June 14, 2003 1:26 PM   Subscribe

SFGate is running an article on an internet assisted suicide that's worth reading. Not because of the minutiae, or any implied morality/immorality regarding suicide, but simply because it's a well-researched, well-written story of the culture of those who are about to die.
posted by Jairus (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
thanks Jairus: great article about suicide among otherwise 'healthy' individuals. when my brother killed himself i heard much about 'sin' and 'forgiveness' of the dead one in a casket. what nobody ever mentioned was the fact that he was a timebomb with numerous past attempts on his life, including shooting himself and setting his trailer on fire while he laid passed out in the bed.

we became very close in his last year and i could see that he was going to do it. sometimes i feel guilty that i didn't try to stop it. othertimes i think that he's in a much better place.
posted by poopy at 3:38 PM on June 14, 2003

assisted online suicide (in newsgroups, forums, etc) is nothing new. the crowd is larger than say, a small group of friends talking about it, but the article seems to suggest that the risk of suicide is greater because of the internet. i don't buy it: if someone wants to do themselves in, they will find the means, whether it be online, bookstores, etc.
posted by poopy at 3:54 PM on June 14, 2003

Jesus, that article really got to me. Poopy, I'm sure it took a lot for you to write about your brother. Maybe it was more important for you to be close to him that last year.

“Fundamentally, these groups bring with them all the benefits and all the risks that are present with unfettered communication.” Anonymity makes it so much easier to discuss and explore taboo subjects. Put the members of the suicide group in a room together and they wouldn’t have the same conversation.
posted by letitrain at 3:57 PM on June 14, 2003

These groups seem like they must house a greater sickness - the desire to encourage people to kill themselves. Obviously, members who "benefit" most from the group can't report back about how things have worked out for them. Who hosts the discussion? If they are such experts on the methods of and reasons for suicide, why do they exist?
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:55 PM on June 14, 2003

ferociouskitty, most people who ultimately kill themselves have been thinking about doing it for years, so the forum can be maintained by people in those years, passing on information to the next generation, so to speak.

but also, people like to fantasize, or consider their options, or however you want to put it. Before the internet, they just thought about it alone or read books or kept planning diaries or something. Now they can interact with anonymous people, but I doubt it has much effect on how many people go through with their plan. Even when you're depressed, it isn't easy to take the easy way out... a website isn't going to make you do it.
posted by mdn at 6:13 PM on June 14, 2003

Thanks for that perspective, mdn. Suicide is something I can't begin to try to understand. I'm fortunate enough never to have been affected by it.
posted by ferociouskitty at 6:20 PM on June 14, 2003

You could be an expert on suicide, and even believe that it should be an acceptable option for people who don't find life to be valuable, but not be interesting in committing suicide yourself.
I could personally not want to go skydiving, but could still learn about effective methods and techniques, and even encourage others to go skydiving, without ever doing it myself.

That said, I think this is a very interesting topic. I've often thought about how wanting to commit suicide automatically qualifies you as deluded, insane, or incapable of making decisions for yourself. Don't get me wrong, encouraging troubled or confused people, especially minors, to kill themselves is quite disturbing. However, encouraging people to accept suicide as a respectable option, and allowing them to choose it, might not be a horrible thing.
Of course, this is a very difficult issue to look at, because there is no way to change your mind about suicide afterwards, and it is often a decision made in circumstances that prevent a reasonable analysis.
When it comes down to it, I'm more interested in questions than answers, but I think this group poses a question that people should think about: Is being alive a right or an obligation?
posted by Wingy at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2003

I dunno how I feel about this. I really haven't known too many depressed people in my life, other than perhaps myself at times. If someone told me in my darkest hours that it's okay to do yourself in, who knows what turn my thoughts could have taken? I believe that a strong taboo against suicide is culturally healthy and should be encouraged, except perhaps for the special case of euthanasia. 20 is way too young to know how to deal with one's emotions, or to know oneself. This girl could have learned to manage her emotions and lead a productive, relatively happy life if she did not have the encouragement of this group. Perhaps suicide is the inevitable end of certain individuals, but do we really need a community that assists those few unfortunate souls to the detriment of others who could be saved?
posted by sid at 6:22 PM on June 14, 2003

I frequent a forumsupport group where the members occasionally have to encourage one another to stay alive...So many of these deaths are a direct or indirect result of an organic chemical imbalance that is treatable-if the right help is sought.

As poopy can probably attest, when a loved one commits suicide, the pain that those left behind is almost unimaginable...people who are suicidal owe it not only to themselves, but to the people around them, to get help.

As far as I am concerned, many of these deaths are simply the fatal result of a serious disease. I think it is tragic that others refuse to realise this and actually encourage the sufferer to give up the fight.

If by chance someone who is suicidal reads this thread-go to any emergency room and tell them you are suicidal-that is the quickest and safest way to get help.
posted by konolia at 6:35 PM on June 14, 2003

a website isn't going to make you do it.

You're right, the website site did not make her commit suicide. What they did do give her the information necessary to fool a Massuchusetts chemical maker into selling her poisonous compounds, and then provided her with the appropriate recipe to utilize such matieral.

Granted, people who are truly suicidal will find a way to do themselves in.

Granted, these internet groups are inherently no more dangerous than another medium.

But this does not render the actions of the people in that internet group morally justifiable. It's fucking disgusting that someone would be so willing to provide this type of information.
posted by cohappy at 6:51 PM on June 14, 2003

First of all, what konolia said. and poopy, my condolences for your loss.

Gonzales' death is the 14th confirmed suicide associated with the online discussion group (which The Chronicle is not identifying).

Disclaimer: I post this not to promote or encourage the material within, but because I feel that access to information supersedes protection from ourselves. It may also create more informed discussion than can be gleaned from the newspaper article alone.

The newsgroup:
The original thread in question.
The newsgroup FAQ which includes the "methods" list evidently referenced by Suzy Gonzales.

What to do about this? The Internet is disseminating the information. The newsgroup exists in the semi-anarchy of USENET. Google has archived all of the posts and documentation which should make it simple for anyone to replicate the acts of Suzy Gonzales. The law enforcement officials quoted in the article admit that the posting of this "self-help" material is not a criminal act.

Browsing the a.s.h. archive is in itself pretty interesting. The most obvious thing to keep in mind is that everyone who posts has either been unsuccessful at what the group preaches, or has not yet attempted it. All participants, from the writer of the FAQ to those encouraging others to commit suicide, were evidently quite alive when they wrote and posted this information. This is why a lot of this kind of advocacy needs to be taken with a grain of NaCl.

One of the (unintentional) neat things about a.s.h. is a lot of introspection and questioning. This thread is a good example. The original poster says "I'm scared of death. I don't know what to do." A responder says he plans to commit suicide by the end of the year but "[doesn't] really want to die." This discussion, and others like it, address the ambivalence of life, not the inevitability of death. Those who are leaning toward suicide may see this and appreciate that others in their situation are reflecting and addressing their fears - the first step to the introspection necessary to seek help.

There's also a whole lot of trolling, of course, and since a.s.h. is unmoderated, anyone can respond to a despondent person with the appropriate list of suicide prevention resources. That person will be promptly ridiculed by the group's regulars, but at least the message will have gotten through.

I would submit that the newsgroup did not enable or hasten Suzy's death. If anything, it probably made it much less violent. The fact that we are talking about it at all is because of the existence of this particular newsgroup, and it's our responsibility - as people who support and encourage the continuation of life and the access to treatment of emotional and mental disease - to use these resources to our advantage.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:05 PM on June 14, 2003

I would submit that the newsgroup did not enable or hasten Suzy's death.

Just to be clear here, I am not either. What I doing is condemning the willingness to provide an admittedly depressed/suicidal person with information on how to illegally obtain chemicals, and then again teaching this person how to use it.

I'm not saying newsgroup like this should be illegal, and I'm not saying information of this type should not.

Perhaps it is the case that all of the information the girl in question needed was put in in some kind of faq, and she didn't receive any kind of direct advice. But I'm definitely feeling a kind of pervasive, rotten cheerleading going on in the attitudes of the posters who have yet to "make the transition", and I simply find it repellant.
posted by cohappy at 8:57 PM on June 14, 2003

grr, I meant : ...and I'm not saying information of this type shouldn't be available.
posted by cohappy at 8:58 PM on June 14, 2003

Prince Valium and others, This is a doublepost to a well-researched article about suicide.

Poopy, I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 PM on June 14, 2003

Interesting and moving post, thanks.

Poopy, sorry to hear that.

To move this thread in a slightly different direction, what is a good thing to say to a suicidal person?

From someone that recently had to make that decision, I've heard that the most helpful action to take against someone of the "well off, but tired of life, no energy" - category is to piss them off.

Really, really piss them off. Piss them off so much that they will hate you forever, and not even say hello when you meet on the street.

My source told me that this works, in that it gives the potential suicide a focus, an outlet if you like, of her negative emotions - it feels good to have somebody to hate.

My source thinks that it's better if people he loves hate him and live, than love him and die.

posted by spazzm at 10:10 PM on June 14, 2003

I don't buy it, spazzm. It might be a short-term solution at best, but then 1 year later, when they are still suicidal and you have moved to Albuquerque, focussing anger on you is not going to make them feel any better. I know (and have known) many suicidal people, and had I simply walked out them, it would just confirm their own sense of worthlessness. The people I know are very different from each other, and the strategy you suggest could not have a 100% success rate. It's best not to advocate a single strategy, unless you think that losing 25% is an acceptable risk.
posted by CommaTheWaterseller at 12:00 AM on June 15, 2003

It's so sad that this girl Suzy is gone, she seems so colourful. Even depression which lasts for 10 years can be overcome. She should have hung round some kind of positive depression self-help kind of list. a.s.h. is a morbid place. but then, she was an individual and capable of making her own decisions. she couldn't stand the suffering any longer. it is just sad for us.
posted by mokey at 3:10 AM on June 15, 2003

yeah, the hatred thing sounds like a bad idea to me: sometimes when you're depressed, things that make you angry normally just make you more sad, like you can't find the energy to even be angry about it; you're just sad the world is so full of crappy people / things / whatever's making you angry. Also, I've been told that anger and depression are kind of two sides of a coin, so you get angry which later makes you depressed, which later makes you angry, etc.

Suicide has two sides, the victim and the murderer; some people use the anger to strengthen the murderer side, to actually go through with it.

Anyway, what's the point of extending someone's life if it's just going to be focused around hatred? Doesn't seem to solve anything.

I agree, mokey. She seems like she was really cool.
posted by mdn at 8:01 AM on June 15, 2003

The primary function of the a.s.h. methods file is to provide accurate information. Downing antifreeze, for instance, is unlikely to be lethal but may very well tear up one's intestines to unpleasant effect. Other half-baked suicide attempts may lead to brain damage. The methods file exists to prevent this. The rationale of the newsgroup is pro-(informed) choice, not pro-suicide.
posted by mookieproof at 8:26 AM on June 15, 2003

I've been depressed for most of my life, but I've never considered suicide to be an option because I thought of it as "the coward's exit" — instead of rising above the failures of both yourself and society, you succumb to them and end your life without any honor or respect for the people you love.

Anyway, I'd reiterate my earlier comments from the past discussion on suicide here at MeFi. Now that the group has claimed more victims and has gained more publicity, I would hope that the group would decide to break up.

Though if a.s.h is actually providing an actual "reality check" to would-be suicides, it might have a valid reason to exist, but the major rationale of the members seem to be giving an unstable person the means of killing themselves. That's beyond reprehensible, IMO.
posted by Down10 at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2003

i've been reading the newsgroup and it is actually a kind of support-group. i think it's a support group where the posters can relate to people who understand, which is important, and perhaps different from other kinds of counselling. nobody there encourages anybody to commit suicide. i think the group probably helps a lot of people.
posted by mokey at 1:41 PM on June 15, 2003

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