Sunday, November 23, 2008

Suicide Live on the Internet

Yahoo News reports on the sad story of a young man who committed suicide live on webcam. It touches on some of our previous discussions about suicide being an individual right.

The father of a college student whose suicide was broadcast live over a webcam said Saturday he was appalled by the virtual audience that egged on his son and called for tougher regulation of Internet sites.

Abraham Biggs Sr. said those who watched and the Web site operators share some blame in his 19-year-old son's death.

"I think they are all equally wrong," he said. "It's a person's life that we're talking about. And as a human being, you don't watch someone in trouble and sit back and just watch."

I agree with the father that someone should have done something to prevent this tragedy. The article goes on to explain that Abraham Biggs Jr. suffered from bi-polar disease and actually used his medication to kill himself, I suppose in one huge dose.

What I noticed with interest is Biggs Sr.'s suggestion that the viewers and the internet provider share in the responsibility. It sounds a lot like my suggestion that legal gun owners share in the responsibility of tragic gun events. About the guns, I'm still working on that connection; perhaps this story will help me sort it out.

The major question remains: how much autonomy should be give individuals who wish to commit suicide? Previously I argued that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and as such should be discouraged emphatically or even physically prevented. But I admit it is complicated.

Does the very fact that one wants to commit suicide imply mental illness? Is there any validity to Mr. Biggs' claim that the viewers share in the responsibility? Is inaction on their part culpable?

What about those "tougher regulations for internet sites?" What might they be and would they be appropriate?

What's your opinion?


  1. Kids are mean and gross creatures sometimes...I'm sure you saw it in yourself at that age, as we all did, and I'm sure you've seen it in your own children.

    We certainly need to teach them empathy and compassion. I don't think the kids viewing this should face any legal charges. A child who was obviously mentally ill, and obviously wanting some sick need for attention (Sorry, but when I'm in a miserable state, the LAST thing I want is to be on a webcam talking to total strangers)

    Also I must note that with this new "Emo" culture, threats and glorification of suicide are quite commonplace. My Nephew is into Emo music, and at 16 shows the signs of the emotional roller coaster I remember riding myself. His Mother needs to discuss suicide with him quite often, not because he's at all suicidal, but because, like a good mother, she listens to the videos and conversations her son has, and that subject is commonplace to a frightening level. I've seen quite a bit of it myself...and most of the time it is simply dumb, emotional fantasy and doesn't end with anything.

    Of course the dude talking about suicide on his livejournal or in a chatroom doesn't make the news unless they go through with it.

    I highly doubt anybody knew what was really happening.

  2. how much autonomy should be give individuals who wish to commit suicide?

    exactly as much as we should give individuals who don't.

    i'm not one for the currently popular "emo" culture, and never would have been, but it does have a point of sorts. going through one's teens without ever experiencing that level of... ennui? confusion? whatever the best term is for that emotional turmoil, which normally does involve facing the idea of suicide squarely --- i'm not sure you can get to be fully adult without facing that side of youth.

    it's part of learning about one's own mortality, in a way. we've all got to face the facts of dying eventually, including the possibility of inflicting it on ourselves. since it's not exactly a cheerful line of thinking, we usually only indulge in it at all when we're otherwise miserable. the teens just seem to be a period of life when most people are frequently miserable, yet old enough to draw the required conclusions about death.

    today that's called "emo"; in years gone by, the very same thing made "the sufferings of young Werther" a bestseller. (that book, too, got blamed for a rash of suicides. today it's internet chat rooms getting the blame. bullshit; if there's any blame at all, it's normally only on the suicides themselves.)

  3. Was just reading up on this story, Mike. A Few interesting facts I picked up.

    #1, as I suspected he had threatened suicide before, and most assumed he was again just all talk.

    #2. Police arrived an attempted to intervene, but the arrived too late. They were tipped off by members of the chatroom. (So while the headline states that people in the chatroom "egged him on" people in the chatroom were also the ONLY people who attempted to save his life.

    #3. His father had no idea he was even doing webcasts like this. Now this sounds superficial at first, but this smells of uninvolved parenting to me. I guess the guy wasn't a minor child...still we've seen people get hosed by the RAA for their kids or grandkids downloading music illegally there is no excuse for letting somebody use your computer or net connection without at LEAST having a general idea of what it was being used for.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. "Emo," wow I must be really out of the loop. Thanks for the new word or concept, or whatever it is.


    In Wikipedia we trust.

    Mike be happy you are ignorant of Emo, its a good loop not to be in.