[Letter] A responsibility for us to take collectively

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[Letter] A responsibility for us to take collectively

President Barack Obama promised a legislative response to gun violence saying, “If there’s even one step we can take to save another child .?.?. then surely we have an obligation to try.” His unyielding eye contact with the crowd and famous finger gestures demonstrated strong determination to take immediate action. It was an appropriate response from the government that must hold every citizen’s life as equally precious.

In the past few years, Korea’s suicide rate has been the highest among 30 OECD countries. Suicide is the most common cause of death for individuals under 40 and second-highest for those between 40 and 60 years old. Such high rates are fairly common for highly industrialized and modern countries that demand arduous working hours and entail serious competition to survive in an industry. But this is way too much.

In response, the Korean government has appointed Internet police officers to scrutinize Internet blogs that encourage group suicides. But, this is simply not enough when so many young individuals, who are full of potential, are voluntarily ending their lives.

Japan shares many cultural similarities with Korea. It has a long history of honorable suicides, originating from samurai and kamikaze during World War II, to avoid disgrace to one’s family. Its suicide rate reached its peak in the early 2000s. In 2007, the Japanese government passed a nine-step plan to decrease the suicide rate by 20 percent by the year 2017.

The plan supports greater research on suicidal motivations, campaigns to change cultural attitudes on suicide and treatment of patients after suicidal attempts. The Japanese government invested 15.8 billion yen ($178 million) and 12.4 billion yen in the plan in 2009 and 2010.

Success was quickly apparent as the government reported a decrease in the rate between September 2009 and April 2010. So, there seems to be something the Korean government can do instead of blaming the results on cultural beliefs and individual problems.

As Korea prepares for the Park Geun-hye administration, suicide should be taken more seriously than in previous governments. The country simply has too much to lose. It is not an individual predicament when an average of 43 people commit suicide every day across the country. This is a responsibility that each of us should collectively take if we wish to live in a society where everyone’s life is sincerely valued.

*David Ikjoon Chang, Student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania
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