Freakonomics Poll: Would You Stop Someone From Jumping Off a Bridge?

In the last Freakonomics Radio episode “The Suicide Paradox” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here), we talked to a San Francisco cabbie with a long name who said something that caught our attention:

One night I picked up a guy, I think down nearby Tenderloin and he want to go Golden Gate Bridge. Must be 11 o’clock at night. And I said “okay,” so I drove on Franklin Street. He said, “You want to ask me why I go to Golden Gate Bridge this late?” I said, “No, but if you want to tell me I guess I will listen to it.”

And he said “I’m going to go and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge” and I said, “Okay.” He said, “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “No, why should I?”

The cabbie doesn’t know what happened to his passenger, but he did call the Coast Guard immediately afterwards. Suicide isn’t illegal in the U.S., and as a citizen of a country that prides itself on individual rights – what would you do?

Would you stop someone about to commit suicide?

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  1. Ryan K. says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. Mouseclone says:

    I think that it really depends on what is going on. Someone with a terminal painful illness should be allowed to take their life if they do not wish to live with the pain.

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  3. davidburkus says:

    Great episode, by the way, but I was surprised you didn’t cover Chen Sah, who spends his weekends on the Naan-jing bridge in China single-handedly trying to save people from jumping.

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  4. Adam says:

    Suicide is not illegal in most states. I am a police officer, however, and in my state I am required to take a person who poses imminent danger to themselves or others into custody and place them on an emergency mental health hold (basically transport them to a hospital for a mental health evaluation). So yes, I would stop them if I could, and not just because of the law.

    On a different note, the law is interesting in that it assumes that an attempt to kill oneself is a sign of mental disease. In many cases that may well be, but as was suggested in your podcast, can it not be a rational act of a healthy person as well?

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  5. Paulo says:

    I would if I think I stand a good chance of persuading him to not kill himself.

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  6. Dan says:

    I think the right question here is would you TRY to stop someone from committing suicide. It seems the passenger in your story was reaching out for someone to just say “don’t do it.” Just because it is someone’s legal right (which is debatable, think about the externalities, coast guard searches etc) doesn’t mean you should not/ cannot try to convince them otherwise.

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  7. Justin Bassett says:

    While it may not be illegal to commit suicide in the US, it *is* illegal to encourage, aid, or assist another in suicide. I can imagine an “Asimov’s Laws of Robotics” situation in which a person’s inaction is considered in violation of that law.

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  8. redsonja says:

    I actually have done something similar. Once when I was on a subway platform in NYC, I noticed a guy crouched down, oddly fixated on the subway tracks. I went over to him, talked to him for a moment and got the feeling he was possibly drunk, possibly stoned and most certainly down on his luck. I told him he should move away from the track; that it wasn’t a good place to be. Without really responding to me, he got up and left the station. I have no idea if he was really trying to jump or if he was just out of it so he could have fallen, but I thought it behooved me to stave off either possibility as best I could.

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