Suicide talk on Death Cafe

Posted by Josefine Speyer on April 5, 2014, 9:14 a.m. 7 comments

Suicide talk on Death Cafe

Has the issue of plans for a possible suicide ever been dicsussed at one of your Death Cafes? At a Death Cafe last year, a person in late middle age, ill with cancer spoke about her thoughts of wanting to have the option to commit suicide when she is very ill, to prevent suffering and to speed up the dying process.

I do not think that she was planning this in the immediate future. In any case, the woman who was facilitating the small table, had not been prepared for this situation. I had not briefed her on how to handle this situation. It had never come up before. Has the subject ever come up in your Death Cafes?

There was a concern for the facilitator that other participants around the table fell into suggesting ways to help the ill person, rather than just allowing the person to air her view. She subsequently expressed concern about ethical or even criminal issues around this.

I spoke to Jon who made these very sensible comments:

Hi Josefine,

Thanks for raising this with me. Here are some initial thoughts:

- Death Cafe is not really set up for people who are dealing with these issues. It wasn't created with people like this in mind. There are many services better set up to deal with issues such as suicide than us

- We don't adopt positions on any issues including (especially!) those such as suicide, euthanasia etc. We have a principle of not leading people to any product, conclusion or course of action. Death Cafe as an organisation never takes any stance

- Death Cafe is very much an open forum for discussing any aspect of death. We have considered the possibility of tslking about suicide in the context of Death Cafe before, please see here from our old site:

-  It is the facilitators responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the Death Cafe. This goes for all involved i.e. in this case the person who wants to talk about any specific subject and those that are hearing it. We don't say what constitutes safety because this changes according to many factors such as the people involved and the cultural and legal context.

- We ask facilitators to be aware of local services so that if they are concerned about someone they can refer / offer the right information.

- This is the first time that someone talking about suicide at a specific Death Cafe has been raised as an issue with me. It is good that we talk about this.

Let's hear your comments!

Good wishes,




Wish to Hasten Death

Thank you for Death Cafes!

Self-life-taking has been a topic at all five of the Death Cafes I've attended.

While it's a more taboo topic than natural death, it's definitely part of the spectrum.

Many people with cancer and terminal illnesses fight long and hard to stay alive, but death is inevitable for everyone. And, by the time it's on the near horizon, we don't always want to live through the entire dying trajectory before meeting it.

The Wish to Hasten Death (WTHD) by terminally ill might not be rightfully termed suicide.

Instead it may be experienced as freedom and release. And a conscious choice to move the date of death a bit closer after having pushed it away during treatment.

Compassion and Choices, Dignity in Dying, Compassion in Dying and similar organizations may be supportive to those facing death, as are hospice and palliative care providers.

Modern medical treatments, while powerful and capable of extending life, don't always grant good quality of life. And death is inevitable.

Here's a link to local news article about Death Cafes - I'm the woman in green.

And here's an article on WTHD
What Lies behind the Wish to Hasten Death? A Systematic Review and Meta-Ethnography from the Perspective of Patients
Monforte-Royo C, Villavicencio-Chávez C, Tomás-Sábado J, Mahtani-Chugani V, Balaguer A.
2012 May 14
PLoS One
a free full text article

Posted by Stephanie S.

Facilitators and topic of suicide

This has come up before, as I have brought this topic up. I once had someone who self reported that he was actively having suicidal thoughts come to one of my death cafes. This is rare, but it can and has happened. This is the reason that I have advocated for at least one of the facilitators to have a counseling background. That does not mean that I intervene or actively redirect. I think how we present the event and how we introduce it are important components in creating a safe environment. Part of creating that safe environment means that you create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing what is on their minds. That being said, I feel Death Cafe is helpful for people and does not in any way create or encourage feelings that are not already existing.

Posted by Columbus Death Cafe/Lizzy Miles

inappropriate post?

your post is not relevant to the discussion. it is no surprise to me that the topic has come up at the last 5 death cafes you have attended because it appears that you feel strongly about the topic and have an agenda. Death Cafe does not take a stance on political issues. This discussion section is not a forum for debate or advocacy.

Posted by Columbus Death Cafe/Lizzy Miles

Suicide talk

I think talking about suicide is a very natural conversation to have at a Death Cafe. We do have the freedom to talk about how we feel with out being judge? Right? Maybe we as facilitators should feel comfortable with this subject. What is different? It is no more uncomfortable to talk about or to listen to that maybe say a person is non christian listening to a christian speak of god and heaven? Just because some one speaks of suicide does not mean they are thinking of it. And the truth is that only that person has the power to choose to end there own life no matter how much therapy is involved. Death Cafe is not a counseling group or bereavement group. However it is a safe place for one to express there thoughts and suicide is someones one of those thoughts.

Posted by Debbie

I was a bit concerned about posting this. I thought it might seem as if suicide is all we talk about at Death Cafes and play into misconceptions that Death Cafes are just for people with an unhealthy attitude towards death. As we know, nothing could be further from the truth.

However I though that it is really important to bring these issues out openly. The questions Josefine asks have never been asked to me before. By talking openly about this I think we help to make Death Cafe (which to me already feels very safe) as safe as possible. Please do share your thoughts.

Posted by Jon Underwood

Topic of Suicide

If this came up at a death café that I was facilitating, I would first validate the person's wish to have options at the end of life. Then I would mention that hospice, in most cases, does a very good job of managing end-of-life symptoms and that many people who express a wish to die are really not wanting to die--they just want to be out of pain. And, I would not dwell on this issue but offer the person to speak with me after the event was over. We DO want people to feel safe in verbalizing their feelings and ideas but don't want to turn others off. It's definitely a balancing act!

Posted by Paula Schneider

Seattle Lightworker

I am 63 years old and have learned by my experience all
over the world inside and out,
that suicide usually means
SOMETHING wants to die, some part of who we or they are, and it's very useful to know what part or parts.
& NVC can really help See!

Posted by John F Reed

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