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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Double edged glory: Support HR-940

Suicide touches everyone. I have called 911 and done first aid when students attempted suicide during my years in college housing. An aunt, a cousin, a neighbor have been buried after suicide, but none of them had the “support” of online community urging them to kill themselves like Suzy Gonzales.

I’m not making much sense, am I? This afternoon my friend Jeff at The Shape of Days pinged me. A few years ago he detailed the suicide of Suzy Gonzales, below is the short version .

“In January 2003, a nineteen-year-old scholarship student named Suzy Gonzales went to an Internet message board and announced that she wanted to die. “I’m bored,” she wrote. “I can’t help but feel that I’m bothering others with my whining. I’m sorry to everyone. It would just be best if I would go away.” Three months later, with the advice, support and encouragement of the people on that message board, Suzy Gonzales locked herself in a hotel room and took her own life.”

This week her father contacted Jeff and asked for help. There is a bill, H.R. 940, and it needs more sponsors to get the attention of the chairman of the committee. Oy! Politics, bills, emails, letters. I’ll let Jeff take over, as he is well-versed and eloquent, I am just trying to help him and the Gonzalez family get the word out.

You can see for yourself that we’re not talking about simple indifference here. Suzy wasn’t ignored. She wasn’t mocked or belittled. She was embraced by these people. Loved. Cherished. And calmly and quietly urged to kill herself.

Right now, what those people did is perfectly legal. It’s the freedom of speech, in all its double-edged glory.

But it doesn’t have to be. The freedom of speech has limits, proper limits, reasonable limits, limits that we all agree are just and necessary for a civilized society. Fire in a crowded theater and all that.

H.R. 940, a bill presently before the House of Representatives, seeks to establish a very narrow and specifically defined limit on the freedom of speech. This bill, the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007, would make it a crime to use the Internet to teach someone how to commit suicide while knowing that that person is likely to put those teachings to use.

The freedom of speech is one of our core values, a value so important that it was the first one called out by name in the Bill of Rights. Because of that, we should never abridge it lightly. Only in the most important cases, when the very health of our society is at stake, should we put criminal limits on the things we say.

That’s why H.R. 940 is both brief and specific. I urge you to read the text of the bill for yourself. This isn’t some sweeping expansion of federal authority. This isn’t an abuse of government power. This is a very specific limit on what is and what is not tolerable behavior in our society.

Human life isn’t a toy. It must not be played with. Questions of life and death must not be decided on the whim of complete strangers isolated by virtue of both literal and emotional distance from the tragic, life-destroying consequences.

This bill, under a different name, was introduced in the last Congress. It never got any co-sponsors and died in committee. This time, the bill has three co-sponsors — two Republicans and a Democrat; life and death is not a partisan issue — and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

But in order to make it out of that subcommittee, the bill needs more co-sponsors. Three means nothing. Fifty would be more like it.

Which means we need constituents to call or write their Representatives, to urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 940. Every name we add to the bill brings us a little closer to a vote before the full House.

There’s not a damn thing any of us can do for Suzanne Gonzales. She’s gone. And there’s nothing we can do for her family, for those who continue now even after more than four years to grieve for her.

But maybe there’s something we can do for those who would come after. Maybe there’s something we can do for those people out there right now who are struggling with the impulse toward self-annihilation. Maybe there’s some way, however small and seemingly futile, to protect them from those who would take sick glee from toying with their lives.

Please pass the word about H.R. 940.

Finally.. Jeff gives us some easy to follow instructions.

Don’t know who your Congressman is? Don’t be embarrassed. Most people don’t, and that’s entirely okay. Because it’s just ridiculously easy to find out. Go to and look for the little box in the upper left corner that says “Find your representative.” Put in your ZIP code. In about two clicks, you’ll be at your Congressman’s home page. Somewhere on it, you’ll find telephone numbers, usually a DC number and a local number in your district. Call it. Seriously, call it. If you don’t want to call, send an e-mail instead, although this being a computery thing, sometimes it’s easier just to pick up the damn phone.

Don’t know what to say? Try this for starters:

“Hi, my name is Blanky McBlankerson, and I’m a constituent. I’m calling to urge the Congressman to sign on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 940, the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act.”

Feel free to flesh that out some. Feel free to explain why you think this is an important issue. But you’re not testifying before the Committee on this. You don’t need a lengthy prepared statement. You’re not going on the record, and nobody’s gonna cross-examine you. You’re just calling to voice your support. You’re just weighing in.

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