Laws to censor or criminalize
suicide information sources
Information about how to commit suicide is a delicate topic.
- On the one hand, guarantees of freedom of speech in the U.S. and Canada
permit dissemination of a wide range of speech and writing that deal with unpopular
and controversial topics
like this one.
- On the other hand, suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary
problem. Many persons who commit suicide are depressed and without hope. Yet
depression can frequently be lifted with medication, support, and therapy. Circumstances often
change to give people hope. If committing suicide is facilitated by
disseminating how-to information, a person might
kill themselves instead of choosing to stay alive, struggle with the depression and hopefully lead a long worthwhile life.
Some argue that suicide is defensible for one group of individuals: those
with a terminal illness who are in intractable pain or who are experiencing a
permanent loss of autonomy that they find unacceptable. With the state of health
care in North America and in particular the state of pain management for
terminally ill patients, some have argued that suicide can be a rational choice
to avoid having to continue a life that is intolerable to them.
We consider putting pets and farm animals "to sleep" to be an act of kindness. But
we do not allow humans to be treated in the same way. They must engineer their
own suicide. They cannot obtain assistance in dying. Physician Assisted suicide
is illegal in all of Canada and in almost all states in the U.S.
There are victims of disease for whom every hour remaining alive is another
60 minutes of agony. If they wish to commit suicide they must arrange it
themselves. Some want access to sources of information on suicide. However, there are legislators and governments that attempt to keep
this type of information from becoming generally available. They are concerned
that knowledge will lead to more people seeking suicide as a permanent solution
to a temporary problem..
Attempts to restrict information access in the U.S.
On 2006-DEC-08, Rep. Walter Herger (R-CA) introduced the
"Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Promotion Punishment and Prevention
Act of 2006" H.R. 6412. Three Republicans and one Democrat cosponsored the
The bill is named after Suzy Gonzales, a 19-year-old former coed at Florida
State University who was a Southern Baptist. She was suicidaly depressed. She
posted over 100 messages on an on-line Internet discussion group whose members
were "pro-choice" on suicide. Their site contained a "methods" page that gave
step-by-step instructions on how to commit suicide. Fourteen members of the
group had allegedly committed suicide by the time that she terminated her life
on 2003-MAR-23 by ingesting poison. 1
The bill would criminalize one-on-one counseling on methods of
committing suicide to a person who is likely to use the information to end
their life. Congressional Research Service provided a summary of the bill. It
"... the federal criminal code to prohibit the use of any facility
of interstate or foreign commerce to teach a person how to commit suicide, or to
provide such person with material support or resources in committing suicide,
knowing such person is likely to use such assistance to commit suicide. Imposes
a fine and/or prison term of not more than five years for violations. Increases
the prison term to any number of years or life if a violation results in a
The bill would insert section 1123 into the
United States Code, stating:
Interstate suicide promotion
`(a) Whoever knowingly uses any facility of interstate or
foreign commerce with intent--
`(1) to teach a particular person how to commit
suicide, knowing that the person so taught is likely to
use that teaching to commit suicide; or
`(2) to provide a particular person with material
support or resources to help such person commit suicide,
knowing that the person is likely to use the support to
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more
than 5 years, or both, but if the death of any person is
caused by the offense, the term of imprisonment that may be
imposed for the offense is any term of years or for life.
The bill was forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee,
where it did not proceed. 3
Rep. Herger reintroduced the same bill on 2007-MAR-01 as H.R. 940. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and then to
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. It did not advance. 4
Australia law restricting information:
During mid-2005, the Australian Parliament passed laws banning web sites on
the Internet, and the outlawing the use of a telephone or fax, to incite people to
commit suicide or to disseminate information on how a person can kill themselves.
5 The prime target of the laws appears to have been Exit
International, a voluntary euthanasia information and advocacy organization
founded by Dr. Philip Nitschke in Darwin, Australia. Exit International
has chapters in over 25 cities and towns in Australia and New Zealand. 6
Justice Minister Chris Ellison said that the legislation is:
"... designed to
protect the young and the vulnerable, those at greatest risk of suicide, from
people who use the Internet with destructive intent to counsel or incite others
to kill themselves."
This is a much broader law than the proposed H.R. 940. It criminalizes books
or Internet sites about abortion written for dissemination to the general
New Zealand book censorship:
In 2007, the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature
Classification had denied distribution of the Australian
book "The Peaceful Pill Handbook." The book describes various
methods of committing suicide, and the legal aspects of the various
approaches. 7 The book is:
"Aimed at the elderly and people who are seriously ill and who
wish to know their end of life options." 8
Bill Hastings, the Chief Censor of New Zealand subsequently
allowed a modified version of the book into the country and gave it a R18 classification.
restricts its sale to persons over the age of 18 and requires
that it be displayed with a warning label and in a sealed package.
Key segments of the original text were removed in order to have it pass the
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Julia Scheeres, "A virtual path to suicide: Depressed student
killed herself with help from online discussion group," San Francisco
Chronicle, 2003-JUN-08, at:
Text of: "H.R. 6412 [109th]: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide
Promotion Punishment and Prevention Act of 2006," at:
"H.R. 6412 [109th]: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Promotion
Punishment and Prevention Act of 2006," GovTrack.US, at:
"H.R. 940: Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007," GovTrack.
"Australia clamps down on Nitschke‚s web suicide trade," International Task
Force, 2005-JUN, at:
"Welcome to Exit International," at:
- Philip Nitschke & Fiona Stewart, "The Peaceful
Pill Handbook: New revised international edition."
"Peaceful Pill Handbook" at:
"Notice of decision under Section 38(1), Office of Film &
Literature Classification, at:
Copyright © 2008 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2008-AUG-12
Last update: 2012-JAN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson