Death and the Golden Gate
©1994 Warren P. Harris
Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal and the Pacific Sun.
Warning This article rated PG-13 for tastelessness – Parental Discretion is Advised!
I find it fascinating that every time some poor bedeviled individual chooses to end his or her life by taking a quick hop off the Golden Gate Bridge, the entire Suicide Barrier debate heats up again. First of all, barrier or no barrier, if someone really wants to make a “final exit” from the Golden Lady, no aesthetically dubious barrier is going to deter them. Complicate the issue, maybe, but not dissuade them.
Let’s say we erect a nice, effective, socially proper Suicide Barrier that actually works. Do you really want these tortured souls roaming the City by the Bay in search of a building high enough from which to end their lives (and perhaps yours in the bargain)? Think about it. You’re on your way to lunch in the financial district with a few friends and SPLAT – you and two other associates are crushed to death in a 172 mile per hour swan dive. And on top of the increased death toll, now the entire street is also a biohazard. Is this really better than the pre-suicide barrier scenario?
Or let’s say they can’t “exit” from the bridge, as we’ve thoughtfully made that unfeasible, so they blow their brains out with a .38 in the kitchen at home. Now here’s a lovely mess for the family to come home to – and another fine biohazard. Then again, maybe they decide to take the “high side” in their car after finding the bridge inaccessible (remember, we’ve already seen to that). Over the top they go, no seat belt, no concern for their trajectory or landing place. Does anyone find the prospect of a two ton mass of steel, glass (human remains) and plastic hurtling though their living room to be attractive? Well maybe you do, but I’ll pass.
And since when is it our business to tell someone who is living their own personal hell that they absolutely must stick around and tolerate it because society has determined any other alternative to be socially unacceptable? Yes, maybe psychotherapy will ultimately resolve their problems. But maybe it will only prolong them. By the time most people have gotten to the Golden Gate Two-Step, haven’t they pretty much exhausted what they perceive to be all of their options? And even if they haven’t, did they ask you for help?
OK, here’s my proposal: Diving boards on the East side of the bridge. That’s right, actual diving boards. Maybe four of them (no waiting) – complete with weatherproof video cameras. Four quarters gets you enough time to say farewell to anyone who cares and, just maybe, have time to change your mind in the process. Minimum of muss and fuss – and a public record for any legal issues that surface (no pun intended) after the fact. And – let’s think of this as an opportunity. Just standing at the quivering end of a diving board may be all it takes to make someone rethink “jumping”. If not, odds are that other forms of persuasion would be equally ineffective.
And no, I’m not insensitive to the pain and loss experienced by those left behind when someone “opts out”. I’ve had four close friends commit suicide over the years and it’s always difficult to reconcile the issues personally. But I was not the one trapped inside with whatever personal demons beset them, so I cannot pretend to second-guess their decision, no matter how painful it may be.
And on a related topic: Every year, dozens of people are killed or injured on the Golden Gate who had no intention whatsoever of ending their lives. These are the unsuspecting victims of head-on collisions. A moment’s distraction, and WHAM! several people are injured or dead and traffic becomes a nightmare for hours. All it takes is one incompetent, distracted or drunk driver to inadvertently turn the bridge into a larger-than-life bumper-pool game ending in catastrophe. One-half inch of error can result in death, dismemberment and emotional trauma – all of which is preventable.
To be perfectly blunt: To hell with suicide barriers – let’s install a movable barrier to separate Southbound and Northbound traffic on the bridge, and solve this problem once and for all!
Balancing the cost of a barrier and the minor inconvenience of the loss of one lane against the ongoing loss of human life, I think the choice should be obvious. Let’s do it!