For the Life of Suzy?

Jeff writes an impassioned plea for support of a new proposed law: The Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007. Suzanne (“Suzy”) was a 19-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2003, having been essentially manipulated into doing so by members of an Internet message board. Jeff wrote about it at the time: The Shape of Days.

The bill, in Jeff’s words, is:

H.R. 940, the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007. It?s not a long piece of legislation. The bill, if passed, would make it a crime to knowingly use the Internet to teach someone or help someone to commit suicide.

I know where Jeff is coming from in supporting this. I very much believe in promoting a “culture of life” — I’m strongly pro-life/anti-abortion, for example. I’ve been reading Jeff’s stuff and commenting for a long time now, and I respect the man, but I’m a little wary of this. I’m not even playing “devil’s advocate” here — I don’t know on which side I stand.

A few things to think about:

  1. What happened to Suzy was horrible, but it’s a particular instance. Passing laws from that one story reminds me of Democrats pushing their latest socialist schemes by trotting out some poor hapless granny who’s eating dogfood. Laws based on tugged heartstrings are generally not the best, in the long run.
  2. Part of the nature of the Internet is that it can easily serve as an echo chamber. This can be good or bad, but generally I think limiting ideas is more bad than good.
  3. Suzy hit the wrong site at the wrong time, and the “echo” she got was horrible. What the people there did was wrong, but I think the law takes the wrong approach by silencing discussion of suicide (yes, even “how to” discussion).
  4. What, specifically, is the point of this law being limited to the Internet? Speech is speech, and incitement is incitement. Arguments related to what’s done on the Internet would also apply to what’s done in person, or on the phone, or…. I’m also wary of any law that specifies a particular technology, because they tend to do weird things years down the road when technology changes in ways the lawmakers didn’t (and couldn’t) foresee. [Update: Upon reading the text of the bill, I note that it does not specify the technology, but instead refers to “any facility of interstate or foreign commerce”. This makes sense for jurisdictional purposes, but, it should be pointed out, includes “facilities” such as roads.]
  5. It is currently illegal to directly incite somebody to violence with words. If I get somebody riled up and convince them to go kick someone’s ass, and the attackee gets killed, _I_ can be held responsible. Perhaps a better solution would be a slightly modified version of this. Directly inciting suicide (self-violence) to somebody who otherwise likely would not have done so should be illegal. For that matter, do the existing laws against inciting violence apply to violence against the “attacker’s” own person?

Suzy was a 19 year old girl. Teenagers are emotionally vulnerable as it is, and these vultures swooped in. But what about the 50-year-old who decides to take his own life? Not an impulse decision, but a considered decision? Our society basically assumes that any person who desires death is… what… insane? At the least, “wrong”. I’m… uncomfortable with this assumption being automatic for all cases.

Preying on the emotionally vulnerable is wrong, and it’s legitimate for the law to step in. But as one of Jeff’s commenters points out, this law allows for no gray area.

[Update: I originally stated that her age was 13. Jeff informs that she was 19. Corrected text above.]

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are invited and encouraged

Anti-Spam Quiz: