Compulsory suicide may be performed out of loyalty to a dead master or spouse. Examples of this are suttee in India and the similar behavior expected of the dead emperor's favorite courtiers in ancient China. Such practices, now largely extinct, undoubtedly derived from the ancient and widespread custom of immolating servants and wives on the grave of a chief or noble (see funeral customs). Self-murder may also be enjoined for the welfare of the group; among pre-industrial peoples, the elderly who could no longer contribute to their own subsistence are an example. Finally, suicide may be offered to a favored few as an alternative to execution, as among the feudal Japanese gentry (see hara-kiri), the Greeks (see Socrates), the Roman nobility, and high-ranking military officers, such as Erwin Rommel, accused of treason. In traditional Japanese society, in certain situations suicide was seen as the appropriate moral course of action for a man who otherwise faced the loss of his honor. Self-killing may be practiced by peoples lacking a codified law of punishment; the Trobriand Islanders hurled themselves ceremonially from the tops of palm trees after a serious public loss of face. In these situations, the line between social pressure and personal motivation begins to blur.
In less traditional societies the causes of suicide are more difficult to establish. The problem has been approached from two different angles: the sociological, which stresses social pressures and the importance of social integration, and the psychoanalytic, which centers on the driving force of guilt and anxiety and the inverting of aggressive impulses. Recent studies have done much to dispel some of the myths surrounding suicide, such as the beliefs that suicidal tendencies are inherited, that suicidal tendencies cannot be reversed, and that persons who announce their intention to commit suicide will not carry out the threat.
Self-killing is expressly condemned by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and attempts are punishable by law in certain countries. Suicide was a felony in 11th-century England because the self-murderer was considered to have broken the bond of fealty, and the suicide's property was forfeited to the king. Suicides were interred on public highways with a stake driven through the heart; this practice was observed as late as 1823. In 1961, Great Britain abolished criminal penalties for attempting to commit suicide. Very few U.S. states still list suicide as a crime, but most states have laws against helping someone to commit suicide. A right-to-die movement has supported the principle of doctor-assisted suicide in certain cases (see euthanasia).
In the United States, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death. About twice as many women attempt suicide as men, but out of roughly 31,000 successful suicides in 1996, about four fifths were by men. A striking characteristic, which has concerned and baffled public health workers, has been the increase in suicides in the age group 10 to 14 years. In the period from 1980 to 1995, suicides in this age group rose from 139 to 330 per 100,000 individuals. Worldwide, suicide rates have been notably high in Russia, Hungary, and Finland.
See E. Durkheim, Suicide (1897, tr. 1951); R. Cavan, Suicide (1928, repr. 1965); E. Stengel, Suicide and Attempted Suicide (1965); J. Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide (1967); E. Shneidman, ed., Essays in Self-Destruction (1967); M. L. Farber, The Theory of Suicide (1968); E. A. Grollman, Suicide (1970); A. Alvarez, The Savage God (1972); J. Choron, Suicide (1972); D. Lester, Why People Kill Themselves (1972); G. Colt, The Enigma of Suicide (1991); P. Singer, Rethinking Life and Death (1994); H. Hendin, Suicide in America (new and enl. ed. 1995); K. R. Jamison, Night Falls Fast (1999).
The community has developed its own unique terminology. "Catch the bus" refers to the act of suicide, and the group is described as:
Newcomers are traditionally greeted with:
The newsgroup is unmoderated and subject to a high level of trolling. This has caused some members to leave the newsgroup, for instance to moderated, troll-free mailing lists or forums.
ASH is infamous for its association with the ASH Methods File, a list of possible methods for suicide, ranging from the serious (e.g., lists of poisons and their effects) to the absurd (e.g., starting World War 3). However, since legally available books like Final Exit by Derek Humphry and The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Philip Nitschke provide more detailed information on suicide methods now, the ASH Methods File has lost its importance and is not maintained any more.
In addition, related Internet Relay Chat channels exist on several networks.
Because of this, ASH cannot be classified as being pro-choice or pro-life: posters in the newsgroup represent wide range of positions from strict anti-suicide to right-to-die.
Websites like Google groups solely provide access to newsgroups like ASH and are not affiliated with it in any way.
UK Byron Review for 2008 , analyzing effects of websites on children, says that "research looking at pro-suicide sites has had mixed results. Some studies report high degrees of emotional and social support by these sites ... particularly on sites where the methods of suicide were not discussed. More studies like this are needed to begin to understand the impact of such sites on those who spontaneously choose to access them."
A point of view often expressed on ASH itself is that the existence of ASH actually prevented many deaths by allowing people considering suicide to connect with others who have the same feelings and giving them a place where they don't have to hide their true feelings.
Opponents see discussion of suicide methods as potentially endangering vulnerable people - people who would otherwise live through crisis, might commit suicide given information on lethal methods.
Supporters of open discussion state that methods information is widely and legally available; that information might prevent number of permanent injuries resulting from lack of knowledge about methods, like paracetamol overdoses. Finally, there is no indication that making such information available changed suicide rates. For example, in 1991 Final Exit was published; it was the first book giving howto on certain suicide methods. The book was for 18 weeks the number one bestselling nonfiction book in America and has sold over a million copies. At the same time, there was no remarkable increase in suicide rates.
In 2003, ASH was the topic of a series of Wired articles under the pretext of examining the group's role in the deaths of several depressed individuals. The accuracy and integrity of the articles was widely disputed by ashers and internet media critics, e.g. Ken Hagler's Radio Weblog: No One Asked Why He Wanted to Die
ASH played some role in death of Suzy Gonzales, who killed herself in 2003 after sharing her thoughts in ASH . In the US, death of Suzy Gonzales lead to attempt to introduce a controversial H.R. 940: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007, currently in early stages of legislative process. This law is criticized for taking predominately negative (restrictive) approach, like banning websites, instead of creation of online support resources for suicidal people.