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[LETTERS]Subway suicides not an accident

Feb 19,2009

For four men, the year’s most affectionate holiday was the Valentines Day to end all Valentines days.

This Saturday four men died on the train tracks. Aged between 30 and 71, their deaths were reported as “subway accidents”.

As far as I can tell, throwing oneself in front a train hurtling full speed towards you does not constitute an accident. (With the exception of one man who was killed trying to salvage a body from the tracks).

This languid approach to “accidental suicide” and media preoccupation with safety precautions has meant the real issues have been, ah, railroaded. Screen doors on the platforms of subway stations are a novel idea, to be sure. With swarms of people spilling from platforms onto trains at peak hour, it is only sensible that some form of physical barrier is made between vehicle and crowd. Only 89 of the 265 stations in Seoul have these screen doors, and it’s not good enough.

But the idea that these deaths might inspire authorities to install doors but not to address the incidence of suicide is truly terrifying. If screen doors were in place where these men jumped to their deaths, I imagine the will to die would carry them to another location, inspire them to try another method, transfer the problem from the subway system, elsewhere.

Putting doors in place will not prevent suicide. It will relocate it.

Suicide is a peculiar thing. It’s the most perverse exercise of free will imaginable, and the messiest. Overdosing on sleeping tablets or drinking poison is a quiet plea to slip away into nonexistence. Train-track suicide is not something you do when you want a quiet death. It’s a statement. It’s a desperate act made very public because the perpetrator wants to force onlookers to share in his pain. The train-track jumper sacrifices himself in front of hordes of people because he wants to leave a message. And I’m pretty sure that message is not: “Put more doors on subway platforms”.

When victim and murderer become one, anger and grief and sadness are splayed everywhere. We don’t know what to do, whom to blame, who to be angry with. What we must do is pause, consider what horror might bring someone to take his own life and concede that it might be more than an accident.

These suicides were on Valentine’s Day. Someone who chooses the most love-filled, rosy-pink holiday as the day of his train-trodden suicide does so for a reason. Irony, loneliness, dramatic effect, desperation - I don’t know. Doors or no doors, these men were tortured enough to end their lives, and that’s the part we should be concerned about.

Kate Leaver, student, Sydney University, Australia



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