The Moral Responsibility of Preventing Suicides in Buildings and Bridges

One of the most prominent calls for creating barriers to suicide comes from organizations that seek to establish suicide barriers at the Golden Gate Bridge (Sanders, 2007). This paper discusses the moral responsibility of engineers in preventing suicides, the costs and effectiveness of such devices, the marketing plan of such an idea to taxpayers and the government, and a reflection on the potential ineffectiveness of such measures.

This paper argues that it is the moral responsibility of engineers to prevent or discourage suicide attempts, because their designs can effectively derail suicide and save thousands of lives in the process. This is based on the study by Serena Volpp, a Masters of Public Health graduate from UC Berkeley and senior medical student at UC San Francisco, who discovered from her findings that bridges and buildings that created barriers to suicide decreased suicide attempts in their locations and that it is possible that such devices can even stop people from committing suicide completely, because obstructions can make suicidal people re-consider their plans (Sanders, 2007). Furthermore, this moral responsibility of engineers can be argued from the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and ethics of duty that Immanuel Kant argued. The ASCE Code of Ethics states that Engineers uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by 1) using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment. Building suicide-prevention devices or procedures can enhance human welfare, because it will make it harder for people to commit suicide. In addition, Kant argues that one of the criteria of a moral act is if it is aligned with ones duties. Engineers also have a duty to improve the quality of life of society, by pre-empting actions that discontinue life.

Suicide-preventing barriers can vary in cost, from 500,000 for small bridges to 50 million for a bridge as large and historic as the Golden Gate Bridge, where aesthetic and historical concerns are also integrated into the design of the bridge barriers (Prado, 2010). This paper contends that the result of saving thousands of people from preventing them to commit suicide is worth more than its costs. Using moral reasoning, the lives of these people are inherently worth more than the price of the suicide barriers, especially since many of those who committed suicide were young people and who come from vulnerable groups. These are people whose lives can be turned around, so that they would become more meaningful and productive. Using economic reasoning, the productive lives of future suicidal people can also be higher than the costs of creating such barriers. On the other hand, the idea of creating such barriers must be sold to taxpayers and the government, through a widespread community awareness project, which seeks to inform them about the costs and benefits of creating such barriers. The main goals are for people to accept the collective responsibility of preventing suicide, and to persuade them to support the funding for it. Pathos, logos, and ethos forms of rhetorical strategies must be used, depending on what is believed to be more persuasive for the target recipients. It will also help to get the support of different organizations and celebrities, so that they can help promote the creation of these devices.

If the suicide rate still increases, despite all precautions, my logic and professional conduct will not waver. I will still believe that suicide barriers can greatly lessen its likelihood. If the designs had not been successful in decreasing suicide attempts, either the design has flaws, or there also other factors that must be considered to prevent people from committing suicides in public and private infrastructures. I will also continue to hold on to the belief that it is my foremost duty, as an engineer, to do my best to avert suicide attempts through constructing suicide-preventing devices. I will also keep on supporting the design and advocacy for suicide barriers, because it is part of my duty as an engineer and as a human being, to help improve the welfare of the society, especially those who feel lost and marginalized enough, to think that life is no longer worth living.


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