Abstract

The medicalization of suicide has its history. This article explores one part of this history: the implementation of eighteenth-century lifesaving programs and their ramifications for the treatment of parasuicides and suicides. These programs are contextualized within early modern population politics. It is argued that, according to lifesaving treatises, enlightened societies, and mandatory regulations, states reconfigured suicides as preventable accidents, that is tragic incidents, which could be prevented through emergency intervention. Thus suicide became a public policy issue which required positive action from the whole of society. At the same time both the stigmatization of unanticipated death and the criminalization of suicide still held sway. For these reasons, novel rescue legislation obliged common people to overcome traditional prejudices, fears, and taboos concerning the touching of apparently dead bodies. This article also reveals incentivization practices necessary to encourage people to intervene. In particular lifesaving programs addressed trained physicians. As is argued, emergency medicine discourse, the implementation of “professional” lifesaving practices, as well as the necessary treatment of suicidal individuals promoted physicians to a more important role in the treatment of suicides than ever before. Therefore both nineteenth-century medicalization of suicide and modern suicide prevention programs cannot be understood without considering the rise of the very idea that a suicide is worth being saved.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 633-650
Launched on MUSE
2013-03-12
Open Access
No
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