Go kill yourself! (An altruistic approach to saving the world.)

A man who appears to be a genuine sicko is facing imprisonment for telling depressed people that they should kill themselves, and giving them specific instructions on how. 

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) -- Freedom of speech is no defense for a former nurse who engaged in "lethal advocacy" when he encouraged an English man and Canadian woman to kill themselves after searching for depressed people over the Internet, a Minnesota judge said in delivering a guilty verdict against the man.

The judge found William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, guilty Tuesday of two counts of aiding the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008. Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville.

Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, Terry Watkins, said the defense was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal. Watkins said appellate courts will have to answer whether Melchert-Dinkel's actions rose to the level of a crime or were protected speech in the context in which they occurred, given the defense view that the victims were already predisposed to suicide and his online statements didn't sway them.

The court ruled that his words rose to the level of "imminent incitement."

What the man said to these depressed people is morally indefensible, except maybe to misanthropic types, such as environmentalists or Ebenezer Scrooge (who believed the goal should be to "decrease the surplus population").

But what fascinates me are the legal implications. The idea that certain people (the influencers, if you will) should be held responsible for the thoughts and actions of others (the influenced) challenges my libertarian worldview, and it is a frequent topic here because I think it is so amorphous, yet permeates innumerable discussions of morality. I have called it "monkey see, monkey do," and I touched on it in recent discussions of responsibility for conspiracy theories. My concern was not with the merits of any conspiracy theory so much as to pose a question.

If a demagogue floats conspiracy theories simply because he gets a cheap thrill from getting the little people all stirred up, is he then "responsible" if they believe him?

My view is that people are responsible for their own thoughts -- even if they are influenced by others. That has to be the case, for we are all to one extend or another influenced by the thoughts of others, and it is our responsibility to think for ourselves. If we cannot do that, then we cease to have free will and we are in need of protection by authorities. At that point, we cease to be free citizens.

Stanton Glantz takes the view that the authorities should regulate images of cigarette puffing, and that children should not be allowed to view movies which show cigarette smoking lest they be influenced, and imitate them monkey-see-monkey-do style.

Glantz, who thinks any movie with smoking in it should automatically be rated R, claims that policy "would cut movie smoking's effect on kids in half, saving 50,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone." In a 2005 Reason article, I questioned the scientific basis for such calculations. Over at Filmdrunk, Danger Guerrero questions the existence of Stanton Glantz.

So what is the key difference between a child and an adult in this regard? That a child is more likely to engage in monkey-see-monkey-do? Well, what about an impressionable adult? Wouldn't some of them (especially "addicts" who have struggled with the "disease") be just as likely to want to smoke because they see someone else smoking? Why should only children be protected from the "puffing influence" threat? And what about images of people drinking or eating junk food? Shouldn't children be just as protected from that too? What about public displays of homosexuality? Or scantily clad women? 

Evolution of communitarian "thought" processes fascinates me. It used to be that the concern over cigarettes involved actual health risks. First it was first-hand smoke, then second-hand smoke, then third-hand smoke, and now, it's the visual influence of seeing smokers! If depictions of smoking in movies should be prohibited from children, then isn't that an argument against allowing anyone to smoke anywhere in public lest he be seen (and imitated) by children?

Sorry, but this sounds more like a religious argument than a public health argument. There are many things that are dangerous or immoral yet short of illegal, that children might see people do, and which they might imitate by doing themselves. In the old days, it was the responsibility of parents to make sure their children did not do things which harmed themselves. Now it's the nanny state, and as we know at the core of nanny statism is the belief that adults should be treated like children

Suppose you believe that there are too many adults who are like children in that they look up to the nanny state and allow, if not actually want themselves, to be treated like children. I complain about people who have thoughts which are not their own evading responsibility, and I have insisted on crediting and/or blaming them for the thoughts they have. I do not think the claim that the thoughts were put there by others is a defense.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there are people who have no thoughts of their own, and who want to be led.

Should they be encouraged to kill themselves? Wouldn't that be the compassionate thing to do? Not that I am under any duty to be altruistic, but I'd hate to think we had a surplus population of adult children in need of help. Why should government death panels be given a monopoly?

I'd like to help, so as a public service message, I would suggest that all susceptible people whose thoughts are not their own follow the example of actress Clara Blandick (best known as "Auntie Em" in the Wizard of Oz):

....Although she appeared in 118 films, she was primarily a stage actress. Clara actually began her film career at a late age. She was 33 when she was picked for the role as Emily Mason in Mrs. Black Is Back (1914). Her next film was The Stolen Triumph (1916), after which she returned to the stage, where she seemed more comfortable. She did not make another film until the age of 48, when she appeared in Poor Aubrey (1930). By now the studios knew her to be an outstanding character actress who was adept at filling minor roles. She had only three films under her belt at this time but would appear in more than 100 over the next 20 years. Nine films in 1930 and 13 the following year showed what a talent Clara really was. The role that was to immortalize her, however, was the part as Auntie Em in the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Clara continued in films until 1950, when she appeared on the screen for the final time in Key to the City (1950). By this time Clara had been suffering from poor health for years, and retired from the screen. On Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962, Clara went to church in Hollywood, California. When she returned she wrote a note stating she was about to take the greatest adventure of her life. She took an overdose of sleeping tablets and pulled a plastic bag over her head, thus ending her life. She was 81 years old.

The plastic bag is an important detail, because many people who attempt suicide by taking a drug overdose either don't take enough pills, or else vomit them up after passing out, so they end up living. Often in worse shape than ever! The plastic bag offers protection against living as a form of double backup insurance. However, it is important to use a large-sized bag, firmly secured with tape, string or a rubber band around your throat so that you don't pull it off accidentally or because of the "urge to breath" reflex which is triggered by excess CO2 in a conscious person. This also means that for "best" results, the bag should not be put on until you begin to feel drowsy!

Suicide has to be done right. After all, why scrimp on the greatest adventure of your life?

Especially when you're helping the planet!

No seriously. As you start to drift off, just remember that the CO2 you're overconsuming will save the planet lots of CO2 in the future! By killing yourself, you are helping save the planet!

I encourage all truly caring people who are susceptible to feelings of environmental guilt and who want to actually do something to save the planet to please carefully consider following Clara Blandick's example.

Why not do it tonight?

Interestingly, the warnings on plastic bags say nothing about suicide.

"Warning: To avoid danger of suffocation, keep this plastic bag away from babies and children. Do not use this bag in cribs, beds, carriages or playpens. The plastic bag could block nose and mouth and prevent breathing. This bag is not a toy."

What this means is that your next of kin can sue the plastic bag manufacturer for not having a suicide warning! I have never seen such a warning like this on any plastic bag. 

"Warning: To avoid danger of suicide, keep this plastic bag away from all susceptible or easily-influenced people. Do not use this bag in homes, workplaces, computer stations, bedrooms or anywhere that susceptible people might be present -- especially after consuming alcohol or medication! The plastic bag could block nose and mouth and prevent breathing. This bag is not to be used as a suicide device."

Wow. So not only do you get to save the planet, but you're leaving your next of kin with a wonderful cause of action. 

Perhaps environmentalists should rethink their opposition to plastic bags. 

Meanwhile, I refuse to accept responsibility for helping to save the planet....

I really should try harder to avoid being altruistic.

posted by Eric on 03.16.11 at 12:14 PM


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