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Suicide

Do it yourself suicide information on the Internet

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If you are feeling suicidal, please read the contents of the
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Background: (repeated)

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 often 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, atruggle 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 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.

The term "cybersuicide" has been coined to refer to suicides or assisted suicides that have been triggered, facilitated, or otherwise influenced by Internet web sites.

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Wikipedia article on suicide methods:

Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia available on the Internet. As of 2012-JAN, they had over 3.8 million articles in their English section. One of Wikipedia's more unusual features is that its articles are written and edited by the general public. 1

Their article on suicide methods describes the various methods that people have used to end their lives: firearms, exsanguination (bleeding to death), drowning, suffocation, electrocution, explosives, hanging, jumping in front of vehicles, intentionally creating a motor vehicle collision, jumping, ingesting poison, self-immolation by fire, seppuku (a traditional Japanese ritual method of suicide by sword), starvation, beheading, indirect suicide by placing oneself in a dangerous situation, and "death by cop:" provoking a police officer into shooting. The article is short on specifics. It is not a "how to" manual. It is primarily a list of methods that have been commonly used by people to end their life.

The Wikipedia article has been criticized by at least two conservative Christian news sources:

  • World Net Daily (WND) article: WND interviewed a spokesperson for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline who said:
    "A site detailing the different methods someone could use to kill themselves could definitely be harmful to the public."
    However, as we noted above, details are generally missing from the article. Also, the article actively discourages suicide by describing how the different methods often fail and can leave the individual alive but disabled.

    WND interviewed Jay Walsh, head of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation who said that
    "The Wikimedia Foundation operates the software and maintains the servers that power Wikipedia; however the entire Wikipedia project is maintained exclusively by volunteers. No paid staff make edits to content, rather members of the volunteer community will add or remove information at their discretion and within the auspices of the editorial pillars of Wikipedia, which generally include: non-censorship, neutral point of view, no original research and, to a similar extent, addressing the question of 'notability'."

    WND stated that:

    "Wikipedia also links to suicide strategy books at the bottom of the article such as 'Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying,' 'The Peaceful Pill Handbook' and 'The Complete Manual of Suicide' for further reading." 2

    WND conducted a poll of their readers, asking "What do you think of Wikipedia publishing suicide instructions?" They gave 13 possible responses from which to select.  2,141 of their visitors voted. It is probable that the makeup of the visitors to WND is heavily conservative and thus not typical of the general population.

    Most of the top eight responses seemed to have a negative view towards Wikipedia:

    • 28%: "Wikipedia's lack of credibility combined with its lack of any moral compass make it one of the worst websites."
    • 16%:"Wikipedia is completely immoral and evil."
    • 10%: "Wikipedia has to be among the most irresponsible sites on the Internet."
    • 9%: "Knowing the reliability of Wikipedia's information, the suicide methods are probably inaccurate."
    • 8%: "Information on killing yourself has been around for years, so Wikipedia is not doing anything new."
    • 7%: "It's Wikipedia's First Amendment right to publish anything it wants."
    • 7%: "Does anyone at Wikipedia have a conscience?"
    • 6%: "Wikipedia is unsafe for children and other living things."

  • One News Now (ONN) article: ONN interviewed Rita Marker of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide who said:
    "...in some countries there have been attempts to stop this from being provided in their countries. It hasn't been successful. But there are the ghoulish who have done this, and it's flown under the radar for a very long time." ...  Unfortunately it's the sort of thing like the other how-to books: how to be an assassin, how to build your own nuclear bomb, how to do this, how to do that," she notes.
    Marker noted that very little can be done about the Wikipedia article, because of constitutionally protected free-speech rights. 4
  • Christian Web News repeated parts of the WND article. 8
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Study of suicide and the Internet:

Lucy Biddle, a research fellow at the Department of Social Medicine in the University of Bristol, and colleagues conducted a study of suicide information on the Internet. They noted that media reports of suicide and inclusion of a suicide in TV programs known to have triggered suicides by others. Noting that the Internet is an "increasingly popular source of information" they decided to study:

  • How easy it is for the average person to find suicide sites on the Internet, and

  • The information that they contain.

They used the four most popular search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask. They entered twelve search terms: suicide; suicide methods; suicide sure methods; most effective methods of suicide; methods of suicide;  ways to commit suicide;  how to commit suicide; how to kill yourself; easy suicide methods; best suicide methods; pain-free suicide; and quick suicide. Only the top ten hits were studied. These typically form the first page of results. It is generally known that few people go beyond the first page of results from the search engine.

They found:

  • 19% (90 of the 480 hits) led to dedicated suicide sites. Half were judged to encourage, promote, or facilitate suicide.
  • 13% (62 hits) were for sites that offered support or emphasized suicide prevention.
  • 12% (59 hits) were for sites that forbade or discouraged suicide.
  • 9% (44 hits) linked to pages that provided information about suicide methods factually (24), partly joking (12) or completely joking (8).

They concluded:

"This research shows it is very easy to obtain detailed technical information about methods of suicide, not just from the suicide sites that have caused recent concerns but also from information sites such as Wikipedia. ..."
"Contributors to chat rooms may exert peer pressure to commit suicide, idolize those who have completed suicide, and facilitate suicide pacts. Such discussion may lessen any doubts or fears of people who are uncertain about suicide."
"The Internet may also have beneficial effects on suicide. Some sites advise people where to seek help and provide information and links to sources of help. Such sites also allow people to express and share their distress and so may have a positive function. Several websites provide information, screening questionnaires, advice, and encouragement about seeking help and treatment. Internet based interventions have been used to help cope with depression, and supportive message boards and web rings exist to allow people to share coping strategies, normalize experiences, and empower people who self harm by enabling them to tell their stories and reach out to others." 5
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Suicide pacts via the Internet:

Suicide pacts involve an agreement among two or more people to commit suicide together, typically using the same method, time, and perhaps location. A closely related phenomenon is murder-suicide where one person kills a second and then commits suicide. The term dyadic death covers both phenomena.

During 2004, Sundararajan Rajagopal, a consultant psychiatrist at St. Thomas's Hospital, in London UK noted two suicide pacts in Japan: one involving seven young persons and the other two. He suggests:

"The recent suicide pacts in Japan might just be isolated events in a country that has even previously been shown to have the highest rate of suicide pacts. Alternatively, they might herald a new disturbing trend in suicide pacts, with more such incidents, involving strangers meeting over the Internet, becoming increasingly common. If the latter is the case then the epidemiology of suicide pacts is likely to change, with more young people living on their own, who may have otherwise committed suicide alone, joining with like minded suicidal persons to die together."

"General practitioners and psychiatrists should continue to remain vigilant against the small but not insignificant risk of suicide pacts, especially while encountering middle aged depressed men who have dependent submissive partners. While assessing risk, one may specifically ask whether a depressed patient uses the Internet to obtain information about suicide." 6,7

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Webmaster's comments:

I noticed that even on the pro-suicide web sites that endlessly described methods of committing suicide, there is a strong deterrent effect. There are many references to suicide attempts that failed. Some didn't work; others had a disastrous outcome. e.g. a person:

  • standing in front of a train, being badly injured and paralyzed, but not killed.

  • jumping from the roof of a building, landing on a person at sidewalk level, and killing the latter. The perpetrator survived and was charged with manslaughter.

  • jumping from a roof, having their fall deflected by a tree, and being permanently paralyzed when landing but not killed.

  • attempting death by Carbon Monoxide poisoning in a garage, using a car with a catalytic converter which filters out much of the gas, receiving sufficient gas to destroy part of his brain, and living -- sort of.

  • trying to shoot themselves through the head, pulling away at the last moment, destroying much of his face, and living.

  • trying to hang themselves, being discovered later and cut down. Their brain function was partly destroyed, but they lived with diminished capacity.

  • crawling into a bag filled with an atmosphere containing no oxygen, going into convulsions, tearing the bag apart and living.

  • Slashing their wrists, panicking at the flow of blood and calling 911 for help.

Currently, there does not seem to be a simple way of committing suicide with any kind of a guarantee that the process will work and not cause some dreadful outcome. That may well be enough to discourage the suicidal ideation in many persons.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Wikipedia's main page is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Chelsea Schilling, "Wikipedia publishes suicide instructions From beheading to electrocution, site becomes manual to kill self," World Net Daily, 2008-JUL-28, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
  3. "DEATH BECOMES THEM What do you think of Wikipedia publishing suicide instructions?," World Net Daily, 2008-JUL, at: http://forums.wnd.com/
  4. Charlie Buts, "Concern over Wikipedia's 'how-to' section on suicide," One News Now, 2008-AUG-01, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  5. Lucie Biddle, et al., "Suicide and the Internet," BMJ Group, BMJ 2008;336(7648):800 (12 April), doi:10.1136/bmj.39525.442674.AD, 2008-APR-12, at: http://www.bmj.com/
  6. "Editorial Suicide pacts and the internet: Complete strangers may make cyberspace pacts," BMJ  2004;329:1298-1299 (4 December), doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7478.1298, 2004-DEC-04, at: http://www.bmj.com/
  7. "Nine die in Japan 'suicide pacts' ," BBC News, 2004-OCT-112, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  8. "Assisted Suicide Courtesy of Wikipedia ," WENEWZ, 2008-JAN-08, at: http://cwnewz.com/content/
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Copyright © 2008 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2008-AUG-12
Last update: 2012-JAN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson
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