Ban ‘suicide chat rooms’

By: kanu on 28 July 2008

The father of an 18-year-old, who accessed "suicide chat rooms" on the internet before killing himself, has called for a law to ban them in the UK.

Six years after his son Simon Kelly died, Paul Kelly is still angry that although UK law makes it illegal to offer advice to those contemplating suicide, no-one has actually ever been successfully prosecuted for it. Such sites – of which there are hundreds – are strictly non-interventionist, which angers Mr. Kelly further because he believes someone should have tried to talk his son out of killing himself.

A transcript of Simon’s conversation on the site before killing himself has been released and which reveals that Simon was told by another user to “go out and see the stars.” Simon’s response was, ‘see you on the other side”. Another chat room user wished Simon farewell, while another said “happy bus ride”- the term used by users of such sites to imply committing suicide. Simon’s father belief that the chat room users could have talked his son out of suicide is evidenced by another segment of the transcript where users discuss not to inform anyone of Simon’s death because other wise they would be “nagged” by questions.

UK law, as it stands, demonstrates that it is illegal to assist or attempt to assist suicide online and the Law Commission has concluded recently that the law is able to deal with such offenses.

But none of the site users had been prosecuted for the role they played in Simon’s death.

The counter argument is that any prosecution would depend on proving that the website or chat room directly helped cause a person’s death- which is quite an arduous task to fulfill. Promoters of the chatrooms even go as far as to argue that these chatrooms provide comfort to those who are suicidal. But for a father who has just lost his son, such reasoning seems absurd.

And he is not the only one facing this struggle. Similar incident have occurred around all around the world – recently in Japan the Internet has been blamed for a spate of group suicides, which appear to have been arranged in online chatrooms. The question facing of governments in countries like the UK and Japan is whether to appreciate people’s freedom of speech or take charge to stop this surge of online suicides.

This incident brings up an interesting question on the ethics involved in Internet filtering – governments have never hesitated in filtering information off the Internet which have posed a threat to national security – is this then not a threat?

However, how can a government then guarantee that banning such websites will be able to subdue the spurt of suicides in the country? And in Simon’s case no one knows whether it was the incitation of the users in the chat rooms that pushed him over the edge or his own independent decision.

-Kanupriya Tewari