Why did David Reimer commit suicide?

Health and medicine explained.
June 3 2004 3:58 PM

Gender Gap

What were the real reasons behind David Reimer's suicide?

(Continued from Page 1)

I met David soon after, when he agreed to be interviewed by me for a feature story in Rolling Stone. He subsequently agreed to collaborate with me on a book about his life, As Nature Made Him, published in February 2000. In the course of our interviews, David told me that he could never forget his nightmare childhood, and he sometimes hinted that he was living on borrowed time.

Most suicides, experts say, have multiple motives, which come together in a perfect storm of misery. So it was with David. After his twin Brian died of an overdose of antidepressants in the spring of 2002, David sank into a depression. Though the two had been estranged, David had, in recent months, taken to visiting Brian's grave, leaving flowers and, at some point prior to his own suicide, a note.

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David also had marital difficulties. He was not easy to live with, given his explosive anger, his cyclical depressions, his fears of abandonment—all of which Jane weathered for almost 14 years. But with David spiraling ever deeper into sloth and despair, she told him on the weekend of May 2 that they should separate for a time. David stormed out of the house. Two days later, Jane received a call from the police, saying that they had found David but that he did not want her to know his location. Two hours after that, Jane got another call. This time the police told her that David was dead.

Genetics almost certainly contributed to David's suicide. His mother has been a clinical depressive all her life; his brother suffered from the same disease. How much of the Reimers' misery was due to inherited depression, and how much to the nightmare circumstances into which they had been thrown? David's mutilation and his parents' guilt were tightly entwined, multiplying the mental anguish to which the family members were already prone.

In some press reports, financial problems were given as the sole motive in David's suicide. While this is absurdly reductive, it is true that last fall David learned that he was the victim of an alleged con man who had hoodwinked him out of $65,000—a loss that ate at him and no doubt contributed to his despair.

In his final months, David was unemployed—for him, a disastrous circumstance. When I first met him, seven years ago, he was a janitor in a slaughter house—tough, physically demanding work that he loved. But when the plant closed a few years ago, David never found another full-time job. And thanks to me, he didn't have to. I split all profits from the book with David, 50-50. This brought him a substantial amount of money, as did a subsequent movie deal with Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With no compelling financial need to work, David was able to sit around his house and brood—a state of affairs for which I feel some guilt.

In the end, of course, it was what David was inclined to brood about that killed him. David's blighted childhood was never far from his mind. Just before he died, he talked to his wife about his sexual "inadequacy," his inability to be a true husband. Jane tried to reassure him. But David was already heading for the door.

On the morning of May 5, he retrieved a shotgun from his home while Jane was at work and took it into the garage. There, with the terrible, methodical fixedness of the suicide, he sawed off the barrel. Then he drove to the nearby parking lot of a grocery store, parked, raised the gun, and, I hope, ended his sufferings forever.

John Colapinto is the author ofAs Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl. He is a contributing editor atRolling Stone magazine where his original story about David Reimer won a national magazine award for reporting. His 2001 novelAbout the Authoris being developed for the screen by Dreamworks.

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