she chose. Anna and her colleagues go on a rescue mission to save the lives of some people in a restaurant who unbeknownst to them, had a suicide bomber in their midst.

The suicide bomber is also a female who is proud of the step she is about to take because her society needs ethnic cleansing from a particular sub-ethnic group that is becoming overpopulated and will sooner than later, dominate her ethnic group and religion.

Thus, she has chosen to be the savior of her people. She is sponsored by the rulers of her ethnic group and religious body and has been promised a better life for her family if she achieves the purpose of wiping out a large number of the sub-ethnic group that has become a threat to them.

Anna and her colleagues get into the restaurant early enough and try to get people to evacuate the building before an explosion takes place. While the crowd was running out of the building, Anna spots the suicide bomber and decides to hold her down, so she doesn’t mix with the crowd and denote the bomb.

Anna knows she is likely to die in the process, but she would rather save the 1500 lives and lose hers, so she battles with the suicide bomber and they both die as the bomb blows up the building.

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Anna and the suicide bomber committed altruistic suicide the only difference was their perception of good. From both examples above we can see an interaction between altruistic suicide as a social process and social institutions like family politics, and religion.

In 2017, the highest number of female suicide bombers was recorded despite 2017 being the year with the lowest recorded suicide bombing attacks since 2013. A total of 348 suicide attacks leading to 4310 deaths and leaving 6,700 people seriously wounded was recorded to have been carried out in 23 counties around the world. Existing data shows that Approximately 623 suicide attackers were suspect to have been behind these attacks and 137 were women and young girls.

There is almost no way to stop someone who has chosen to commit suicide not only because he/she is sponsored or supported by the group to which they belong, but also because they themselves see and believe in a bigger picture of group benefit.

There is no sense of self outside of the group thus the group becomes life itself and worth sacrificing for. This goes to show that not only people who are perceived as depressed, mentally unstable, or lonely are vulnerable to this deviant behavior called suicide.

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