WITHOUT much thought many may be likely to answer the above title with the reply that there is no such thing in England as legal suicide. Nevertheless they may be quite wrong, as I shall attempt to show. With the law it is all a question of intent and how long it takes to accomplish the business. In the eyes of the law if one takes a quantity of pure alcohol with the intention of committing suicide it is an illegal act, but there is no law to stop him from getting dead drunk every night of the week with the mistaken idea of having a good time.
The results of consuming the alcohol will be slower but none the less sure on that account. It may be answered, “But it is illegal to get drunk, and one may be prosecuted.” But is it? Of the thousands of prosecutions that take place every week has any reader ever seen a report of one for drunkenness alone? No, it must be drunk and incapable, drunk and obstructive, drunk and molesting, drunk and assault, drunkenness and rowdyism.
In fact drunkenness may be tacked on to any other crime you like to mention, but no prosecution can take place for drunkenness alone. A man can get drunk as often as he likes, but as long as he has a friend or a paid servant to see him home he will not fall into the hands of the police. Nevertheless he is committing suicide slowly but surely.
My object, however, in writing the above is to show that we all, in a greater or less degree, are committing legal suicide, inasmuch as every day we do things and leave things undone which we know, if we are brave enough to admit it, are not beneficial to health and so tend to shorten life.
I would be the last to say that such suicidal intentions are always morally wrong; in fact they are undoubtedly often highly commendable. Take but one example. Who would dare say that the great reformers of the past who wrote themselves out and shortened their lives for their fellows, acted without justification? They spent their lives believing “He that saveth his life shall lose it”, and all such have their reward.
This, however, does not justify actions that tend to shorten life, to satisfy ones own likes and dislikes, and for no good purpose. Two everyday illustrations might be mentioned. One of the hundreds of thousands of fair ladies who are suffering from chronic constipation is informed that there is only one hope for her and that is to alter her present mode of living by giving up the habitual use of tea and white bread.
Whether she believes it or nor and she does not want to believe it she refuses to test it. Can such conduct be anything less than sure if slow legal suicide? And are such lives life indeed?.
Again, there are in England perhaps as many men of all ages and classes who cannot live without smoking as there are women who cannot live without tea and white bread.
Many of them are honest enough to admit that it is a habit that has grown on them to such an extent that it would be easier to give up anything else rather than smoking, while others add, “If it does mean a shortening of life, I prefer to die a few years sooner, rather than give it up.” In other words they have become perfect slaves to a pernicious habit. These are men who believe in freedom and sing “Britons never shall be slaves”.
“Men whose boast it is that ye
Come of fathers brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?”.
No, in the words of Democritus, “He who subdues his passions is more heroic than he who vanquishes an enemy.” Both writer and readers, however, while not indulging in alcohol, tea or tobacco, none-the-less live in glass houses, and have no business to throw stones at others.
Within a week recently the writer received letters from three individuals, all describing their ailments and asking what to eat to get fit. One was a minister of religion, one from an M.D. and the other from a business man, and they all more or less admitted that unwise living had brought about their unsatisfactory state of health.
In other words they each and all felt, including the minister of religion, that they had failed to follow the injunction that “ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy (wholly) and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service”.
How many of us, it may be asked, do our best to live up to such instructions? I have yet to find a man or woman who could conscientiously state that they possessed both mind and body in the perfect condition they would like, and when confronted with the truth would not have to admit that in every particular the trouble has been brought about by sins of commission or omission. And each and all tend to shorten life. Legal suicide!.
None of us can neglect the use of a single muscle of our body without it becoming more or less useless. Waste matter and impurities collect where healthy muscles, blood and tissue should exist. Unfitness takes the place of fitness and stagnation takes the place of life. The body as a whole is only as strong as its weakest spot, and when illness comes Natures spring cleaning the work commences at the weakest spot and if this cannot stand the strain, death will soon follow.
The same law is at work in the realm of the mind as in that of matter. The mind, both conscious or subconscious, only acts as it is trained to act. Even in the matter of remembering names, lines of poetry that strike us, correct spelling, or anything else, we only have to treat any such matters as unimportant and not worth troubling about, and the mischief is done.
In all such cases the mind is already more or less useless and dead, and we cease to climb to the knowledge, measure and stature of a perfect man. This reminds me of something I once heard the late George MacDonald startle a very aristocratic drawing room audience by saying, “Never tell your child he has a soul, tell him he has a body. The soul is self. The soul possesses the body, the body does not possess the soul”.
Having said so much it is not hard to connect the argument up with Vegetarianism. My space, however, is limited, and I must conclude in the December issue.