Act of intentionally taking one's own life. Suicide may have psychological origins such as the difficulty of coping with depression or other mental disorders; it may be motivated by the desire to test the affection of loved ones or to punish their lack of support with the burden of guilt. It may also stem from social and cultural pressures, especially those that tend to increase isolation, such as bereavement or estrangement. Attitudes toward suicide have varied in different ages and cultures; convicted criminals in ancient Greece were permitted to take their own lives, and the Japanese custom of seppuku (also called hara-kiri), or self-disembowelment, allowed samurai to commit ritual suicide as a way of protecting honour and demonstrating loyalty. Jews committed suicide rather than submit to ancient Roman conquerors or crusading knights who intended to force their conversion. In the 20th century, members of new religious movements, notably the Peoples Temple and Heaven's Gate, committed mass suicide. Buddhist monks and nuns have also committed sacrificial suicide by self-immolation as a form of social protest. Japan's use of kamikaze suicide bombers during World War II was a precursor to the suicide bombing that emerged in the late 20th century as a form of terrorism, particularly among Islamic extremists. Suicide, however, is generally condemned by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and attempts to commit suicide are still punishable by law in many countries. Some communities around the world have sought to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Euthanasia was legalized in The Netherlands in 2001 and Belgium in 2002, and it is openly practiced in Colombia. Since the 1950s suicide-prevention organizations have been established in many countries, with telephone hot lines serving as a source of readily available counseling.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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