I just read this CNN article about Suzanne Gonzales, may she rest in peace. In the photo that accompanies the article, Suzanne looks kooky, fun, and mischievous, as if she knows that with a little lateral thinking she can have a really good time on this earth of ours. In that photo, she reminds me of the Thora Birch character in “Ghostworld,” but without that morose angst and counter-culture insolence. She doesn’t look unhappy--in fact, she looks like the kind of girl who has a bunch of friends who appreciate the way she makes them laugh. And she was, according to the article, “A bubbly 19-year-old with loving parents and good friends…a strong student [who] earned a science scholarship for college.”
But everything I postulated about the photo was wrong. Suzanne wasn’t happy or bubbly at all. Rather, she was a very sad, and very disturbed young woman.
Two years ago Suzanne sent her parents an email explaining that by the time they read it, she would be dead. And indeed, she killed herself in a motel room.
What makes this suicide different and perhaps more tragic than others is that Suzanne was helped by an online group that assists people in committing suicide. The group had its own vernacular of death which its members would converse in. They would also post messages about the best and worst ways for people kill themselves. And perhaps, most insidiously, through their various chat rooms and message boards, they would actually encourage people to end their own lives.
Of course, members of the group denied that they had anything to do with Suzanne’s death. The group was “pro-choice” said one member, and “therapeutic” said another- meaning that they couldn’t force anyone to commit suicide, and it was ultimately the person’s own decision, and a healing one at that.
It’s funny how “choice” these days is so often associated with decisions that, in some way or another, mean death.
I am not sure why the story was published now, two years after the fact of Suzanne’s suicide (it sounds like there may be a lawsuit pending). But the story is still troubling for several reasons. While most of us can look at the story of Suzanne Gonzales and shudder at the thought of this evil chatroom and the sinister, murderous tentacles of its messages, there is still much of society today that fetishizes suicide in a way that is ultimately destructive. Think of the movie “Million Dollar Baby”- which was the favorite at the Oscars last year, or “The Hours” which won an academy award or two a few years ago. In both those movies, suicide was seen to be the only way out of a frustrating life. It was rid of its malignant associations, and instead transmuted into a more benign panacea that could bestow the ultimate healing.
Think also, of the way that the media twists themselves into pretzels trying to understand the motives of Middle-Eastern suicide bombers. So often, every story of innocent people being blown up in a café or on a bus, is accompanied by another tear-jerking story of the wretched life of the bomber himself. It is as if we can’t accept self-murder unless we pretend that there was something ‘good’ about it, instead of acknowledging the horror of it.
I think that the chatroom Suzanne frequented was simply a very extreme version of our tacit “appreciation” of suicide.
On a very basic level, I think that the story demonstrates, very strongly, the need for household internet access to be closely supervised. Yes Suzanne was 19 and away from home, but about 4,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 end their lives each year. The younger ones are living at home, and the older ones--how much depressing stuff was a part of their daily internet diet before they left home?
At a very religious Jewish school I am familiar with in Los Angeles, the administration advises parents to keep their computers in a highly-trafficked area of the house, so that the fear of embarrassment will prevent family members from looking at porn sites or, in this case, evil suicide-baiting websites. For many people, the internet is simply too much temptation. Yes, if they are so inclined, and they didn’t have the internet, they could find the information elsewhere. But the internet makes it so easy for people to indulge in pathological behaviors.
Would Suzanne Gonzales have committed suicide without access to this terrible internet group? We can never know. But I’d like to see the person who started this horrible website come forward publicly, if he is so proud of his “pro-choice” resource.
Now all Suzanne’s parents are left with is an email, where their daughter wrote her final thoughts in thirty words or less.