UK Youth Suicide Case - time for global action

  Last week the UK Mail Online
 reported the sad case of the tragic suicide of the sixteen year old daughter of a well known and respected Crown Court Judge.
 
The article says that,  "Isobel Narayan, 16, bought a drug used to kill patients by lethal injection on Death Row after suffering a 'mini crisis of confidence' a month before her death." This comment is a little vague - perhaps deliberately so - as different US states use different drugs to execute felons. Moreover, death row inmates could hardly be considered as 'patients'. 
 
As is often the case, her father, Harry Narayan said that: 'There was absolutely nothing which indicated that there was a problem.'
 

Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Nigel Meadows said: 'Isobel had a mini crisis of confidence.

'There was no clue or indication of what was going through her mind.  It's a strange time of life for teenagers; hormones are raging, there are pressures which we do not recognise when we're older, and on occasion they do harm themselves.'
 
The article also mentioned the fact that Ms Narayan 'killed herself after scouring suicide websites then drinking a lethal drug she ordered on the internet.'

"Police examined her computer and discovered that in late October Isobel had begun reading online forums and researching how terminally ill patients could end their own lives.

"They also found a typed a list of reasons why she should end her life.

"At around the same time, the drug was sent to the family home from either America or China."

The Coroner, Mr Meadows said he would 'write to the Government's Chief Pharmaceutical Officer about stopping young people from acquiring lethal drugs on the internet'.
 
The article was followed by a number of online comments echoing that sentiment:
  • Worrying how easily she seemed to purchase the lethal drug online. Very sad news.
  • What kind of sickos sell a drug like that online.
  • Depression can hit anyone. It doesn't matter how wealthy, smart, pretty, popular or talented you are. It is no protection.
  • Selling death online? Wow I thought my sales morals were low
  • Very very sad. And also really alarming to think how easily she obtained the drugs online...
It is high time we got past this false argument that the internet is impossible to regulate. I don't doubt that the nature of the beast makes it difficult; we've seen that in Australia in recent times with the online gambling phenomenon.
 
What is lacking is the political will - we're not lacking the ability to counter this problem.
 
Take for example the excellent work done by policing agencies across the globe to stamp out the exploitation and abuse of children in child pornography. These agencies co-operate across national and state boundaries and do excellent work in tracking down perpetrators and freeing abused minors.
 
Why do we lack the political will? Many reasons. Some argue a false appeal to personal freedom. I don't think the parents of Ms. Narayan would be convinced by that and neither should we. More worrying, however, is the notion that some suicides can be rational - in other words, if rational people chose to end their lives then we should be okay with that; if their 'right' to access the methods online creates the possibility that young people might also access these same drugs is regrettable 'collateral damage'.
 
Head of probably the largest online advocacy network, Philip Nitschke admitted as much in The Age article in 2010 that reported Coroner's findings in Victoria about this precise problem of young people accessing suicide drugs:
Dr Nitschke said that while young people and those with mental illnesses could access Exit's instructions on the internet, the risks of this had to be weighed against the benefits for many others.

''There will be some casualties … but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense wellbeing from having access to this information,'' he said.

Once again, we see this muddle-headed thinking. How is suicide a 'benefit' in terms of public health and safety and how is it that we're willing to except that an enhanced sense of well-being in a very small percentage of elderly people can reasonably come at the price of the loss of life of others?
 
The fact that we have decriminalized suicide is not an indication that self-killing is now somehow acceptable. Decriminalization simply recognised that branding a suicide-survivor as a criminal is hardly helpful.
 
Once we accept that  some suicides are acceptable we effectively begin to endorse behaviours that earlier we would have correctly judged abhorrent. This is precisely what happens when assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised: we accept the principle that killing by a doctor or assisted suicide is acceptable practice. The fact that such laws would, initially at least, seek to restrict the application of this principle to a small sub-set of the human family is little more than window dressing.
 
Would we ever accept that the death of a teenager was a reasonable approach to difficulties with navigating the emotionally charged and hormone laden teenage years? Hard to imagine. Yet The Netherlands allows euthanasia for teenagers as do the Belgians. But that's only if they're really sick - I hear you say. Not so.
 
It's high time we began to reign in the slippery slope that is happening in our midst. I'm talking about the acceptance of suicide as a rational choice - as a reasonable option. If we don't start to seriously tackle this problem whilst we still have a collective concern for our youth, we may never be able to mount a reasoned argument.

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