By Katie Kieffer
Suicide hurts people. It hurts the person who commits suicide. It also hurts their friends, family, neighbors and coworkers.
So, who should have to pay for suicide? Who should have to shoulder the burden and cushion the fall of those who choose death?
The Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District in San Francisco, California thinks the taxpayer should have to.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the world’s most popular place to commit suicide. Last month, the New York Times reported, “The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the agency that oversees transportation financing in the Bay Area, approved $5 million in federal money for the final engineering and design of a steel mesh net hanging 20 feet below the span, to catch jumpers. Officials estimate the net system will cost an additional $45 million to build and install.”
Suicide attempts from the Golden Gate Bridge have received more attention since the production of a 2006 documentary by Eric Steel called “The Bridge.” Steel’s crew filmed the bridge for an entire year (2004) and captured 23 jumps on camera.
This movie provided suicide barrier advocates with the piece of persuasive emotional media they needed to sway the district to complete a $2 million study in 2005 of “suicide deterrent options.” It is surprising how a state embroiled in debt, such as California, can bow to emotional and political pressure to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in an unproven attempt to end suicide attempts.
Even after completion of the study, there is still no concrete evidence that this net will reduce suicide overall. The study focused on how to design a net that would conform to wind stability measures and meet both historical and aesthetic preservation requirements.
The total $52 million cost of building the steel mesh net does not include the ongoing maintenance costs for the net or for the “cherry picker” truck that will retrieve jumpers. While the net’s $5 million design costs will be funded by federal taxpayer money, the additional $45 million necessary to build the bridge is still lacking.
Some questions worth asking:
Is this an appropriate burden for taxpayers? Would private funding or charities be more appropriate revenue sources to shoulder the burden of preventing the approximately 18 suicide jumps per year that have occurred since the bridge opened in 1937? Will the net motivate people to find another route to end their lives? Will the net entice a new demographic of jumpers who are seeking the thrill and attention of jumping into and being rescued from the net?
This clip from the movie showcases individuals offering testimonials of how their friend Gene Sprauge‘s suicide hurt them. They express pain and anger over Sprauge’s choice to ignore their help and end his life. The clip leaves you wondering whether it is appropriate to expect taxpayers to pay millions of dollars to prevent suicide from the world’s current suicide hot spot – only to discover that sad and desperate people will find another place to romanticize death.