Second young activist suicide in six months raises profile of “compassion fatigue”
Vegan animal advocate Thomas “Tommy” Bloom Raskin, 25, died by suicide on New Year’s Eve 2020.
His death, a shock to hundreds of family, friends, and acquaintances, rekindled an ongoing discussion of depression and suicides among committed activists that had barely simmered down since the July 28, 2020 suicide of New York City vegan animal advocate Shimon Shuchat, 22.
Son of U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin
Tommy Raskin, a 2017 graduate of Amherst College, second-year student at Harvard Law School, and a teaching fellow in general education, was son of U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin.
Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor turned politician, has represented the 8th Congressional District since 2016. Re-elected in November 2020, Jamie Raskin on January 12, 2021 was named lead impeachment manager for the second impeachment of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Linked cruelty to animals with “war culture”
Recalled Jamie and Sarah Bloom Raskin of their son, “He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he majored in history and wrote a compelling senior thesis on the intellectual history of the animal rights movement.
“Tommy became an anti-war activist, a badass autodidact moral philosopher and progressive humanist libertarian, and a passionate vegan who composed imperishable, knock-your-socks-off poetry linking systematic animal cruelty and exploitation to militarism and war culture.
“Last summer, he was a summer associate at Mercy for Animals and found a knack for actual lawyering,” Jamie and Sarah Bloom Raskin continued, both Harvard-educated lawyers themselves.
“I’m working for a vegan world, not a vegan club”
“He recruited gently and lovingly — but supremely effectively — dozens and dozens of people, including his parents,” Jamie and Sarah Bloom Raskin added, “to the practice of not eating animals, and it will be hard to find anyone his age who has turned more carnivores into vegans than him. He also cheerfully opposed sectarian holier-than-thou sanctimoniousness among a handful of vegans he met and would say, ‘I’m working for a vegan world, not a vegan club.’”
Unfortunately, Jamie and Sarah Bloom Raskin narrated, “Tommy began to be tortured later in his 20s by a blindingly painful and merciless disease called depression, a kind of relentless torture in the brain for him, and despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable.
“He left us this farewell note ‘Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.’”
Harvard Animal Law Society
Offered Harvard Crimson staff writers Emmy M. Cho and Alexandra Topic, “In addition to serving as a teaching fellow, Raskin was a board member of Effective Altruism and a member of the Harvard Animal Law Society.”
Remembered Effective Altruism president Andrew H. Stawasz, a third-year law student who met Tommy Raskin at a meeting of the nonprofit advocacy organization Animal Outlook, “Within five minutes of shaking hands, he had already plunged the conversation into tricky debates, and not harsh debates, but really intellectually and morally rich debates about finer points of animal ethics.”
Continued Cho and Topic, “Daina Bray, who supervised Raskin during his internship at Mercy for Animals, recalled that during a constitutional law presentation Raskin gave to an American Bar Association subcommittee, he ‘impressed seasoned animal lawyers with his professionalism and legal analysis.’”
Alex Hershaft: “Huge loss to the vegan movement”
Commented Farm Animal Rights Movement founder Alex Hershaft, “We all have certain views of morality and virtue and we like to talk about it — Tommy actually did it.”
Hershaft called Raskin’s death a “huge loss to the vegan movement and the future of animals everywhere.”
Raskin killed himself two years to the day after Center for Disease Control & Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Service officer Suzanne E. Tomasi, DVM, and five co-authors published a study entitled “Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015” in the January 1, 2019 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Activist & veterinary suicides share common denominators
Producing research relevant to the suicides of animal advocates as well as veterinary professionals, who often develop feelings of helplessness in directly confronting animal suffering, Tomasi et al found that American female veterinarians are five times more likely to commit suicide as other American women.
American male veterinarians, Tomasi et al found, are “only” twice as likely to commit suicide as other American men.
The Raskin family a few days after Tommy Raskin’s death created the Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals, to distribute money on a semi-annual basis “to causes and charities close to Tommy’s heart,” including Oxfam, Give Directly, the Helen Keller Institute, and Animal Outlook.