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Altruistic suicide

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Altruistic suicide is suicide committed for the benefit of others. Falling on a grenade is one such example.[1] Émile Durkheim notes that tribal people sometimes see it as their duty to commit suicide, as when a wife kills herself after her husband dies, or a man kills himself in old age; but Durkheim also observes that altruistic suicide is unlikely to occur much in modern western society where “individual personality is increasingly freed from the collective personality.”[2] Altruistic suicide has been described as an evolutionarily stable strategy.[3] Altruistic suicide has a long history in India, even being noted in the Dharmashastras.[4] Some perceive self-immolation as an altruistic or "worthy" suicide.[5]

Cultural references

In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the character Spock commits an altruistic suicide when he takes a lethal dose of radiation poisoning in order to make repairs so that the starship USS Enterprise can escape destruction.[6]


  1. Blake, JA (Spring 1978). Death by hand grenade: altruistic suicide in combat. Suicide & life-threatening behavior 1 (8): 46–59.
  2. Deniz Yükseker, Lecture on Emile Durkheim, 
  3. Mascaro, Steven, Kevin B. Korb, Ann E. Nicholson (2001). Suicide as an evolutionarily stable strategy. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2159: 120–132.
  4. Vijayakumar, Lakshmi (January 2004). Altruistic suicide in India. Archives of Suicide Research 1 (8): 73–80.
  5. Coleman, Loren (2004). The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines, New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster.
  6. 'Wrath of Khan' Plot summary. Viacom. URL accessed on 20 April 2011.
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