On suicide in European countries : some theoretical, legal and historical views on suicide mortality and its concomitants
Abstract: The theme of this thesis is suicide mortality in its various aspects, seen from an international, European perspective. It questions the existence of social (structural) concomitants to suicide mortality and investigates attitudes towards and legislation concerning suicide, as well as some historical processes pertaining to their development.Paper 1 replicates an authoritative study of the "correlates of suicide" on a national level in European countries. It shows that the findings of this study do not hold 16 years later, and it presents some ideas as to why these changes have taken place. It is suggested that there are no simple social correlates to suicide on this level, and that suicide rates tend to vary according to, among other things, international cultural influences.Paper 2 investigates penal legislation relating to suicide in European countries. Three types of punishable action are found: 1) aiding suicide, 2) abetting suicide, and 3) driving somebody to suicide. A majority of European countries include some of these acts in their criminal laws. However, the laws vary very widely between countries, thereby constituting a notable exception to the common presumption of uniformity of law. The scope of the criminalization and the severity of the penalties for the crimes covary both with cultural attitudes towards suicide and with suicide rates. The results are interpreted as indicating the existence of a cultural-normative system, consisting of the cultural attitudes towards suicide, the laws regulating the actions relating to suicide and, perhaps, religion. It influences the occurrence of suicide, mainly by offering individuals cultural models of behavior.Paper 3 describes the process towards the decriminalization of suicide (in 1864) in Sweden, its causes and consequences. It is suggested that the law change took place because of a) the international ideological currents of the time (the heritage of the Enlightenment), b) the examples presented by other European countries, and c) the radical changes in people's behavior. The reform was long overdue, and thus did not have a direct effect on suicide mortality. The increase in Swedish suicide rates in the 19th century is seen as connected with certain aspects of the "modernization" process.Paper 4 addresses the prospects and problems connected with the ap-plication of Talcott Parsons's functionalist theory to suicide research, in particular when contrasting it with Durkheim's theory. It is found that the latter, despite its shortcomings, still dominates socially oriented suicide research. Parsons's theory is seen as implicating the cultural primacy of suicide mortality. Its general usability is, however, highly uncertain since many of its essential constituent parts are not well suited to the subject. A model for suicide rates, consisting of cultural (domestic and inter-national), political, social, diffusion and availability factors is presented.Taken together, the papers constitute a case for cultural (as opposed to socio-structural) research into suicide mortality. They question the repeated testing of structural variables in favor of creating cultural indicators. They suggest some new lines of research, and call for a consistently universal perspective on the problem of suicide and suicide mortality.
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