Here's the situation. You're all alone and you're faced with capture, imminent death, enslavement, public humiliation followed by (possibly grisly) execution, or something even worse. You know what the monsters or bad guys will do to you if they get their hands on you, and you do not want that to be your fate, but You Have No Chance to Survive — either there are too many of them, or you're out of bullets (or down to your final bullet). So what do you do?
You turn the gun or knife on yourself. If there is no way to avoid death, it is better to go out on your own terms than let your enemy decide what happens to you. Sometimes it's just to deny the enemy the right to kill you.
The most common places that this trope shows up are stories where people face a Fate Worse Than Death in either the classical sense or in a Body Horror / The Virus sense, such as in a zombie movie where being taken by the zombies means being eaten alive or joining their number. In the older stories, such as westerns, samurai, and kung fu stories, a woman faced with rape and death at the hands of her enemies would often choose to die by her own hand rather than suffer this fate.
A variation of this also appears in the classic scene where a disgraced army officer finds a loaded gun on his bed. The hint was to kill himself in order to spare the regiment the embarrassment.
Another variation happens quite a lot, where a mook kills himself rather than let the heroes find out any information. This also shows up in espionage where a captured spy takes a Cyanide Pill to deny his captors any information they might gain from him under torture.
This trope may derive from Real Life. Many cultures that are primarily based around personal glory and honour ("shame societies"), including that of Ancient Rome, held that suicide was an acceptable form of death: to a Roman, suicide was not just a way to avoid experiencing perpetual dishonour or humiliating punishments such as Crucifixion, but a noble deed meant to demonstrate one's own stoicism and honour in the face of adversity. Emperor Otho was considered a weak, luxury-loving sybarite until he committed suicide shortly before a plot to assassinate him could be put into effect; his self-inflicted death changed Romans' minds, leading them to see Otho as a greater man than he perhaps really was. Feudal Japan had many similarities with the Romans in their opinion about "honourable suicides": see also Seppuku and Kamikaze. For other comparable examples, see Martyrdom Culture. The Christians were seen as depraved and disgusting by Romans such as Tacitus in part because they would rather accept fates worse than death instead of committing suicide, which the Romans interpreted as almost obscene (as was the Christian willingness to be crucified or dismembered by wild animals, literally the two most dishonourable methods of death a Roman could conceive of).
A small number of actual criminals would rather die than be taken to prison ("You'll never take me alive, copper!") — for the most part, people tend to treat these cases a lot less sympathetically than other examples of this trope, as it's seen as a cowardly way to escape justice. The criminal may even make one last shot at a Blast Out, meaning either a bloody escape or, more likely, Suicide by Cop. If there's a ledge nearby, you can bank on a High Dive Escape.
Compare I Die Free. Contrast Face Death with Dignity, Mercy Kill, I Cannot Self-Terminate. In video games and some other media, this could be considered a case of self-kill-stealing, especially to stop experience or a reward being gained by the kill. Has nothing to do with the fact that "People dieif theyare killed".
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
Dr. Hiruluk in One Piece chooses to do this for a number of reasons: First, he was dying of an unknown disease. Chopper, in an attempt to cure him, accidentally poisons him. Finally, he had walked into an obvious trap laid by King Wapol to catch the only remaining free doctors on his island. Rather than be captured, and to avoid letting Chopper live with the guilt of killing his father, he chose to kill himself.
The people of Fishman Island invoke this when Hordy Jones is moments away from killing King Neptune. They beg for Straw Hat Luffy to hurry up and destroy Fishman Island as Madame Shirley predicted since they would rather let their home be destroyed than see it twisted under Hordy's reign.
Subverted at the end of the Nazi arc in Black Lagoon. Dutch gives the leader of the Brown-shirt group one of Revy's guns to shoot himself with. He almost does it, until he points the gun at Dutch, and pulls the trigger, only to find the gun to be empty. Revy and Dutch then turn him into Swiss cheese.
What makes this scene truly hilarious (in a Refuge in Audacity kind of way) is how they have a bet on what he's going to do beforehand, their comments implying they've done this sort of thing before. (Both of them went for "black"; Dutch himself noting that "white" isn't much of a bet in this case).
Outlaw Star: Before dying by falling into a star, Hilda bites on a capsule that explodes.
Happens in the third volume and OVA of Hellsing, where Alucard does what he does best. The last man standing turns his gun on himself rather then face him. Alucard looks disgusted afterward.
Indeed, Alucard holds human life in such high regard that he feels that for someone to kill themself rather than die in combat makes them more of a dog than a human. The fact that Seras (while still human) kept fighting against a vampire in spite of the insurmountable odds is what made Alucard consider her worthy of immortality in the first place.
Rika Furude from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni chooses to stab herself repeatedly in the head rather than be tortured to death by Shion, whom she stares in the face the whole way through. She gets better.
Note that she only did this in Meakashi-hen. In Watanagashi-hen, Shion tortured and killed her like she did to Satoko; Rika knew Shion would torture her and chose the 'easy' way out.
Raoh himself also choses to commit suicide by striking his own vital-points in an impressive pyrotechnics display after being defeated by Ken in the final battle. "I am RAOH! I need no assistance to return to the heavens!"
Akagi Shigeru in Ten (the series to which Akagi is a prequel) chooses to go through medically-assisted suicide rather than have his mind deteriorate due to Alzheimer's. The fact that he was never afraid to face death makes it easier to digest... the fact that his mind was the greatest weapon he ever had and the fact that he was only in his early fifties doesn't.
In X/1999, Seishiro kills himself by deliberately thrusting his hand through Subaru's chest, aware that Subaru's twin sister Hokuto (who he previously killed by the same method) had cast a spell on him that would instantly reverse their positions if he ever tried to kill Subaru (who is unaware of the spell and wants to die at Seishro's hand). Kamui explains later that he would rather die be killed by the one he loved than by an enemy, and that Seishiro had the luxury of being able to choose how to die, whereas the rest of the world would not have that choice.
Also earlier in the story, two nobles are given the option to commit suicide by poison rather than be officially executed. Both refuse, and ultimately have the poison forced down.
Played with in Angel Densetsu. Kuroda and his flunkies got so freaked out about what Kitano might do to them for letting Takehisa get hurt that they rushed headlong to fight the guys who hurt Takehisa, and they won.
Kisame in Naruto kills himself via his own summoned shark to keep from being interrogated any more than he already was.
Rurouni Kenshin: Shishio's aidé Houji Sadoshima killed himself when it became clear that he wasn't going to get his day in the limelight to speechify about his ideals.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica's third timeline, upon realizing the Awful Truth after fighting Sayaka's witch form, Mami suffers a mental breakdown and resolves that it's better if she and the other girls all die before they can turn into witches. She shoots Kyoko and is about to kill Homura when Madoka kills her.
In Mai-Otome, when faced with an angry mob out for revenge against Queen Mashiro for losing their kingdom, Aoi, one of her aides, chooses to throw herself off the face of a cliff to avoid risking Mashiro's life by revealing her location. Aoi manages to survive the fall, but not without suffering severe injuries.
Happen several times in the Alien comics released by Dark Horse Comics as most humans would rather die than be torn apart by the Xenomorphs or be impregnated by a face hugger.
Subverted in W.I.T.C.H.: Phobos decides to jump off Kandrakar, apparently meaning he's going to fall in infinity forever instead of being captured, but he simply needed to avoid being captured to activate his plan B.
Maus: Vladek's sister-in-law learns that the Jews in her town are being rounded up and shipped out to the camps, so she kills herself with poison... and takes the children in her care, including Vladek's first son, with her, insisting that her children will not die in the camps. Also functions as a Real-Life example.
Top 10 has robot cop Joe Pi talk the disgraced superhero Atoman into killing himself rather than losing his powers and going to prison as a pedophile, where the villains he'd jailed would undoubtedly show him a very bad time. "It turns out I am not suited to be a negotiator."
Happens to a mook who attempts to assassinate Ozymandias in Watchmen. Turns out the guy wasn't actually willing to die for the cause, but Ozymandias ordered the hit upon himself and then forced the capsule into the mook's mouth during the struggle.
Wolverine offers this option to Mystique out in the desert at the end of the post-Messiah CompleX comic Get Mystique—either take the gun with one bullet he leaves next to her and put herself out of her misery, or slowly bleed out to death from getting stabbed in the side by his claws before she can reach medical help.
In All Fall Down, Siphon chooses this when she realizes she can't stop AIQ Squared from killing the Pantheon from inside its deathtrap.
In the Tintin book Tintin Land Of Black Gold, Dr. Muller attempts to shoot himself in the head to avoid being captured... but his gun (which was given to him by Abdullah) turns out to only squirt ink.
In "Tiberium Wars", it is a common belief among Nod soldiers and officers that their prisoners of war will be tortured and raped by GDI troops - which leads to a Black Hand officer executing his own immobilized wounded to keep them from falling into enemy hands. GDI, meanwhile, views this as appalling and as a fanatical enemy denying them intelligence sources.
In the "Brotherhood of Shadow" Knights of the Old Republic Mod, a Czerka mining chief does this when his crew suddenly go animalistic and berserk due to an insane Jedi trying to lure your new party member out of hiding.
In the Harry Potter and Death Note crossover Little Black Death Note Raito is well aware he's playing a dangerous game and considers that in the unlikely event that the wizards figure out what he's up to he might just get one of his Shinigami to write his own name in the notebook rather than hang around and wait for the many nasty Fates Worse Than Death the wizards would inflict on him.
In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfic "A History Of Magic" Cleopatra chose to crush her own Soul Gem rather than wait for Augustus's troops to kill her or for her to become a witch. Many years later, Sarah attempted to do this, but the Jewish laws saying suicides don't get to heaven kept her from going through with it. Anne Frank had to Mercy Kill her.
In Queen Of All Oni, it's eventually shown that this is how Tarakudo's mortal life (before becoming an Oni) ended — surrounded by his enemies in war and deciding they didn't deserve the honor of taking his life, he stabbed himself.
In Starship Troopers, Lt. Rasczak shoots an unfortunate soldier before he gets mauled by a giant bug. He then requests for the same to be done to him if he were to get in a similar situation. Which happens.
Su Lin, Bruce Lee's sister from Enter the Dragon, did this with a piece of glass when Oharra and his men cornered her at the warehouse, choosing to go out with honor rather than be raped and killed by them. It is this that would drive Lee to seek vengeance on Oharra in Han's tournament.
Crops up thrice in the Firefly movie Serenity, where it is played straight, played with, and averted.
Early in the film, Mal does this for someone. He spares a man from the hands of the Reavers by shooting him dead as soon as he's grabbed. It's called a "piece of mercy" by Zoe.
And a little after that, as the Reavers are giving chase, Jayne gets shot through the leg with a harpoon. He shouts to Mal 'You shoot me if they take me!' whereupon Mal cocks his pistol and aims, prompting Jayne to add 'Well, don't shoot me first!' Mal then starts shooting at his actual target, the harpoon line.
Near the end, the crew views a video log of a female scientist telling about what happened on Miranda as the newly-created Reavers break down the door offscreen. As it becomes clear that there are too many of them, she stops firing and turns the gun on herself, but can't quite get the shot off before they bear her down. Much horrificness ensues off-screen before Mal mercifully has the recording switched off.
Also subverted when one of the soldiers is trapped by the zombies and considers killing himself to avoid becoming a zombie. However, he instead decides to keep fighting, escapes, and eventually saves the rest of the group.
Played straight near the end when Rain Ocampo asks Alice to kill her rather than let her turn into a zombie.
The "Disgraced Officer" version was done in Enemy at the Gates. Khruschev is brought into Stalingrad to replace the General who had commanded Soviet forces in their initial disastrous counter-attack against the Germans. Khruschev hands him a pistol and says, "Perhaps you would prefer to spare me the paperwork." He leaves the office, we hear a gunshot, and then Khruschev introduces himself as the new commander.
Notably subverted in the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo, Prosecutor Villefort has been arrested and is put in an armored carriage. A guard gestures at a pistol on the seat and says, "A courtesy for a gentleman". Villefort puts the gun to his head, pulls the trigger, nothing happens, and The Count appears at the window and says, "You didn't really think I'd make it that easy for you?" Magnificent Bastard.
In The Shadow, one of Shiwan Khan's henchman deliberately allows himself to fall to his death, rather than allow himself to be captured by the Shadow.
In The Mist, after the main character and his party run out of gas while attempting to escape. He kills everyone with him (including his son), but runs out of bullets. He exits the car to let the monsters kill him... and the military arrive, killing all the monsters and saving him from his desired death. Cue anguished screaming and roll credits.
Averted in the original Dawn of the Dead. All of the remaining characters except one are getting ready to escape from the roof of the mall. The character who was left behind gets ready to kill himself as opposed to being turned into a zombie. At the last second, he instead shoots a zombie in front of him and storms his way to the roof where he escapes with the others.
They had originally planned to have the characters commit suicide, however they decided to go for a more uplifting ending at the last minute.
CJ does end up blowing himself up in the remake rather than letting himself turn into a zombie (he's been bitten) or eaten.
Ripley and Hicks promise each other that they will "take care of each other" if they were hopelessly cornered by the Aliens. It doesn't come to that, and they live through the entire film.
Lt. Gorman and Private Vasquez are trapped by the aliens and detonate a grenade to kill themselves rather than allow themselves to be captured and impregnated by a facehugger. Likewise, Ripley and Hicks agree to kill each other rather than be captured by the aliens.
In Alien³, Ripley tells Dillon to kill her. He agrees, "quick and painless"... but he doesn't go through with it. Then later he has his own Heroic Sacrifice.
This was expected of James Bond after his capture in the opening credits of Die Another Day; M admonishes him for not dying for his country quite yet when he's recovered.
In 30 Days of Night Billy kills his wife and children rather than have the vampires kill them, he attempts to shoot himself but the gun jams, so he sits in the darkness for 28 days... yeah.
When one of the mercenaries is grabbed by a sea monster that will slowly and painfully digest him alive, he detonates one of his explosives before it can eat him.
Also played with when another is grabbed by one of the monsters. One of the heroes hands him a weapon as an act of mercy, only for the guy to start shooting him. The hero escapes, the merc tries to take his own life, and discovers he doesn't have any bullets left.
Happens in The Ring Zero. One of Sadako's last victims decides to shoot herself and fellow terrified victim before the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl kills her in a much more vaguely horrifying way.
Played with in Shaun of the Dead. Shaun, Ed and Liz are trapped beneath a burning pub filled with zombies, and Liz suggests they shoot themselves. They find that their are only two bullets, but Ed says he doesn't mind being eaten. Shaun and Liz then spend a few minutes discussing how to go about it, with Liz saying Shaun should shoot her since she would only mess it up, and Shaun saying he's not sure if he has it in him to shoot his girlfriend his mum and his flatmate all in the same night. Ed then reveals that he's already been bitten, and will be zombified soon. Liz and Shaun then realise that they can get out through the keg hatch, and leave Ed with the gun. He kills a few zombies and winds up as one himself. Shaun then keeps him in the shed to play videogames with.
In The Killer, Ah Jong is an assassin that always saves the last bullet in his gun, either for himself or for his enemy. This is a code all assassins in this film stick to, including his handler Fung Sei (who unfortunately didn't keep the last bullet for himself and ultimately has to have the title character end his life for him).
In the Final Destination sequel one of the people who were supposed to die tries this - for the exact reason that he won't let the "Evil Force"/"Death" decide when he should die and not have any say in it. Of course, he fails.
General Ripper does this in the black comedy Dr. Strangelove, which is all the more hilariously ironic given that the threat is all in his own demented mind.
Kobayashi from The Usual Suspects said that whatever Keaton could to him would be ludicrous compared to what Keyser Soze will do to him if his orders are not carried out.
Alejandro's brother Joaquim from The Mask Of Zorro shot himself rather than get caught.
Taken literally in The Abyss, where the heroine demands that the hero let her drown, rather than share his breathing apparatus. This leaves him conscious and able to carry her drowned body to safety, where she got better.
In the 1992 film version of Last of the Mohicans, at the end Alice throws herself off a cliff rather than go with Magua after he's killed Uncas.
A captured program in TRON Legacy throws himself off a building rather than participate in the games.
In Sleepy Hollow, Notary Hardenbrook hangs himself when he thinks the Horseman will be coming after him next. Hardenbrook had earlier expressed the belief that the Horseman took his victims' heads to take back to Hell.
In Return of the Living Dead, Frank, knowing that he's about to become a zombie, decides to end it all before the transformation is complete. After offering a final prayer of forgiveness for what he's about to do, he immolates himself by climbing into a burning oven (the same one that had been used for the entire film to destroy the zombies), thus ensuring he will never become one of the living dead.
In the second sequel, the main character and his zombie girlfriend immolate themselves as lovers rather than let the latter be used as an undead superweapon.
Samuel pulls this off in Diaryofthe Dead: After a zombie starts chomping on his neck, he brings the scythe he's carrying right through his head and into the zombie's (Also counts as Taking You with Me).
An unique variation happens in the remake of I Spit on Your Grave. Sarah throws herself off a bridge, after she's been gang-raped. Whether this was a final attempt to escape (which is what it ended up being), or to deny them chance of killing her as well is unclear.
Subverted in the 1988 version of The Blob. After a failed attempt to blow up the Blob by dropping some bombs down the sewer, the scientists' second-in-command is about to be crushed and consumed by the Blob. He pulls the pins from his grenades, but the Blob eats him anyway. We briefly see two flashes inside of the Blob, making it clear that it did nothing to the monster.
In the Robert E. Howard poem "The Gold and the Grey," the Cimbri women kill themselves with daggers in order to avoid being enslaved by the Romans ("The Cimbri yield no virgin-slaves to glut the lords of Rome!"). One of them kills her rapist and then kills herself.
Subverted in the Evelyn Waugh novel Decline And Fall where one character, Grimes, who is an example of The Barnum tells of "landing in the soup" (an Unusual Euphemism for being caught engaged in homosexual conduct) during World War One and being placed in a room and given a loaded revolver and some whiskey to settle his nerves, so that a court martial could be avoided and the official story would be that he died in combat. After debating this course of action, he decides he would rather live and is found roaring drunk when his fellow soldiers re-enter the room.
In the Book of Judges: "King" Abimalech, after having a millstone dropped on his skull by a woman, manages to survive long enough to ask an attendant to finish him off, to avoid the humiliation of having been killed by a woman. So, Older Than Feudalism.
In the Books of Samuel: In 1 Samuel 31, a wounded King Saul tried to get his armorbearer to kill him so he wouldn't fall into the hands of the Philistines, who he feared would "thrust me through, and abuse me." When the armorbearer refused, Saul killed himself. — Later, in 2 Samuel, a man claimed to have killed Saul on his request, though this was a ploy to ingratiate himself to David - in fact Saul's armorbearer had committed suicide along with his king. If this was the case, it backfired.)
In The Eye of the World, Perrin, Egwene, and Elyas are being pursued by an immense flock of demonically-possessed ravens, and suspect they can't reach safety in time. When they do escape, Elyas finds Perrin about to throw his axe into a pond, as he was considering killing himself and Egwene with it rather than allow them to be eaten alive. He asks Perrin which death he really thinks she'd have preferred, and Perrin decides to keep the axe.
Also, in The Gathering Storm some inhabitants of Hinderstap town try to commit a suicide in order not to become mindless monsters set to kill each other at every sunset. This doesn't work, anyway.
In World War Z, there are many of these stories because the book takes place during a Zombie Apocalypse. Most notably, a Russian chaplain decides that he and the other religious figures should be the ones "sending them to God" and the resultant religious fervor turns the postwar Russia into a theocracy.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith, cornered in the control room with no way to work it, Jagdea takes out poison pills to avoid capture. Bonin doesn't let her, and someone who does know how to work arrives in time.
In Animorphs, an unnamed controller scientist decided that he would rather die of Kandrona Starvation than be killed by Visser Three.
Happens in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. When Guan Yu is captured and executed, his two surviving subordinates, Zhou Cang and Wang Fu, both commit suicide before Maicheng finally falls.
In The Westmark Trilogy, Zara combines this with Suicide by Cop. Injured and helpless, facing arrest and interrogation, she deliberately taunts the soldiers arresting her and Theo until one of them kills her.
In Arthur C. Clarke's short story, "The Transit Of Earth", after his mission is completed the main character faces a slow death marooned on Mars, but ultimately elects to travel to a part of the planet where life has been detected, and allow himself to be consumed by those organisms so his body will remain part of a natural ecosystem.
In The Lord of the Rings, Denethor, insane and sure of defeat in the long run, burns himself to death (and tried to take his son with him) rather than let himself be killed or his corpse fall into the hands of Sauron's forces.
Father Callahan from The Dark Tower. Justified in that he was fighting vampires that would turn him if they got to kill him.
Street Magic has the villain poison herself in her room rather than be arrested and humiliated for killing the local police's undercover agents, as well as countless commoners, since there's no chance in hell that her aristocratic family is going to protect her.
Dayna Jurgens in The Stand. It comes close for her: she attempted to jump through some glass, but Flagg caught her before she could fall to her death. Thinking quickly, she whipped her head around and sliced her throat on some of the broken glass before he could pull her all the way back in. That he could not foresee or prevent this really rattles him.
At the beginning of Moongather, Serroi panics and bolts, leaving a severely injured Tayyan behind. It's later revealed that Tayyan cut her own throat rather than be captured.
In the fourth Safehold book, A Mighty Fortress, Hauwerd Wylsynn decides it's better to be killed than horribly tortured to death by the Inquisition. When the Inquisition finally makes its move, Wylsynn murders his brother (who was going to face his punishment honorably) and then takes on the Church Guardsmen sent to arrest him. He takes down four armed and armored men before finally being cut down.
In Gust Front, Tommy Sunday, Jr, and his future girlfriend make a promise that if one is unable to kill themself, the other will do it for them, instead of leaving them alive for the Posleen to find and invite for dinner.
In Assassin's Creed: Renaissance, Archbishop Salviati chooses suicide to letting Ezio get information on the other conspirators from him.
The Christopher Pike novel Chain Letter 2 has an unusual twist on this. Alison decides to shoot herself when she realizes that her boyfriend Tony was going to kill her under the influence of the Caretaker demon. The twist is that Alison's actions were meant to protect Tony: if Tony obeyed the Caretaker and killed her, the Caretaker would be able to take his soul. If Alison was the one who pulled the trigger, however, the Caretaker would be unable to drag Tony off to Hell. Alison's actions triggered a My God, What Have I Done? moment for Tony. And Alison got better.
Jendara's Suicide by Cop at the end of Green Rider. In this case it was arguably justified: Her way, she gets run through, and dies quickly and relatively painlessly. If she'd been taken alive, her death would have been hideously painful and drawn out over the course of a month.
In Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe: A Girl In Exile, Esther's 85-year-old grandmother Reisa hears that the Nazis are coming to take her to a concentration camp and decides that if it's time for her to die, she wants to die in her own home. Esther says, "It was not suicide; by a supreme act of will, this old woman cheated the Nazis of her death."
In a Star Trek Expanded Universe novel, Praetor Tal'aura (the senator from Star Trek Nemesis) finds out that a member of an important Romulan family has been plotting behind her back. When captured, he requests to take poison in lieu of a public execution, knowing that the latter will bring great shame to his family. She denies the coward. Later on, she allows a political rival, who was attempting to incite a revolt against her, to drink poison, having respect for the man. Given that Romulans are, essentially, The Roman Empire Recycled In SPACE, this makes sense.
In Krabat, Merten tries to kill himself, after his cousin Michal dies. (It doesn't work.)
At the end of the book of Double Indemnity (not the movie), Walter and Phyllis are spotted on board the ship, and rather than face arrest and execution, they commit mutual suicide by jumping overboard.
At the end of the Dale Brown novel Sky Masters, the Big Bad Admiral Yin, seeing that his plan is foiled, chooses to blow his brains out rather than return to China in defeat, where he will be humiliated and dishonourably executed.
One group of human survivors in The Killing Star who are being actively chased by the alien invaders ultimately choose to destroy themselves along with a fair portion of the Sun rather than risk what might happen to them when they're captured.
In the Queen's Thief series, Eugenides is unable to kill himself, but he asks his father to strangle him rather than survive in the Queen of Attolia's prison; Justified, as she cut off his hand the last time he was prisoner there. The attempt is prevented. On another occasion, he refuses to jump off a cliff because he's chained to two innocent men, both of whom are willing to die with him, who will be able to survive and see their families again.
Invoked in the Belgariad series when Silk is captured by Taur Urgas, facing torture and execution come sunrise. Yarblek mentions having attempted to get close enough to slip him a dagger so he can open a vein.
The Hunger Games: during Mockingjay all characters in the rebel army are fitted with a "Nightlock" capsule and expected to kill themselves before they are captured and taken in for torture/questioning.
In Enchantress From The Stars Elana, a 14 years old girl from The Federation, is captured by colonists from The Empire. The colonists intend to bring her to their home planet, where she will be dissected and interrogated (and thanks to their tech, The Empire can extract any information they want). Not wanting to end like this, Elana runs towards the imperial rock-chever, intent on being crushed by falling debris. she is rescued Just in Time, and the imperials are so ... amazed by the way she is rescued that they withdraw and leave her behind.
In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore has Severus Snape kill him to prevent Draco Malfoy from doing so and to ingratiate himself (Snape) with Voldemort. When Snape protests to this plan, Dumbledore points out that he would rather die quickly and painlessly than to fall into the hands of Fenrir Greyback or Bellatrix Lestrange, who like to play with their food.
The Saga Of The Jomsvikings: When the Jomsviking captain Bui is wounded beyond recovery in the naval Battle of Hjorunga Bay, he jumps overboard to his death.
One terrorist kills himself in the Paladin Of Shadows book A Deeper Blue than be taken alive.
In the NUMA Series book Sahara, when it looks like the Malians are about to overrun Fort Foreau, Dirk prepares to kill Eva and the rescued women so the enemy doesn't get to rape them. Fortunately, The Cavalry arrives just in time.
Live Action TV
Lois and Clark had Lex Luthor jump from a building rather than face jail. It seemed to be a point with him, because later he tried to electrocute himself but Superman stopped him. This might be the only time where a villain was effectively Killed Off for Real by being captured.
The Doctor Who episode "The Satan Pit" featured a variant that could probably be considered assisted suicide, when a character requests that the air be sucked from the chamber he is in before the enemy gets him.
Eden in Heroes chose to shoot herself in the head rather than let Sylar take her brain (and her mind-control powers).
Subverted in the pilot episode for The Sarah Connor Chronicles; Sarah is jumped by the Terminator Cromartie, who is attempting to use her to get to John. She tries to commit suicide rather than be used as a tool to assassinate her son, but Cromartie grabs her gun at the last second and knocks her out.
A few Star Trek entries...
The 'die rather than let the heroes find any information' variant occurs in the Star Trek: The Original Series season 3 episode 'Elaan of Troyius'. A saboteur phasers himself to death rather than let Kirk and company find out exactly what he's done to the ship. He sabotaged the warp drive so it would blow up as soon as it was engaged.
And in the TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine" in which Commodore Decker pilots a shuttlecraft into The Machine as atonement for the loss of his crew - which gives Kirk and Spock the hint they need to destroy it.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation "I, Borg," the Borg seem genuinely surprised that Geordi and other humans would rather die than be assimilated. (Makes you wonder why they thought humans were fighting to the death to oppose them.)
In Sharpe, the title character discovers that another character is a (coerced) spy and on his request, allows him to die in a glorious suicide charge rather than being executed for treachery.
In a particularly dark episode of Foyle's War, DCI Foyle reminds the episode's Big Bad of everything he's lost, including son, fortune, and power. Foyle walks out of the house, and when a gunshot is heard and he doesn't pause, the viewer realizes that that was his intention.
Played for laughs on 30 Rock, when the writers are continuously killing their own video game characters rather than let others kill them... dragging the game out forever.
President Clark in Babylon 5 puts a PPG to his head at the end of the Earth Alliance Civil War. But not before he programs the planetary defense grid to open fire on Earth, in the hopes of taking everyone with him.
Lampshaded in Dexter: "A badass like Doakes... he'd rather burn than get burned."
And subverted in Season 1. The Ice Truck Killer is found dead in an apparent suicide, and the police comment that he must have considered it his final victory, because now he can never be caught. In fact, the suicide is a fake; he was killed by Dexter.
The same thing happens in Season 3 with the Skinner. Dexter kills him with a Neck Snap just as the cops are arriving. He throws the body under the front cop car, and the cops immediately assume he chose the Suicide by Cop option.
As of episode 3, this has happened twice in season 7. The first was faked to make it look that way, and the second is when a serial killer spending life in prison "confesses" to where he buried another body, but it turned out he just wanted a few days of sun and ice cream before he jumped in front of a truck.
The Season Two Finale has also one of those. Pinned down by Centurions and realising the Cylons want the Colonials alive, Starbuck asks Anders to kill her rather than being sent to a Farm. It never comes to that though.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had a serial killer who suffocated himself soon after he was arrested. He even worked in a suicide note into the drawing he was working on.
Another episode of the franchise had a murderer on the eve of his execution order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his last meal, having deliberately failed to tell the authorities he was deathly allergic to nuts.
HBO's Rome has several of these, being based in Roman history as it was.
In the Monty Python's Flying Circus "YPRES 1914" skit, five WW 1 soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines, but there are only enough rations for 4 people to survive the trip back. One of them must take...The Other Way Out (rather than, say, surrendering to the Germans).
Shane, in the series finale of The Shield, turns his gun on himself when the cops break down his door. Before that, though, he already poisoned his wife and son with fatal doses of painkillers; the former because she would have ended up in prison for life as well, the latter to "spare" him from going into the foster care system.
The elderly patient of the House episode "Informed Consent" doesn't want to die the tortuous way described by House. He asks the doctors to help kill him painlessly, or at least discharge him so he can die on his own terms. Chase and House seem willing to honor his request (although House, as usual, needs to solve the puzzle), but in a surprising move it's Cameron who assists him after giving a terminal diagnosis.
In the sixth season of Homicide: Life on the Street, when Detective Kellerman's dirty shooting of drug lord Luther Mahoney is exposed, and he is given the option of resigning in disgrace but going free or staying on the force but potentially going to jail (and taking some of his friends with him), he asks his ex-partner Lewis for one last favor: to give him his service weapon and leave the room for a few minutes. Lewis refuses.
"A Question of Fear", an episode of Night Gallery has an interesting variation of this. A man seeks revenge on another, and informs the other man that he has injected a serum into him that will turn him into a slug-like creature. The victim shoots himself, rather to die like a man than live like a spineless slug. The joke's on him, there was no serum, the whole thing was a scam to get the man to kill himself.
Inverted a bit in NCIS when Gibbs' mentor Mike Franks apparently thought it was better to be killed (in a suicidal fight with a deranged Super Soldier-turned-Serial Killer) than die of lung cancer. Director Jenny Shepard previously made the same choice and went out fighting rather than expire more slowly of her unspecified terminal illness.
JAG: After Mustafa Atef, the in-universe Al-Qaeda number 3, was sentenced to death by the military tribunal in "Tribunal", he commits suicide in his cell without uttering a sound.
The Shadow Line has Commander Penney, who kills himself rather than wait for Gatehouse to find and kill him.
The Outer Limits episode "The Human Factor" featured a robot that rigged a reactor to blow, in order to Kill All Humans!. The protagonist is trapped in a room with the robot. He begs the robot to snap his neck. When it asks him why, he answers that he would rather die that way than get blown up. It refuses.
In the first season finale of Andromeda when the Magog, an alien race who eat other sentients alive or implant their eggs in their stomachs, are closing in on Harper and Tyr, Harper requests to be shot before they get him. But at the last minute he changes his mind and decides to chance taking them on in hand-to-hand, more in line with Tyr's Nietzschean philosophy.
A variation was featured in 24 Day 5: Jack has Christopher Henderson cornered and tells him it's over only for him to smugly inform Jack that he has men in a helicopter following Secretary James Heller's car and that if he's not released, they will kill him. Jack calls Heller to check if this is a bluff but it isn't: Heller can see the chopper. Jack apparently has no choice but to let Henderson go... until Heller informs him that he will not be used to hurt the country, tells Jack to tell his daughter he loves her and drives his car off a cliff, allowing Jack to go to town on Henderson. Luckily, Heller survives.
in El Chavo del ocho, the protagonist says this in an episode. In the Brazilian, it was "Prefiro morrer do que perder a vida!"
In Warhammer 40000, suicide is an acceptable end for disgraced officers of the Imperial Guard, as well as an acceptable option for individuals who are touched by the Warp. Considering what the Warp does to people touched by it, this is fully understandable.
In an amusing subversion, the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer expressly orders Guardsmen to not commit suicide, at least without authorisation and certainly not wasting valuable ammunition to do so without authorisation. The penalty for attempting to commit suicide is death.
The penalty of committing suicide without authorisation is having your body incinerated and the ashes shot into space, and then sending the bill to your next of kin.
Though paradoxical, not so far fetched: suicide used to be (and in some cases, still is) a crime in many Real Life cultures, even posthumously. However, since lawyers have no sense of humor whatsoever, attempted suicide never was a capital one. Jail time and heavy fines, that's the ticket. Will put the love of life back in the fellow!
The IG also have a "For Their Own Good" rule that basically means that if a sanctioned psyker suffers a Perils of the Warp attack within range of a Commissar, they are immediately shot and killed.
In Exalted, there is a spell called Unconquerable Self - it burns the person casting it, their possessions, and any artifacts attuned to them to ash. It requires no words, gestures or components to cast, making it useful if one were taken prisoner, for example.
Discussed, but averted in Macbeth - "Why should I play the Roman fool, and die on mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes do better upon them."
Played straight in Antony And Cleopatra, where both title characters commit suicide to avoid humiliation and death after their armies are defeated.
Not to mention four times in Julius Caesar. The last one was done by Brutus, who ran himself upon a sword held by his comrade because Brutus' Stoic philosophy expressly forbade him to commit suicide but he could see no other way out.
Invoked by Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice, when Portia tells Shylock to "beg mercy of the Duke": "Beg that thou mayst have leave to hang thyself!"
Puccini's Tosca. After killing the villain, the heroine is cornered by the villain's lackeys; she jumps off a high balcony to her death, rather than let the lackeys execute her.
Another Puccini example: Liu's death in Turandot. Rather than be tortured and possibly killed by Turandot's guards, she grabs one of their daggers and does herself in.
Inverted in "Carousel", where the main character Billy Bigelow decides to stab himself to death rather than be arrested... for being an ACCOMPLICE in an attempted MUGGING. I don't know what the penalty for such a crime is, but I'm betting it's not life in prison.
In Ace Combat, after being defeated, the Belkan government turns it's nuclear stockpile on themselves, wiping out the entire country in a suicidal blaze.
In Call of Duty 4, at the end of the mission "The Sins of the Father", Zakhaev's son commits suicide once he realizes the SAS, Russians, and United States Marines are trying to capture him to locate his father.
In BioShock, Andrew Ryan opts to commit an interesting form of suicide both to deny Atlas the pleasure of killing him and to humiliate you: turns out you've been Brainwashed this entire time, and he uses your code words to make you kill him, while he taunts you for being a "slave."
In the Multiplayer, it is better to commit suicide then let the opponent kill you in team matches, as the match ends depending on how many kills the team got.
In Mortal Kombat Deception, if your opponent manages to win against you, and the message "FINISH HIM!" plays, you can perform a Hara-kiri. Hara-kiris are virtually suicides, and they are performed just like fatalities.
Kenshi's Hara-kiri imitates a real life Hara-kiri. He takes a sword and cuts his chest open. By many, this is usually considered the correct way to do a Hara-kiri in real life.
Also, a Good Bad Bug happens when both a fatality and a Hare-kiri move are entered simultaneously: The winner will perform the fatality on himself.
At the end of StarCraft Brood War, Admiral DuGalle writes a message to his wife, Helena, about the failures of the UED in the Koprulu sector before he kills himself out of shame, because he ordered the execution of his best friend, unknowingly cooperated with the Big Bad to kill her enemy, practically handed said Big Bad her new army, then failed to kill the Big Bad. A lot to be ashamed of.
The ending text then notes that the Zerg caught up with them and not a single ship managed to leave Koprulu.
At the end of the House of the Dead 2 video game (and of Typing Of The Dead), there are three possible endings. Two involve the main villain taking a swan dive off of the side of a highrise. One of those endings involves bungee cords and the villain bouncing back onto the top of the building and burping at you. It Makes Sense in Context.
Wing Commander IV. In the good ending, Admiral Tolwyn is found guilty of treason. In a chilling finale to his tale, audio from a news report announces that all appeals have been denied as his corpse is shown in his cell, dangling lazily. He has crudely hung himself rather than face execution.
Muddokons in the Oddworld series have this mentality if Abe starts killing a group of them (accidentally or otherwise) or Sligs open fire on them.
At least one farmer in Ex Mortis 2 killed his family and then himself rather than endure a long and agonising death at the hands of the Exmortis. The brother-in-law wasn't so lucky, and the PC doesn't get the option.
System Shock 2: At least one of the people on the Von Braun opted to hang himself rather than be assimilated by the Many, and your alleged 'guide' is revealed to have killed herself long before. There's also Captain William Diego, who had a med-robot cut the infection from his body in full knowledge that he would quickly succumb to blood-loss, which he did.
This way out is taken by five separate characters in Dead Space; a number of NPCs (frequently right in front of Isaac), and Nicole, via lethal injection before the game even began.
Points go out to one particular crewman of the Ishimura in an audio log; he knew that dying would just make another Necromorph, so he saws his own legs off (this is recorded in the audio log). Shortly after you find this log, you discover a legless Necromorph...
In some areas of Left 4 Dead there are a disturbing number of bodies which are obviously suicides (single pistol lying around, blood around the head). Given the alternative...
Bill: We've been immune so far, but, well, if I start to turn, promise you'll shoot me. Francis: What if just your beard starts to turn, can I shoot that?
Likewise, Half-Life 2 has its fair share of similar cases in isolated areas. Usually, they're in places infested with Xen creatures or Headcrabs, but there were some that presumably just wanted to escape the tyranny of the Combine.
Samurai Shodown IV has a special move that "kills" the player (for some characters it's a suicide, for others is something less interesting). Since it doesn't necessarily end the fights (it's worth only one KO) it can be used strategically, as in the next round the player starts with a full rage meter.
In WarCraft III, upon death, Demon Hunter heroes will stab themselves with their own blades as they die, provided they are still in Night Elf form.
This is also Arthas' reasoning behind purging the people of Stratholme who were doomed to become undead.
World of Warcraft has the Vanessa Vancleef fight, upon hitting her last hit point, she pulls out a barrel of gunpowder, yells, "My destiny is my own!" and detonates it (This can also be a Taking You with Me attack, as the explosion can and most likely will kill an unexpecting player).
After you defeat Colonel Radec in Killzone 2, he and his men commit suicide, preferring death to being prisoners of the ISA.
In Wild Arms 5, after Kartikeya is defeated by Greg, he opts to finish himself off by using his ARM to blow a giant hole in his gut so as to deny Greg the joy of revenge. Greg then declares that he no longer cares about his revenge anymore, leaving Kartikeya with a dumbfounded look on his face as he dies.
Outside of storylines, sometimes suicide is not as bad for your (team's) score as losing to an enemy. For example, in Super Smash Bros. Time battles, by default, a self-destruct takes a point off your score, but getting KOed takes a point off your score and awards one to whoever got the finishing blow. Either way, your damage is reset. In battles with only two fighters \ teams, it's particularly clear; if Fighter A KOs Fighter B 3 times, and fighter A self-destructs 5 times (resetting their damage each time), Fighter A will win. The way around this is to set the self-destruct penalty to 2 points instead of 1, although that makes accidental SDs more annoying. Unfortunately in most games like this there's rarely a way to not reset a player's damage when they self-destruct, so either suicides are exploitable, or punished too severely for innocent mistakes.
That's why you play Stock matches instead so the winner isn't "highest KO count" but "last man standing".
Many FPS games will have strategic advantages for a player to self destruct rather than be killed, especially in team matches with close scores. A suicide subtracts one point, but if the other team would get their final point, it gives your team a chance to catch up.
Especially in instances where you're in a close-range firefight with an enemy, killing yourself with explosives can often result in the death of the enemy, denying the enemy the point while giving you a kill to counterbalance your suicide. Extra amusing in Halo: when an enemy stickies you, you simply run up to them and explode all over them.
In the second level of the Alien campaign in the 2010 Alien vs. Predator game, a civilian will commit suicide as soon you enter the room he is in. Just before this, you hear him saying to a marine that he would rather do this than be killed by the xenomorph.
Several human targets choose to kill themselves rather than face the alternative, mostly because the alternative is being held down and intimately introduced to a facehugger. There is an achievement for catching them all, as if sadism alone wasn't incentive enough.
At the end of The Saboteur you are facing off with the man who cheated to beat you in a race (oh, and he killed your friend) and, after a speech about how killing him won't change the damage that has been caused, you are given a gun to aim at the Nazi (who's gun is out of ammo). If you decide to not pull the trigger he'll keep backing up, turn, and leap off the edge of the building. Did I mention you're near the top of the Eiffel Tower?
When faced with the imminent Charr invasion in Guild Wars, the Vizier of Orr decided on this approach. Well, unless blowing up your entire country and sinking most of it beneath the waves is considered a valid military tactic. I quote:
Pyre Fierceshot: "The Vizier destroyed his own country rather than fight us. That...is a compliment."
In the opening scene of Tears To Tiara, Rhiannon (who has seen glimpses of her own future) decides that her death by suicide is a better alternative than being made a living sacrifice to revive a demon lord.
At the end of Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow, Shen Rei commits suicide to prevent his capture and interrogation.
Prototype has one when Director of Research McMullen committed suicide via bullet to the brain, so that Alex Mercer couldn't absorb him to get information about the Awful Truth.
Portal 2 plays this for Black Comedy. The folks at Aperture Science were so obsessed with contingency plans for everything (except, apparently, their own deaths at the hands of the neurotoxin they empowered their AI to release) that, should the countdown displaying the Exact Time to Failure of the facility's nuclear reactor itself fail, the supervisory programming will activate a Self-Destruct Mechanism to remove the uncertainty.
Played for Laughs by the villain near the end, who offers you a chance to fall victim to some very obvious Death Traps rather than a final showdown in the lair. They also have some rather amusing things to say if you in fact take the offer, and you are rewarded with an achievement for one of them.
Wheatley: "Not so much a death trap as it is a... death option."
Used as a gameplay mechanic in multiplayer for the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 3: players near death can opt to commit suicide to prevent opponents from scoring from killing them.
In the backstory of the Dead Money expansion to Fallout: New Vegas, security came online and trapped the guests during the Sierra Madre's grand opening. Some of the guests shot themselves, rather than wait for a less humane death at the guards' hands.
In the quest "I put a Spell on You" from the main game, if you don't kill Curtis yourself, he commits suicide after you report him to Hsu. If you sell Arcade Gannon into slavery as Caesar's personal doctor, he commits seppuku with a scalpel.
In Team Fortress 2 there are weapons which give a positive effect to the wielder on a kill. If a player commits suicide before being killed by one of these weapons the attacker will not receive the positive effect from the weapon. Especially effective with the Half-Zatoichi which gives full health on kill but cannot be put away until you get a kill.
DUST 514 has suicide as an option in combat. It counts towards your death count but not towards the enemy's points total.
One Cyanide and Happiness comic has a prisoner about to be executed. He gets out of it by requesting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich due to his peanut allergies.
In The Order of the Stick, destroying the Gates - dimensional barriers keeping the Snarl from destroying all that exists - is actually regarded as a superior alternative to allowing them to fall into the hands of Xykon, but is only halfway this trope: the reasoning behind that if the gate is destroyed, the Snarl will not come out immediately and in full force and they can be rebuild later. While if it is knowingly summoned through one of them, the end of the world will be imminent.
In issue 10 of Sonichu, Author Avatar Chris and his "band" the Hedgehog Boys (which are pretty much some of the various Sonichus around in his series) use a song to destroy the 4-cent Garbage building, two villains who are left behind, Clyde Cash and Jack Thaddeus, opt to leap down an elevator shaft holding hands (they were apparently lovers) than let Chris kill them. It was actually pretty touching.
Towards the end of Survival of the Fittest V1, two characters are involved in a car chase across the island. At the culmination of this chase, one has been killed, and the other - Jeremy Torres has crashed his car into the side of a warehouse, which at the time, is a dangerzone. Rather than allowing himself to be killed up by his collar, the barely living character shoots himself as a final act of defiance. His car then blows up, igniting chemicals in the warehouse and resulting in a massive explosion.
And near the end of V3, Quincy Archer takes one look at his sword, remembers that most of the remaining students have guns now, and promptly slits his own throat.
In There Will Be Brawl, Bowser chose to blow himself up with a Bob-Omb and take out as many Game and Watches as possible rather than be killed and mutilated like the rest of the victims.
In the fifth episode of the Warden's Fall machinima, Cyril — who was working for the Mother and had led numerous refugees to their deaths — opts to leap off a roof rather than be interrogated by Kristoff, the main character. His terror at meeting one of The Mother's servants in an earlier episode suggests he was afraid of what the Mother would do to him.
MSF High Forum: Apostate's also got a healthy dose of this from her Start of Darkness.
Believe it or not, in the French MP3 saga Les Aventuriers du Survivaure, the Captain actually says "Better to die than to die!". Lampshaded would be an understatement: he can Never Live It Down. Actually, the Only Sane Man lampshades it just in time to prevent the captain from saying it again.
Almost played straight, then averted completely in Shadowhunter Peril: When Umbra's physical form is destroyed by Lilith, he is sent back to Hell in the presence of all his demon brothers and sister, who, unlike him, are completely evil. Asmodeus, Umbra's eldest half-brother and the King of Hell, offers Umbra the chance to give them information about the Resistance before Umbra gets his punishment (which is likely to be a long, torturous death). Umbra responds with this:
"God? You think I'm doing this for God? I don't even know if God exists, but if He does... ever since He can remember, people have died in His good name. Long before that September. Long before hijacking planes. He's lost the will, He can't decide. He doesn't know who's right or wrong, but there's one thing that He's sure of: This has been going on too long. I do this for my friends. And yes, I HAVE FRIENDS. Good people, who were thrust into this mortal conflict you demons have interfered with. I do this for them. And I will not betray my friends."
He ends up being tortured by demons, only to be rescued by Arthur, a fallen angel.
Subverted in the South Park episode "Night of the Living Homeless" — When a scientist tries to kill himself before the homeless break down the door to his lab, he ends up non-fatally shooting himself in the head several times before finally hitting the mark.
At the end of season 3 of the Spawn animated series, Sam and Twitch give Chief Banks the choice of either killing himself or be disgraced once his link with Jason Wynn is exposed to the public and having his family dragged into such a dirty mess. Chief Banks chooses to kill himself.
In a Never Say "Die" version, Melody, the only one who knows the key to the Diamond Castle and who happens to be trapped in a mirror, shatters the mirror rather than let the castle fall into the villain's hands, in essence trapping herself in the mirror forever. She gets better.
In the Batman Beyond episode "Unmasked", after Batman defeats all his mooks, the leader of Kobra throws himself into his own cobra pit.
Played for laughs in the Warner Bros. cartoon "Life With Feathers." Sylvester refuses to eat a suicidal bird because he thinks the bird is poisoned. The bird cajoles Sylvester with a cooking radio show and a cookbook until Sylvester, virtually skin and bones, gives in.
Sylvester: All right... I'll do it. I'd rather die than starve to death!
That is also the reason why often criminals who commit capital crimes rather shoot themselves (which is a rather quick and painless way to go) than face imprisonment, justice and execution as the result will be the same anyway.
Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII.
Being a radical/reactionary ideology and party that gained total control of an industrialized state, launched the Western half of a World War, then lost, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei provides us a number of examples. Most of the higher-level Nazis had a cyanide pill in their possession. If they saw capture as imminent, they would bite into their cheek and open the pill, thus killing themselves.
For his cognizance in the 20 July plot, Erwin Rommel was given the choice from Fieldmarshall Keitel to either face the People's Court, a death sentence and potential persecution of his family, or to commit suicide quietly, with the prospect of the government hushing up his implication, granting a state funeral and paying a pension to his family.
Hitler killed himself while Soviet troops closed in on Berlin.
Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda, the day after Hitler's suicide, having previously poisoned their six children.
Heinrich Himmler used his poison pill after his capture by the British army. A British doctor doing a check-up on him noticed a suspicious lump in the cheek of their unindentified captive, whereupon he bit the capsule.
Robert Ley hung himself with his bedsheets in Nuremberg before the trial began.
Hermann Göring convinced a friendly guard to bring him his cyanide capsule before he was executed. He ended his life two hours before he would have gone to the gallows.
Hans Frank attempted suicide twice before being caught, but failed and was sentenced to death at Nuremberg.
Decebalus of Dacia, to avoid being captured and humiliated by the Romans.
During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, people on his hit list often got notified that they probably wanted to commit suicide or he'd make them wish they had. Given how sadistically Nero had some people executed, it should be no surprise that many who received such notes took their advice. Among those that did were his former tutor the philosopher Seneca and Petronius, author of the Satyricon.
What actually is deliciously ironic, because Nero committed suicide when he was declared as an enemy of state after the burning of Rome. Sure, it was completely normal back then, but nonetheless it's a great example of poetic justice.
This predates Nero by centuries. The Roman religion did not see suicide as a sin, and in fact held up suicide as a noble form of death second only to death in battle. Free men and women who had been convicted or who were likely to be convicted of capital crimes were allowed to kill themselves before they could be executed; under Roman law before Nero, this meant their heirs would then be allowed to inherit their property rather than having it confiscated by the state. Nero's main innovation was that if the accused committed suicide, Nero would take his property but let the accused's family live. If he refused to commit suicide, Nero would order the execution of the entire family, including children. Even worse, because the law prohibited execution of a female virgin, any daughters in the family (even infants) would be raped by the executioner before being strangled and thrown off the Tarpeian Rock. Nero also executed men solely to get their estates, manufacturing charges that no jury would disagree with lest they become his next victims.
Cassius and Brutus, the leaders of the conspiracy against Caesar committed suicide after losing the Battle of Philippi (there were actually two clashes, Cassius ordered his freedman to kill him after the first, Brutus killed himself after the second).
Subverted by J.K. Paasikivi, President of Finland: Kuoleman pelosta ei kannata tehdä itsemurhaa (It is no use committing suicide because of fear of death.)
Seppuku could be used by samurai to avoid falling into enemy hands. Jigai was a less messy version that women could use to the same ends.
During World War II, Japanese propaganda was used to convince Japanese soldiers and the natives of the islands they occupied that the Americans were savages who would rape and torture them if they ever captured them. This often led to mass suicides among Japanese soldiers and native civilians whenever the Americans landed on an island.
Perhaps the most notable instance of this occurred on the island of Saipan in July 1944. Some 10,000 Japanese civilians took their own lives rather than be captured by the Americans, many doing so by jumping off cliffs now nicknamed "Banzai Cliff" and "Suicide Cliff."
Serial killer/torturer/rapist Leonard Lake got arrested for shoplifting. When it was clear that the police wouldn't let him go without some investigation, which would undoubtedly lead the police to discover his crimes, he left a note to his wife and ingested a cyanide capsule that killed him in order to avoid having to face legal proceedings and certain death sentence.
Mathematician and father of the modern computer Alan Turing was convicted of homosexuality and offered the choice between a series of chemical injections that would amount to chemical castration, or a long stay in prison, where he was unlikely to get the best of treatment. He chose the injections, but about a year later, he was found dead of cyanide poisoning, presumably from an apple impregnated with cyanide. It is disputed whether he deliberately poisoned himself with the apple, or accidentally inhaled it while working with potassium cyanide.
Also, mathematician Felix Hausdorff committed suicide with his wife and wife's sister in order to avoid going to a concentration camp.
"By the time you receive these lines, we three will have solved the problem in another way - in the way which you have continually attempted to dissuade us."
In 73 CE, after the failure of the Jewish Rebellion against the Roman Empire, virtually the entire population that had taken refuge in the fortress of Masada, soldiers and civilians alike, committed mass suicide rather than face slavery or crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Two women and their five children were the only ones not to take their own lives. The survivors were, in fact, treated with honor by the Romans.
Twelve centuries later the Jews of York who had taken shelter in the castle during a pogrom followed their ancestors' example and committed mass suicide.
Also happened in Numantia, Spain (then, Hispania), in 143 BD. After the long siege from the Romans and its chief Scipius Emilianus, lots of Numantians chose to die rather than surrender.
The Roman general Varus and many other Roman officers did this in the final moments of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, both out of shame (three Roman legions were completely annihilated), and out of fear for what the Germanic tribesmen would do to them (many of the captured Roman soldiers were tortured, then had their head nailed to a tree while they were still alive; other Romans were burned alive in wicker cages as sacrifices to the German gods).
This was the motivation behind the Peoples Temple mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978, though in this case only a small fraction of those dead would have faced criminal charges. It's also unclear how many people were actually willing participants in the suicide and how many were tricked/forced into it.
Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and set off World War I, attempted to do this, but the cyanide was too old and his gun was wrenched out of his hands.
The same went for another of his co-conspirators, Nedeljko Čabrinović. The man behind the first assassination attempt, a grenade tossed at Franz Ferdinand's car, Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide pill from the same batch as Princip, and jumped in the nearby river to ensure he died. Unfortunately, his cyanide also failed to kill him, and the water was only five inches deep.
Dr. Bruce Ivins, the prime suspect in the 2002 anthrax poisonings in the U.S., committed suicide in 2008, shortly ahead of being indicted for murder in the attacks.
Marvin Heemeyer, otherwise known as Captain Killdozer, built a tank and then proceeded to destroy his town causing over $7 million in damages before getting his tank stuck in a basement. He shot himself in the head after realising he was stuck.
He made sure to hurt no one. Also, it was a broken radiator.
Untrue. His "kill list" started with buildings which had offended him or housed people or organizations which had aggrieved him, but the list ultimately included people, there was no evidence that he at all tried to avoid hurting people, and his killdozer was armed with many guns; he tried (unsuccessfully) to create an explosion by shooting a gigantic container of flammable gas repeatedly, attached to a building which still had people inside. The fact that nobody died is more a testament to the fact that everybody was smart enough to get the heck out of his way!
I wish I could recall what unit it was, but I recall reading that an entire French military unit (Company size, I believe?), imprisoned during the Haitian Revolution for suspected treason, which committed mass suicide by strangulation rather than face torture or more likely, starvation.
King Mithridates VI of Pontus attempted this when about to be killed by the Romans; unfortunately, the attempt was done using a poison he had built up an immunity to; accounts vary on whether he got a lackey to run him through with a sword or whether the Romans got at him first.
During the purges of the 1930s, several Soviet politicians committed suicide rather than go to the gulag.
Xiang Yu, a Chinese general who ended up losing out to his ally-turned-rival Liu Bang, attempted to escape to friendly territory when Bang put a price on his head. However, his would-be assassins caught up and, after losing all the men who were still loyal to him, Yu slit his own throat. According to some accounts, he saw an old friend among the group hunting him, and offered his head (and the reward) to the man.
R. Budd Dwyer, treasurer of Pennsylvania shot himself in the face during a televised news conference rather than face sentencing the next day for charges stemming from a bribe scandal. This is the inspiration for the song, "Hey man nice shot" by Filter.
Ancient British rebel leader Boudica, Queen of the Iceni tribe, took this option when her host was routed by the Romans.
The Austrian author Egon Friedell jumped out of his window while the SA was arguing with his maid downstairs. Considering that he was a highly educated, outspoken Jew in Nazi Germany this probably saved him from a Fate Worse Than Death.
During the September 11th attacks of 2001, the people above where the planes hit the World Trade Center were unable to evacuate unlike those below, leading to a number of them deciding to throw themselves out of the towers to their deaths below.
Firefighter Joe Casaliggi: How bad is it up there that jumping is the better option?
In more of a political death, Richard Nixon decided (or had it decided for him, depending on how you look at it) to resign from the Presidency once it came out that he had explicitly told his associates to stonewall or cover up what they knew of Watergate.
There is some speculation that Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar committed suicide before the police could shoot him. Since he was shot multiple times and from far range, there is no way to prove or disprove this. However, Escobar's brothers Roberto Escobar and Fernando Sánchez Arellano believe he shot himself in the ears. ""He committed suicide, he did not get killed. During all the years they went after him, he would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would shoot himself through the ears."
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High shooting, when realizing that none of their bombs had gone off, that they couldn't bring themselves to kill some people they were close to, and that a police sniper had already found them and was ready to shoot, both shot themselves to make sure that they'd never be brought in for questioning.
Mark O. Barton killed his wife, children and eight people at his workplace, triggering a manhunt for him. Police eventually tracked him to a gas station. Surrounded with no place to escape, Barton ducked behind his van and shot himself dead to avoid going to jail.
At least one suicide has been linked to the supposed 2012 apocalypse predicted by the Mayans.
Ex-LAPD officer and psychotic spree killer/civil rights vigilante (depending on who you ask) Christopher Dorner shot himself in the head to spare himself the agony of burning alive when his former comrades "accidentally" set his hideout on fire.