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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.