The Final Leap, Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge by John Bateson

The Final Leap by Bateson is about the Golden Gate Bridge and its legacy as the suicide destination. The bridge is beautiful but deadly. Bateson explores the history of the Bridge and the 1500 plus people who have taken their life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He weaves the drama, the tragedies and the politics of the bridge. I learned many facts I was unaware of- the San Francisco coroner will not rule a death a suicide unless the act is witnessed; the autopsy will say death by fall. Marin County coroner on the other side will rule  a death a suicide if the body is located in the water by the bridge and there is evidence that supports death by a fall.

An interesting fact is that for the small percent of jumpers that survived, there were no further suicide attempts by them. Those who jumped and survived reported immediate regret for jumping. Most survivors jumped because it “required no planning…didn’t need to procure a gun, hoard pills, get a rope, and did not have to worry about leaving a mess at the scene” (page.16). Motivation and the bridge make it easy with its design plus, the refusal of officials to place a safety barrier, as noted by the opinion piece below:

“The Golden Gate Bridge is a public health hazard; it doesn’t have adequate safety barriers. The Eiffel Tower, the Empire  State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Duomo in Florence, the Sydney  Harbour Bridge and many other international landmarks have suicide barriers. But  not the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ironically, the original design called for a higher railing along the walkways specifically to prevent suicides. In a last-minute decision, however, the railing was lowered to enhance the view. As a result, almost anyone can climb over it, from a 5-year-old girl (the bridge’s youngest suicide, in 1945) to the 75-year-old overweight woman who jumped in 2005. Or be thrown over it: Three children were murdered that way by their fathers, who jumped after them to  their deaths (one in 1964 and two in 1993).

In 2008, bridge district officials finally voted to add a suicide deterrent to the bridge: a marine-grade stainless steel net that will stretch 20 feet below the walkways. It won’t be much different than the net that the bridge’s chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, installed to protect workers during construction — a net that saved 19 men” (Los Angeles Times May 25, 2012).

This book changed my opinion. As a psychiatric nurse who witnessed the determination of  many to kill themselves, I did not think the barrier proposed for the Bridge to prevent suicides would make a difference.  People committed to dying will still try to kill themselves but just at another location. But a barrier or net would save lives and will not cost anything to the beauty of the bridge.

Bateson writes from many perspectives- the coroners, the coast guards, the police, the families of the victims, the counselors, the survivors who somehow miraculously  live despite the fall,a movie producer who filmed the suicides on the Golden Gate  for a year, and witnesses. The anatomy of the injuries that are sustained from a fall of that height: 220 feet, 4 seconds from the bridge to the bay. The Bridge is a documentary about the suicides  captured by film over a one year period and the footage highlights the  impulsivity. I went to the author’s reading and discussion of his book at Book Passage was touched by his compassion and methodical presentation  of why there needs to be a barrier to stop suicides. I agree…that’s my 2cents, Tracy.

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