|How-To Suicide Guide Website Sparks Controversy|
|By ANTHONY DEUTSCH |
Associated Press Writer
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) FEBRUARY 07, 2000 — A how-to guide of suicide methods on an anonymous Dutch-language Web site has sparked heated controversy in a nation that widely supports the right to die by physician-assisted suicide.
The new Web site provoked an outcry in parliament Monday and demands for a change in the government's lax approach to regulating the Internet.
"Our society is obsessed with the problem of death,'' said Bart Cusveller of the pro-life Center for Medical Ethics.
"I can imagine that someone who is seriously depressed might see this as an option,'' he said. "It adds to the view that suicide is normal and acceptable.''
The governing Labor Party called on Prime Minister Wim Kok to take action against the site and others containing information that could pose a danger to minors.
"The fact that anyone and everyone can get access to this sort of stuff from their living rooms is the most troubling aspect of the Internet,'' said Willie Swildens, spokeswoman for the left-of-center Labor Party.
"Teen-agers are a particularly sensitive group and that tragedy is what we want to avoid.''
Although suicide is prohibited in the Netherlands, there is no law against providing the kind of information posted on the site, which includes macabre tips on suicide methods, and compares the success rates and pitfalls of each.
Step-by-step instructions guide the reader through wrist-slashing, sleeping pills, jumping off buildings and the "reasonably painless ... death of carbon monoxide poisoning.''
The Pink Floyd song, "Goodbye Cruel World,'' can be heard on the home page, along with verses from the William Butler Yeats poem, "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.''
The site is called "Thisbe's Self-destruction Site,'' after the ancient mythological figures Thisbe and Pyramus. Pyramus commits suicide in the mistaken belief that his lover Thisbe has been killed by a lion. When Thisbe discovers his body, she takes her own life.
A disclaimer by the author says it is not based on expert knowledge or intended to encourage anyone to kill themselves. "I refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of putting to use the things I have written,'' he says.
Although all parties in the Dutch ruling coalition were shocked by the site, they were at odds about what to do about it.
"It's extremely regrettable but there are lots more like it,'' said Atzo Nicolai, Internet policy expert for the Liberal Party, which advocates self-regulation for the World Wide Web.
"Everybody must be free to communicate with each other on the Internet.''
Kok, a strong proponent of free speech on the Web, has nevertheless come out in favor of stricter guidelines to protect minors. The only Dutch law enforcement effort devoted to Internet crimes is a team of detectives dealing with offenses such as credit card fraud and child pornography.
Besides the Dutch site, there are several others which provide suicide information, mostly focusing on prevention, although a few include advocacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Some news groups and mailing lists also cover the topic, with one recent discussion related to good songs to die to.
The Dutch are generally tolerant toward those who view suicide as an option for ending severe physical or emotional suffering, not just terminal illness. After more than three decades of debate, the government approved strict guidelines in the early 1990s which allow physician-assisted suicide, provided it is voluntary, thoroughly considered and backed by a second opinion.
Proposed legislation before parliament would legalize euthanasia outright. The government has gradually moved toward legalization while maintaining heavy regulatory oversight of the practice.