"Sorry You're still here" is the unnerving welcome visitors get when visiting the Ashbusstop website. Ash or Alt.Suicide.Holidays was originally started to discuss the relationship between suicides and holidays. Today, it has emerged into one of the largest usenet groups, along with its sister group alt.suicide.methods which are frequented by people dispirited and fed up with life.
In its unique terminology, suicide is described as "Catching the Bus" and the group described as a bus stop where several people have decided to stop and chat before deciding on whether or not to get on the bus. A superficial examination reveals nothing wrong - After all, promoting debate on rational choice seems ok.
On seeing the postings of the group, a more macabre picture emerges - When people post regarding their intent to commit suicide, not once are they asked why. Answers ranging from bets on the chances of success to vividly graphic ways to commit suicide are posted. However, much of the stuff is not posted online - group members are extremely paranoid about revealing their identity to "trolls" - people who disagree with the methods / rationale of Ash. For those who stop with reading the posted messages, a grim picture appears - almost every means of suicide is discussed, pros and cons weighed. The camaraderie of this group is telling. Almost all of them want to kill themselves, and actively encourage each other to do so. One can get almost anything from how to purcahse a gun to obtaining potassium cynaide online. Remarkable.
However, simply stopping here does not give a complete picture - after all, nothing much in a bunch of people trying to support each other. After all, for the suicidal, a site like this would be haven - a place where they can discuss their feelings an problems without being mocked at / looked on as loons. Of course, on the other side is the argument that it is hardly worthwile for a person who is depressed to seek solace from yet another.
As I said simply skimming the site does not give the complete picture. On joining the forum, and posting a message, the replies are stunning. People all over the globe respond via emails. im's, video chats and offer help. Help ranges from prodding you on to finish the job off fast, people discussing various attempts they have made, sharing photso to show you who they are before "catching the bus", setting up dates for "practice attempts" that would be shared online. The one thing that is missing is a single person who asks you NOT to commit suicide or even WHY. That the entire comunity takes it for granted that people want to commit suicide is astonishing. I was also astounded at the reasons people had for commiting suicide - The most common one was "bored of life".
While as a whole, this group does not seem worthwile wasting time on, the aftermath of coming in contact with this group need to be studied.
On march 23 2003, Suzy Gonzales commited suicide by swallowing 1.5 grams of potassium cynaide in a lethal cocktail, whose recipie was found on this site. Suzy was told how to obtain the KCN (posing as a jeweller online), how to make a the cocktail, her delayed suicide note was sent using the help of ashers. Interestingly Suzy's boyfriend actually saw the crystals but made no comment. Her only problem - boredom.
In April 2003, 2 men who met on the ASH forum formed a suicide pact - At the last minute one backed out while the other hurtled to his death. When he was charged with being an accesory, the second hanged himself. Again - boredom.
A few days back, Hiroshi Maeue was tried in the Osaka district court for luring victims from the online suicide sites, offering to assist them and when meeting them strangling and sexually assaulting them for his pleasure.
In 2002, a 17 year old boy - Patrick killed himself after posting the following message
From: unresistance (email@example.com)Subject: goodbye.Newsgroups: alt.suicide.holiday, alt.suicide.methods, alt.drugs.psychedelics
I just took step one of my suicide plan thing. Should be dead in about 40 minutes. Bye everyone.
i weigh 120 lbs
1. dramamine for anti-vomit, wait 30 min
2. 3 bottles robo max strength
3. bottle zoloft
4. bottle celexa
5. wash each down w/ antifreeze
6. some more antifreeze
7. some benedryl
8. tie plastic bag around head
If I don't post back, it worked. :-)
It worked. As patrick was taking the drugs, Ash member Amy Viscuso was with him on the phone, encouraging him. Not once was Patrick dissuaded from his idea. Patricks mother has filed a case against Amy, suggesting that her son would be alive if not for ash. Ash, of course claims the first amendment, as directed by the speech guidelines in Brandenburg v. Ohio where the court ruled that oration was abstract advocacy (hence protected under the first amendment) and not an imminent threat of violence
This seems to stretch the boundries of free speech, as defined under the first amendment.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court invoked three legal tests that must be met before speech can be outlawed. Known collectively as the Brandenburg standard, the tests include: 1.) intent (the speech was intended to incite a lawless action); 2.) immediacy (the lawless action was imminent); and 3.) risk (the speech has to be likely to produce an imminent lawless act). As far as ASH goes, prosecutors would need to prove immediacy and risk.
Another free speech lawsuit worthy of note, is Rice v. paladin Enterprises. , where it was ruled that Brandenburg standards applied to publishers of material that incited murder. The book in question was Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, where a hitman (hired mercenary), set forth the guidelines for murder.
While these cases are of note, it is obvious that while a debate is needed on free choice and voluntary euthanasia, these kind of online cults that attract bord teenagers and actively spur them on to take their own lives is unlawful and immediate measures taken to ban such sites as well as censor the content therin.