It's not suicide

'Suicide' means

suicide, n.1 a. One who dies by his own hand; one who commits self-murder. Also, one who attempts or has a tendency to commit suicide.

suicide, n.2 a. The or an act of taking one's own life, self-murder.

(OED Online)

As can be seen from those definitions, 'suicide' has a denotational association with 'murder'. Citing only the relevant senses, 'murder' means

A. n.
1. The action or an act of killing.
a. The deliberate and unlawful killing of a human being, esp. in a premeditated manner; (Law) criminal homicide with malice aforethought (occas. more fully wilful murder); an instance of this.

In Old English the word could be applied to any homicide that was strongly reprobated. It is therefore sometimes difficult, esp. in early use, to distinguish clearly between this sense and sense A. 1c.
c. The action of killing or causing destruction of life, regarded as wicked and morally reprehensible irrespective of its legality (e.g. in relation to war, death sentences passed down by tribunals, and other socially sanctioned acts of killing); an instance of this.

(op. cit. Emphasis mine.)

The denotational association of 'suicide' with 'murder', which is a "wicked and morally reprehensible" act, leads many to the view that

it is not suicide in the traditional sense when a cogent, non-depressed person, [often] elderly, chooses to die in a non-violent manner with family in attendance and/or in support.

From Report of the "ALT Suicide" Group: See this report for details on the results of three surveys, the responses to which also suggested that 'suicide' is widely considered an inappropriate word to use when referring to the type of death described.

What is it?

What would be good single words to use for the following senses, parallel to the senses of 'suicide' given above:

n.1 a. One who chooses to die for good and compelling reasons. Also, one who attempts to die for good and compelling reasons.

n.2 a. The or an act of killing oneself for good and compelling reasons.

  1. Dignicide has been suggested and is a neologism in use with those senses, but the results of the three surveys detailed in the report cited previously ("Report of the 'ALT Suicide' Group") suggest that coinage is not generally looked upon favorably.
  2. Euthanasia is another possibility. It doesn't work for sense 1, and no derivational form (for example, 'self-euthanist') is in contemporary use with that sense. For sense 2, 'euthanasia' does have a similar meaning:

In recent use: The action of inducing a gentle and easy death.

However, 'euthanasia' does not work in an example sentence such as

Mr. X YZ committed euthanasia.

because it does not have the denotational reflexivity ("taking one's own life") of 'suicide'. Even supposing that limitation could be acceptably overcome by a nonce-word or neologism such as 'self-euthanized', for example,

Mr. X YZ self-euthanized or committed self-euthanization.

it may be felt that 'euthanasia', like 'suicide', is "strongly reprobated".

  • 5
    I thought the term "Euthanasia" was commonly used in this circumstance. – Solocutor Mar 31 '16 at 17:00
  • 7
    dignicide sounds wrong. Killing dignity? Doesn't follow the forms of all the other "-cides", fratricide, matricide, regicide, etc, etc.... – Brad Mar 31 '16 at 17:18
  • 20
    Why wouldn't it be suicide? – Steven Littman Mar 31 '16 at 17:44
  • 4
    Isn't this just more political correctness crap? Trying to create a new word due to certain personal emotion laden associations with a word by a small group of people. David Mulroy in his book The War Against Grammar mentions this, which why we stopped using "retarded" to describe mentally slow people and started using "special" because the latter suggests different but still, well, special. – Danny Rodriguez Mar 31 '16 at 18:39
  • 8
    I disagree with the premise of your question -- so much so that I recuse myself from voting to close. M-W defines suicide as "the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind". Why do we need another word for what is, in some cases, a rational response to an intolerable and hopeless situation? – ab2 Mar 31 '16 at 20:04

Regardless of whether Alan Turing committed suicide or not, the issue raised in that link simply concerns whether it was a deliberate act on Turin's part or not.

But suppose you do decide that Turing's death was indeed suicide (because he couldn't go on in the face of what he must have felt was truly barbaric treatment by the authorities, a decision probably quite rationally arrived at). How would you unambiguously distinguish that from anyone else who opts for euthanasia? Which they'd never have offered Turing, any more than Ian Brady.

Bottom line: suicide is the voluntary act of killing yourself (or allowing yourself to die / be killed) because you prefer that to the alternative (staying alive in your perceived circumstances). Only sometimes (admittedly, too often) is it fair to say it's a lonely violent act by a depressed person.

  • 3
    Concur, also consider assisted suicide. – jxh Mar 31 '16 at 21:23
  • 3
    Why is Alan Turing relevant here? The question is about elderly people ending their life, - not people who have been subject to injustices. – dwjohnston Apr 1 '16 at 1:57
  • This 'answer' is an attempt to hijack the question: Turing's death has nothing to do with either the question or an answer; 'suicide' was implicitly rejected as an answer, because the question implicitly seeks 'a good single word to substitute for "suicide"'. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 6:33
  • 1
    @JEL, dwjohnston: I chose Turing as a well-known example that falls somewhere on the continuum with OP's "lonely violent act by a depressed person" near one end, and a terminally ill person knowingly taking high doses of painkillers which will lead to respiratory failure near the other end. The point being that both acts are a voluntary response to actual/perceived adverse circumstances, which in English is called suicide (and requests for neologisms are Off Topic here). – FumbleFingers Apr 1 '16 at 12:34
  • ... "neologisms aren't Off Topic per se" -- FumbleFingers, July 9, 2013. The radical editing of the question here was way out of line, not being at all in line with the intentions of the OP. 'Dignicide', for example, is in use by others, although close-voting out of sheer disgust (or for any other reason) is justified. And 'suicide' has a variety of synonyms, yet the 'answer' you've given doesn't mention why only 'suicide' will work. It all amounts to a wholesale rejection of the question on specious grounds. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 19:00

assisted suicide is often used is in the context of legality of the intentionally undertaking a lethal proceedure with the intention of ending one's life, with the assistance of a doctor for example. See the wikipedia article.

The wikipedia article provides a good list of euphamisms:

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are sometimes combined under the umbrella term "assisted dying", an example of a trend by advocates to replace the word "suicide" with "death" or ideally, "dying".

Other euphemisms in common use are "physician-assisted dying", "physician-assisted death", "aid in dying", "death with dignity", "right to die" "compassionate death", "compassionate dying", "end-of-life choice", and "medical assistance at the end of life".

Googling assisted dying also brings the same results.

There is a clear distinction between what's considered assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

Assisted suicide/dying requires the subject to undertake the proceedure themselves (eg. eat the pills, put the gas mask on, etc). The assistance may be rendered in the form of selecting the dose, prepping the mask etc.

Voluntary euthanasia on the other hand, has an external party administering the proceedure. eg. the doctor gives the patient a lethal injection, puts the mask on the patient.

This here is a good resource highlighting the difference, from an organisation that advocates assisted suicide, but not voluntary euthanasia.

  • 1
    Upticked. See 'REPORT OF THE “ALT SUICIDE” GROUP' for some background not given by the (unclear/incomplete) question. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 6:37
  • @JEL Context! If the OP had cited that article, and/or posted a graph, the question would have immeasurably improved and be still open. I would if I were you, edit your answer and include a brief summary of that paper. It is interesting and it deals specifically with language. – Mari-Lou A Apr 1 '16 at 7:33
  • @Mari-LouA, yours is a good idea. I'm struggling to think how best to implement it. At first I was inclined to delete my answer; then I vacillated around editing the question; then...paralysis! I'm still thinking though. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 7:41
  • 1
    @JEL Radical edit, delete the previous suggestions or (if that's too heartbreaking) mention both of them in one or two sentences. – Mari-Lou A Apr 1 '16 at 7:53
  • @Mari-LouA, a good suggestion. I'm not attached to the words I proposed--the background trashed my answer--but I'm having a hard time thinking of a good word to recommend in their place. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 7:56

There is actually quite a specific term that describes the act of an elderly person killing him or herself

Senicide or geronticide is the abandonment to death, suicide or killing of the elderly.


Suicide is still considered a sin by many Christians, and many of us associate the act of committing suicide with a violent end, or as the final most desperate of solutions. This is not necessarily true for the elderly who lose the will to live. Some reach a point in their lives where they no longer want to continue living for whatever reason; be it for ill health, loneliness or the loss of a spouse, these elderly people have decided to let go of life.

Giving Up the Will to Live

Many studies have been conducted on the theory of the will to live. Among these studies are subject to the difference in gender and the elderly and also in the terminally ill. One study focused on a simple question that asked about rating one’s will-to-live and presented the findings that elderly participants reporting a stronger will-to-live and strengthened or stable will-to-live survived longer in comparison to those with a weak will-to-live

EDIT April 3 2016

The new edit would have been better posed as a separate new question. It has eradicated one of the key words that was in the original question, the elderly. As a result, my answer has been invalidated, or at best, appears only loosely related.

The original and much shorter request asked for a word that could be used in place of suicide where the persons involved are either the elderly and dying, or the elderly and the terminable ill. I believe there is a distinct difference between a healthy 20 year-old taking their life and that of an aged person who makes the decision to stop living and "gives up". I've personally seen cases where elderly people in nursing homes literally waste away, give up the fight, and become increasingly infirm and passive in a matter of months. I believe that this is a form of volitive self-neglect, quite different from someone who takes a gun to their head.

It is my understanding that the following statistics concern the USA:

Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide for men and women, accounting for 60 percent of all suicides. Nearly 80 percent of all firearm suicides are committed by white males. The second most common method for men is hanging; for women, the second most common method is self-poisoning including drug overdose.

Source: Medicine Net

Senicide or self-senicide might clarify the victim who committed suicide is an aged person, and the method chosen to end that existence was a more passive and, possibly, more composed death but not any less sad.

  • 3
    Nice find! I have to give you a +1 even though I quibble with the fundamental premise of the question itself (i.e. that this is something other than "suicide", or that other kinds of suicide are somehow less dignified or more shameful). – Dan Bron Mar 31 '16 at 19:47
  • 9
    Surely senicide or geronticide is the killing of the elderly by others; it's not self-inflicted. The unique nature of killing oneself can only be described as suicide, surely. – Andrew Leach Mar 31 '16 at 20:02
  • Apparently and according to Wiki, it encompasses the killing of self and by others. – Mari-Lou A Mar 31 '16 at 20:05
  • Almost verbatim: Some reach a point in their lives where they no longer want to continue living for whatever reason; be it for ill health, loneliness or the loss of a friend, these young people have decided to let go of life. – Alan Carmack Mar 31 '16 at 23:09
  • I'd not argue against senicide on the grounds of its use in this sense making it a neologism, @DanBron, although it certainly is. Historically, the meaning of the word is 'the killing off of the old men in a tribe'. So say OED Online and -Ologies & -Isms. Wiktionary agrees with the use in MaryLou's more general sense, and I agree that the word could be and perhaps is being refurbished for modern use. I would prefer autosenicide, as suggested by Andrew. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 5:26

I agree suicide is too close to homicide. The problem is as much with the 'commit' which is usually paired with it. The Dutch have a good word 'zelfdoding' essentially 'self-deathing'. But I think 'choosing to end your own life' (preferably rationally and ethically) does the job.


Some perfectly good options exist. The baggage carried by 'suicide' might be laundered by their use. Of the options, 'self-destroyer' (1654), an earlier synonym of 'suicide' (1727), seems most suitable for what I understand you to want:

self-deˈstroyer, n.
a. One who is the cause of his own destruction.
b. A suicide.

Perhaps on a par with 'self-destroyer' in terms of its amelioration of the usual connotations of 'suicide', that is, in terms of divesting the word of connotations of immorality and illegality, is the later 'self-killer' (1658). 'Self-killed', while of later currency in the derivative noun form than 'self-destroyer', as an adjective is attested as early as 1609 (Shakespeare):

self-ˈkilled, adj.
Killed by one's own hand; self-destroyed.
self-ˈkiller n. a suicide.

(All definitions and attestation dates from OED Online.)

  • But then it's gonna sound strange to people hearing "self-destroyer" and "self-killer" – NVZ Mar 31 '16 at 19:22
  • 3
    Neither of these seem suitable to me, since "destroying" and "killing" are still words with negative connotations. – herisson Mar 31 '16 at 19:29
  • @sumelic, I don't think the OP is looking for a word with positive connotations; the aged and infirm who choose death do so because it is the best of (what they see as a set of) bad choices. The words on offer in this answer are nearer to neutral than 'suicide', which, as pointed out, carries the baggage of a history of legal and moral negativity. '-killer' and '-destroyer' are more often used for deaths born of necessity, rather than choice. No getting away from the negative connotations of death, no matter whose. The downvotes on this answer are, as usual, absurd. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 5:15
  • Neither of those terms suggest an elderly person who ends their life. How would you employ either expression in a sentence? "Mr Smith self-destroyed", "Mr Smith self-killed", "Mr Smith committed self-destruction", "Mr Smith decided to end his days by self-killing himself"? – Mari-Lou A Apr 1 '16 at 7:01
  • @Mari-LouA, My impression, later supported by further research, was that the term sought was more general than the application to the elderly suggested. Admittedly, the question is unclear, and my answer presupposes clarification of that point. As to the sentences you provide, again, my conclusion was that the word sought was a noun: "Mr Smight was a self-killer", "Mr Smight was a self-destroyer", "Mr Smight decided to end his misery with self-destruction", etc. As mentioned, the question is unclear, so I interpreted as best I could. I have a habit of interpreting what I don't understand. – JEL Apr 1 '16 at 7:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.