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Stories worth telling: moral experiences of suicidal behavior

Scott J Fitzpatrick
Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics 2014, 4 (2): 147-60
Moral constructions of suicide are deliberately avoided in contemporary suicidology, yet morality persists, little or imperfectly acknowledged, in its practices and in the policies, discourses, and instruments that it underpins. This study used narrative methodologies to examine the normative force of suicidology and its implications for persons who had engaged in an act of nonfatal suicidal behavior. I interviewed a convenience sample of twelve persons from two inner-urban community mental health centers who were receiving crisis and case management services after a recent act of nonfatal suicidal behavior. Interviews focused on events leading up to and after participants' suicidal behavior; the responses their suicidal behavior generated in others, including family, friends, and the health professionals caring for them; and cultural views of suicide more broadly. Analysis of these interviews revealed that, although participants' narratives were broadly consistent with a number of recognizable, canonical story formats common to our cultural repertoire of stories of suicide, they also revealed important tensions, divisions, conflicts, and challenges to contemporary suicidological discourse and practice. Despite evidence to suggest that biomedical understandings of suicide provided some therapeutic benefit to participants, they did not address important social and moral dimensions of human life or explore their connection to suicidal behavior-aspects of the suicidal event that were critical to its causation and to its retelling and "resolution." The results of this study provide important insights into the moral features of suicidal behavior, the moral and ethical implications of suicide research, and the limitations of moral and ethical discourse in suicidology.


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