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Benevolent suicide refers to the self sacrifice of one's own life for sake of the greater good. Such sacrifice may be for sake of executing a particular action, or for sake of keeping a natural balance in the society. It is a theme or concept of a custom of sacrifice typically found within certain types of science fiction stories. However, real examples of these customs have been recorded to exist among some indigenous people, such as certain Inuit tribes. This was seen by Émile Durkheim in his study Suicide as the product of over-integration with society.
In contrast a "sacrifice" committed by force of a state is instead referred to as eugenics or mass murder, but may be otherwise referred to as "enforced population limits" or "population control". In literature, examples may promote the concept as a means for ending enduring types of social conflict, or else deride the concept as an example of a dystopian future society.
Some notable examples include:
- Children of the Corn, a Stephen King short story in which all the children must offer themselves up to sacrifice when they are 18 years of age.
- Logan's Run (1967 novel and 1976 film), in which all are mandated to be terminated upon reaching the age of 21 years (30 in the film). The dystopian theme is a Cold War allegory, asserting the nature of the "East and West" contrast as one of totalitarianism versus freedom, as these are manifest as artificial and natural drives, respectively.
- The "LifeDeath" story arc in the X-Men comic book, describing the practice of a fictional African tribe, in which the village elder, upon the birth of a new child, allows himself to die for sake of keeping the natural balance found by experience to be necessary for the tribe's survival.
- The Isaac Asimov novel Pebble in the Sky — In a distant future, Earth is radioactive and all inhabitants are euthanized at the age of sixty to keep the population under control. A similar idea is present in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Half a Life", where the Enterprise aids a planet where a person must commit ritual suicide on reaching the age of sixty.
- The Stargate Atlantis episode "Childhood's End" — An expedition encounters a colony of humans who perform ritual suicide at the age of 25 in an effort to keep the Wraith away. The team learns that, unknown to the colonists, the tradition was created to stabilize the population size so that it could remain within the range of an ancient defense field. Eventually, the team reveals the truth, and improves the field so that the population can age and increase normally.
- In Lois Lowry's novel The Giver, the protagonist is a young boy living in a seemingly utopian future society which suppresses strong emotions. He has been taught that the elderly (and other "unfit" people) are "released" at a certain age to live outside the community, but eventually learns that they actually are being euthanized. This is meant to eradicate grief by making death normal and monotonous, but ends up making people numb to the horror.
- "The Lottery", a classic American short story by Shirley Jackson, describes the annual forced sacrifice of one resident of a small New England town in order to ensure a good harvest. This is an example of aschimothusia.