Volume > Issue > Suicide: Human Right or Human Tragedy?

Suicide: Human Right or Human Tragedy?


By Joseph Illo | July-August 2019
Fr. Joseph Illo is Pastor of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco.

Recently, I was bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge with a friend. “They’ve begun building the suicide net,” I said, pointing over the side of the roadway. We stopped our bikes to have a look. An entire superstructure had been installed beneath the bridge, suspended 230 feet above the bay. After decades of debate, the City and County of San Francisco had finally decided to erect a steel-wire net under the bridge at a cost of $220 million. It is hoped that the net will save 40 lives a year, which is about how many unfortunate souls hurl themselves over the bridge’s four-foot railing annually. My parish boundaries include the southern half of the bridge, the San Francisco side, from which every ten days, on average, a person jumps to his death. Every First Friday we offer an afternoon Mass for their souls.

Many times I have stopped my bike on the bridge to peer down into the vast waters. The bridge affords an unimpeded view of sea lions cavorting far below, container ships passing swiftly through the Golden Gate, or small craft battling current and wind in their search for fish or a good view. To the west, an unlimited horizon of sea and sky meets my gaze, and I’ve often marveled at how the waters beckon a troubled heart. It’s not difficult to understand how someone filled with troubles could cast himself into that immense space to be swallowed up in the beauty of God’s sea and sky. The suicide net will extend about 25 feet out, blocking the view straight down. Maybe that will dissuade potential jumpers, but it will also eliminate the stunning view of the bay right below it.

How ironic it is that San Francisco decided to spend $220 million on suicide prevention at just about the same time the State of California decided to legalize assisted suicide. In June 2016 Jesuit-educated Gov. Jerry Brown made California the fifth state in the nation to do so. The result, so far, is that 191 Californians have been given lethal prescriptions by their doctors.

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