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Suing clergy, and others, for negligent advice

By William Spaul - posted Monday, 12 March 2018

Modern suicide intervention skills training echoes Frankl by stipulating exploration of reasons for living. If no reason to live is apparent, then a fall-back option is to stay alive to find a reason to live.

In Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, J.M. Hecht argues that anti-suicide ideas should be promoted in society, "lest a person be confronted by suicidal thoughts alone and unarmed, when most vulnerable".

Hecht points out that by staying alive a person avoids causing suffering to their family, friends and community, and avoids increasing the risk that others will suicide.


One can also stay alive to do good. Altruism benefits the helper as well as those they help, because it can lead to meaning, social interaction, and a reason to improve their own health, to be able to help others more.

This is the concept of give and you will receive. It applies not only to volunteer work but also to monetary donations, or even if partly done to benefit oneself.

Earning to give could transform mundane paid work into something more meaningful. Kindness can become a way of life. On average, Australians who volunteer donate more to charity than the average person.

It is vital for those in crisis to seek help, but prevention beats cure. People need meaning to help prevent certain emotional problems, maximise quality of life, and reduce the risk of addictions. In his writings on the search for meaning, Frankl quoted studies which suggested that a high proportion of alcoholics, and other drug addicts, suffer from meaninglessness.

People in difficulty also need something meaningful to sustain them outside business hours when medical practices are closed, if they encounter imperfections in the stretched health system, if they face geographical, financial or other barriers to getting professional help, if they have no friends or family they can turn to, or if phone calls are unanswered.

Some seek ultimate religious meaning. Altruism can provide that too.


The 19th century "deed not creed" movement emphasised the importance of doing good, not beliefs. But deeds can be a creed in themselves. It is not just that faith without works is dead but rather, as Swedenborg said, faith and works are one. To give is to believe.

In 1983, the Australian High Court decided that religion could include belief in a supernatural thing or principle, not just in a guy in the sky. Many have made a religion out of service to others, building their lives on the principle that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, laying down their lives to help others their whole lives through. And some, including C.S. Lewis, have argued that the moral law, summed up by that principle, is supernatural.

For those who want to believe in a god, this principle would make a plausible candidate. A divine person on earth, if any, would simply be the embodiment of it. Prayer would consist of doing good deeds. Curing blindness would be done by kindness, not miracles. The bread of life would consist of fulfillment through helping others, not literal bread. If anything will save us it's loving our neighbours as ourselves.

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About the Author

William Spaul is a lawyer with an interest in legal and moral philosophy.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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