The Dark, Dark Wood of Suicidernby Bill MurchisonrnAmong the many haunting and piteous images from thernInfemo of Dante is this one. The travelers, in Canto XIII,rnenter a pathless wood. Dante, on Virgil’s coaching, snaps a twigrnfrom a thorn tree. The tree yelps in pain, and no wonder. Therntree is the transmuted personage of a formerly great Florentine,rnPier delle Vigne, who had been counselor to the emperor FrederickrnII. How, then, did he become a tree? The envy of othersrnbrought him down. “Glad honours turned to obloquies” (asrnthe Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation would have it).rnSo, in a scornful spirit of disgust,rnAnd thinking to escape from scorn by death.rnTo my just self] made myself unjust.rnKilled himself, in other words, by means unspecified here.rnMiss Sayers expatiates in a footnote: “Accused of conspiringrnagainst his master, he was disgraced, imprisoned, and blinded,rnand in despair took his own life.” Becoming, in consequence,rna thorn tree, with leaves that Harpies loved to gnaw.rnAgain, Miss Sayers:rnThe sin of Suicide is, in an especial manner, an insult tornthe body; so, here, the shades are deprived of even thernsemblance of the human form. As they refused life, theyrnremain fixed in a dead and withered sterility. They arernthe image of the self-hatred which dries up the ver’ saprnof energy and makes all life infertile.rnBill Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist for thernDallas Morning News.rnWould you say there is a problem here? Most moderns likelyrnwould. The theological strictures against suicide are easyrnenough, perhaps, to defend in the abstract. Then the Wood ofrnthe Suicides heaves into view, and there is the thorn tree knownrnin the day of simshine and honor as Pier delle Vigne. Disgraced,rnabandoned, blinded: Well, naturally he killed himself!rnWliy not? The temptation to say so is immense and, may I add,rnunderstandable in everyday, ordinary human terms. That thernpitiful Pier, by ending his worldly sufferings, brought himselfrnpains far worse is, shall we say, a hard sell in the Age ofrnEmpathy.rnThe tug of war between suffering and escape persistsrnthroughout literature and history. Here is Kipling, just a centuryrnago, counseling “the young British soldier”:rnWhen you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains.rnAnd the women come ’round to cut up what remains.rnJust roll to your rifle and blow out your brainsrnAnd go to your Gawd like a soldier.rnWith never a thought for thorn trees, the poet might havernadded.rnThe rise of the “assisted” suicide movement, pushing itselfrnup like a weed patch through the manicured grass of the oldrnmoral-religious order, lays these matters urgently before us. Dr.rnJack Kevorkian’s “patients” claim the right to end their sufferings.rnOregon has lately ratified that desire. It cannot end here.rnWhy accord the terminally ill rights superior to those enjoyedrnby the merely despondent or world-weary? Under the Oregonrndispensation, poor Pier delle Vigne could not have obtainedrnpermission to take himself off.rnAUGUST 1998/17rnrnrn