#8 Moral Rights, Social Obligations
     (Kaj Birket-Smith, 1921-24)

Life is harsh towards the Caribou Eskimos and old people are rare…

Nor is it seldom that old people or persons suffering from a disease come to the conclusion that life is more unbearable than death and, according to Eskimo ideas, they have the moral right to commit suicide. Suicide is not rare, and it is the duty of pious children to assist their parents in committing it. As a rule the method is hanging. But there is no doubt that it also happens that a sick person is left to die, either out of fear that the other will be unable to pull through when he is a burden to the family, or simply out of fear of coming into contact with death.

The result of the natural influence of age is that the word of middle-aged or elderly men—but only so long as they still have their strength—carries most weight, although less directly, perhaps, than indirectly by force of example. Old people who are no longer in possession of all their faculties gradually lose their influence and respect. Their life is often a bitter one. Even though they are treated with kindness, they feel themselves in the way and suicide is not uncommon. On the other hand I do not think that nowadays—as undoubtedly was the case formerly—they run any risk of being killed. Although they might be deserted.

[#8] Kaj Birket-Smith, The Caribou Eskimos: Material and Social Life and the Cultural Position (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 258, 300.

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