When answers to a question touch on medical advice, to what extent should we be concerned?

And what about when they should touch on medical advice, but don't?

Will suicide keep me out of Heaven?

Not one of the answers to that question mention that most victims of suicide are suffering from severe depression.

Suicide is most commonly a result of hopelessness.

Nonsense. Suicide is most commonly a result of clinical depression.

The answers given will have only one effect: they will add to the agony of those bereaved by suicide. None of the answers demonstrate any understanding whatsoever of the reality of suicide. All treat the question as a simple logic puzzle.

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    And make no mistake: advice about suicide is indeed medical advice.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:19
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    You speak of "clinical depression" as if it were some sort of first cause, which is kind of silly. Where does clinical depression come from? What causes it? Should it be regarded as a disease, like the flu, as something that just happens to people sometimes, essentially because they were unlucky? If not, then the entirety of your position is reducible to whining that people on a site about Christian doctrine are expressing Christian viewpoints in matters of cause and effect, and not naturalistic ones. Which is also kind of silly.
    – Mason Wheeler Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:27
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    @MasonWheeler: Clinical depression is a mental illness. The causes are not fully understood, but genetic or biological factors are known to play a role. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:46
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    Interestingly, the answers to @dancek's followup question about clinical depression take a much more sober approach to the reality of mental illnesses. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 3:58
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    Is hopelessness a medical condition? Is clinical depression a spiritual condition? Aren't you comparing apples and grapefruit?
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 13:27
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    @PeterTurner: Depression can cause feelings of hopelessness, so hopelessness itself is not a medical condition, it can be a symptom of one. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:26
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    "should touch on medical advice" - I think that the only extent to which medical advice should be given in answers is "seek medical advice". Generally, it should be considered off topic for this site. For example, in the suicide question, discussing medical causes of suicide is off topic for this site, while doctrinal implications are on topic. If you are seeking medical advice around suicide or anything else, ask somewhere else.
    – user971
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 21:07

4 Answers 4


I've added my own answer, and in the process realized the question wasn't about suicide per se. The OP is not asking, "Are people who commit suicide excluded from heaven?" but rather, "Can I get to heaven sooner by taking my own life?"

Given that, I wonder whether the question would be improved by changing the title to something that's not centered around suicide? Even then, there's still a problem in that the question refers to suicide as a logical choice.

I think that's what some of the answers are trying to combat, the notion that suicide is logical. But the way they go about it is just...beyond the pale.

I realize that, although Stack Exchange markets itself as an expert site, nobody can be an expert at everything. I don't expect C.SE users to be expert psychiatrists.

Still, it doesn't require too much experience with suicidal people to know that calling it a selfish choice—as two of the answers do—is just not the way you respond to a person who uses the words "suicide" and "logical" in the close proximity. More often this is something said to family and friends after the fact, in an attempt to assuage their survivor's guilt, and even then it's the wrong response.

We can't be a counseling service, I agree. But if, by any chance, someone lands here looking for help, we could at least get them pointed in the right direction while there's still time to avert a tragedy.


First, I want to agree with you that suicide is often caused by clinical depression or other factors largely out of the control of the victim. Second, I want to agree that depression is often caused (at least in part) by physiological as well as spiritual and psychological conditions. Third, we should not be in the position of giving personal advice whether pastoral or medical.

To everyone else, please be aware that more people will read your answers than you will ever meet. Most readers will find your answer via Google who may very well be struggling with various issues that share keywords with our questions. On a regular basis we see people post answers which are cries for help or rants against how Christianity has hurt them or their family. These folks exist and are quietly watching us, so we need to be careful about how we treat questions that are likely to touch these nerves.

Clinical depression is a medical condition that can, for some people, be treated with medication. When a close family member was diagnosed with depression, I discovered that many of my friends at church are also struggling with the condition. Some have not responded to any medication. Suicide is one extreme response to untreated (or untreatable) depression. Were I to be grieving for a victim of suicide, I would hope that I could find sympathy on a site with Christianity in it's name.

However, we can take this responsibility too far. We can't solve, or even address, all the baggage people bring with them to our site. We need to be sensitive to such baggage, but we can't be crippled by it. Our site is (or ought to be) a place where academic questions of Christianity are asked and answered. Our model is not a church or a support group, but a university department. We must cater to our students and instructors, not the people who sit in the back auditing the class. A religious studies professor might mention that students with depression ought to seek help, but they can't be expected to take class time to deal with that tangential issue fully. No doubt, they would refer students to the school's counseling structure instead.

If you find yourself in TRiG's position, I recommend you provide an answer that communicates your concern. Then, if you still feel other answers (inadvertently) give dangerous advice, you might provide comments to that effect. In any case, a post to meta and/or a mention on our chat room is always a good idea when you see something going wrong on the site.

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    I'm just worried that depression was never even mentioned in any of the answers. Also, calling suicidal thoughts selfish (as at least one of the answers did) is ... not helpful.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 19:11

This is the nature of the site. Someone asks a doctrinal or historical question regarding Christianity, and doctrinal or historical answers regarding Christianity are given. Medical questions and answers are off-topic.

A doctrinal (not medical) question was asked. Doctrinal answers (of varying quality) were given. I'm surprised that you're surprised at this. If I were to ask a doctrinal question regarding my eternal state for having contracted a venereal disease from my spouse, who promised me that they were faithful, you wouldn't expect a screen full of answers regarding medical advice.

There are also such things in Christianity as hard truths. We can do our best to avoid adding insult to injury, but some things are by nature difficult teachings. The questioner asked something that in some traditions will garner hard answers because these answers comprise the understanding of how said tradition interprets scripture and historical tradition. This cannot be sidestepped, and I see no reason to try to distract from these doctrines by inserting medical advice.

It comes down to this: on a site devoted to Christian answers, you can pretty well assume that more respondents than not are Christians. You should not be surprised then when these people choose to share the hard teaching of what they believe to be handed down from God.

I suspect that your main complaint with this question (and I could be wrong) is that the doctrinal answers put the onus of suicide avoidance on one suffering from something that is outside their control. That's a pretty fair complaint to make. If you believe that Christian doctrine demonstrates that such a person has a lack of moral accountability in this circumstance, or that God will always lovingly pardon the victim because of this situation, then that is an answer you should post. Your opinion of doctrine does not automatically invalidate every other person's interpretation.

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    I'm not trying to speak for TRiG, but I don't think the doctrine is the issue here. The issue is that those doctrines are backed by erroneous claims about the most common cause of suicide. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 4:03
  • @Bruce is exactly right. And he's also right to note that the question about depression has much higher quality answers.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 10:01
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    @Bruce That is simply not true. Take a look at the accepted answer for that question. It is purely doctrinal in nature. Trig's comment on that answer is akin to asking whether the victim was in their right mind. The plain fact is that he's upset there that there were doctrinal-natured answers given. He's also drawing an equivalence between the answers and "medical advice," as is demonstrated by the title and content of this question. If that's not what he's upset over, then he's worded it extremely poorly. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 13:00
  • @SanJacinto: First, the doctrine in the accepted answer is just plain wrong. "To take your own life is to despair of life itself. This is fundamentally at odds with Christian belief." Yet the top answer to Dancek's question quotes 2 Corinthians 1:8, "we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life." Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:05
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    @SanJacinto But the larger point is this: If I had a friend who said, "I don't see a reason to go on living," and I replied, "Your feelings of hopelessness are fundamentally at odds with Christian belief," but completely ignored the possibility of a medical condition, then my negligence could actually help my friend along the path to suicide. It is vitally important, literally a matter of life and death that we understand how brain chemistry can affect people's moods. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:12
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    @Bruce your first comment: it depends on which doctrine you're speaking of. If you don't agree, then add a defensible answer. To your second comment, this is not the scope of the site. Nobody has stated they don't see a reason to go on living. Someone has asked a doctrinal, not pastoral question, expecting doctrinal, not pastoral answers. It was not, as is claimed, an appeal for advice concerning suicide. If you don't understand this distinction, you do not understand the point of the question, Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:21
  • @Bruce let me clarify: I agree with the premise of clinical depression as a significant influence the cause of suicide (I truthfully am ignorant as to whether it is the primary cause), and I agree that it is a medial condition. The distinction is that the question was not regarding medical advice, and such advice would be off-topic. Is that more clear? Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:25
  • @SanJacinto: OK, I understand and agree that the answers are primarily doctrinal, and that the question is not asking for pastoral advice. This is a site for doctrine, not for pastoring. But if these doctrinal positions form the basis of pastoral counseling outside of this site, there could be trouble. Doctrines do not exist in a vacuum. If they can't be applied in practice, it doesn't matter how rational they sound in theory. I'll try to put together my own answer to the question. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 15:45

Just as Abortion is not a medical procedure, it is child murder. Suicide is not a medical procedure, it is self-murder.

The reason suicide is so heinous a sin and the reason this question comes up again and again is because suicide is an offense against the Holy Spirit. The offense is mitigated by the mental state of the individual committing the crime, but it is an offense nonetheless. It is presuming, either through despair (or hopelessness) that one's soul is not worth saving or through delusional thoughts that one knows they are beyond God's judgement.

It is primarily a spiritual crime since the primary object, the thing that cannot be undone, is separating the soul from the body.

Grave moderns told us that we must not even say "poor fellow," of a man who had blown his brains out, since he was an enviable person, and had only blown them out because of their exceptional excellence. Mr. William Archer even suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-the-slot machines, by which a man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the cross-roads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes -- for it makes even crimes impossible.

G.K. Chesterton - Orthodoxy - Chapter 5

  • Murder is a legal term, not a moral one. Neither abortion nor suicide are murder in any jurisdiction I know of. Stop digging holes. And stop lying.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 13:58
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    If abortion isn't murder in countries where it is illegal, then what is it?
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 14:40
  • It's a crime. It's not murder. Basic fact.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 15:16
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    You are certainly free to argue on the grounds of legal positivism when it is convenient. Abortion is not manslaughter because it is not accidental. Abortion (as murder) is not self-defense if the life of the mother and child cannot be saved then it is permissible you will never, ever see a case where it is known that the mother will die if the child is born, abortion is not suicide (at least in a physical sense) the child being killed is a separate human being. So, if you want to identify which crime it is, abortion is either abortion (handy truism) or abortion is murder.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 15:44
  • (a) I'm not sure why you posted this answer, as it has little or nothing to do with my concern. (b) Asserting that abortion is murder does not make it so.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:03
  • @Peter: I don't think anyone (here) is arguing that suicide is a medical procedure, but rather that many suicides could be prevented through medical intervention. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:30
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    (a) Mainly answered to quote Chesterton. (b) I think you're asserting that suicide counseling is wholly medical field and if it's a term for the medical field then you're 3/4 of the way to euthanasia. Because you'd have to weigh your options and in certain cases, medical ethicists would even prescribe suicide. This is all bunk and no matter how many laws are written to allow euthanasia are written, it will always be murder.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:33
  • @trig asked a question to test my assertion. You may think that whether or not the Church calls abortion murder is irrelevant. But, if you find out one day (like I did) that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth and that everything she teaches is right, that'll make the question much more pertinent.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:47
  • You're completely distorting what I've said. Suicide counseling is not wholly a medical field, but in many cases medicines can alleviate the symptoms of depression that lead a person to contemplate suicide. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:49
  • The only options to weigh are whether the particular case can be better treated through therapy, medicine, or a combination. In no case should euthanasia ever be considered. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:50
  • @BruceAlderman I was responding to Trig, writing it while you responded (although you did somewhat read my mind, I should have @'ed him as I saw your message too)
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:51
  • @PeterTurner: Ah, sorry. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:55
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    @bruce I think you're right and trig's right too - to a point. The spiritual component of suicide has to be taken into account, I think it's much, much more important than the medical side, but that's debatable. I mean, the Catholic Church teaches that despair is the absolute worst thing a person can do! Catholic countries have a much lower suicide rate than primarily-non-christian, protestant/secular influenced or former soviet bloc countries en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 16:57
  • @Peter: That's interesting about suicide rates. I see that many Muslim (Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan) and Eastern Orthodox (Greece, Cyprus) nations have low suicide rates too. I wonder to what extent the Protestant work ethic contributes to the despair of marginalized people. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 17:48
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    Yeah, nearly all of the top ten are either former soviet bloc countries or secular shame societies. When the culture does not affirm the worth of every human being, it will naturally drive up the suicide rate. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 18:16

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