A reader wonders about the use of a new way of referring to suicide:
I came across “completed suicide” repeatedly in an article by the Mental Health of America Board of directors that used this phrase repeatedly in their petition to have President Obama send letters of condolence to family of service members that have committed suicide. Is “completed suicide” correct? I have heard of committed suicide and attempted suicide, but not “completed suicide.” What’s your take?
My take is that, outside its valid use in medical literature, the expression “completed suicide” is being used as a euphemism by people who feel there’s more of a stigma attached to saying that someone “committed suicide.”
In a post at Common Sense Journalism, Doug Fisher says that he asked several copy editors what they thought of the term and found that “the reaction was almost uniformly negative” regarding its use. His post includes a comment by Pam Wood, chief copy editor of the American Medical News, in which she explains the medical use of the term.
In a non-technical context, “completed suicide” is redundant. Suicide is a word like murder; the single word says it all. There can be nothing incomplete about a suicide. It is an accomplished act. One can speak of “a failed suicide attempt.” Once the act has been committed, it’s a suicide.
Trying to soften the anguish of a family member who has lost a child or spouse to suicide is understandable. Support groups can be excused for using the term “completed suicide” if they think that it will make their members feel better.
Professional journalists probably ought to go ahead and say that someone has committed suicide.
Besides, over time, euphemisms have a way of becoming just as harsh as the original expression.