Springfield Police Arrive Seven Months Late for a Suicide

Yesterday police in Springfield, Oregon, acting on a tip from the FBI, broke into a man's condominium to prevent him from killing himself. They believed the situation was urgent because the man had purchased a mail-order suicide kit. Seven months ago. For a local newspaper reporter who was doing a story about suicide kits.

According to the Eugene Register-Guard, which employs both the unnamed man and the reporter he was assisting, the "FBI teletype" (really?) failed to mention when the suicide kit, a "helium hood" consisting of a plastic bag and plastic tubing, had been purchased. Still, the cops could have discovered from a quick Google search that The GLADD Group, the source of the kit, was shut down last May, when the FBI raided the El Cajon, California, home of its nonagenarian proprietor, Sharlotte Hydorn. The Register-Guard says their sense of urgency was heightened when the condominium complex's manager reported that he had seen the kit buyer "carry a bag into his house earlier in the day." And who does that unless he's about to off himself?

The condo owner, who was not home when the police broke down his door, does not fault them:

He's not angry at Springfield police for kicking in his front door and damaging an interior door that had been shut.

"I'm going to put it all down as a misunderstanding," he said. "I thanked [the police officer who spoke to him on the phone about the incident] for taking it seriously and making sure that I was OK."

This attitude is understandable only if you take it for granted that police have a legitimate role in standing between a man and his self-chosen death. The FBI has been giving the names and addresses of Hydorn's customers to local police departments so they can do "welfare checks" on them, which evidently involves breaking into their homes just in case they're about to use the kits they bought. The Register-Guard says Springfield's finest decided to knock down the condo door "after conferring with a police captain who urged them to force their way into the home in case the man needed immediate help." But they were not there to help; they were there to hinder—to forcibly prevent someone from ending his life in the privacy of his own home for reasons he considered sound. When someone goes to the trouble of ordering a helium hood and waiting for it to arrive, it is safe to say that he has put some thought into the decision and is not acting on impulse. When the state intervenes in such a situation, it is asserting that the man's life is not his own and that he may not give it up without permission. That kind of liberty-trampling, government-as-god arrogance is a bit more objectionable than a simple "misunderstanding."

In a June column, I contrasted Hydorn's do-it-yourself approach to suicide with Jack Kevorkian's preference for medical gatekeepers.

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  • kilroy||

    welfare checks

    I don't think that phrase means what they think it means.

  • Tony||

    The state is entitled to a claim on your labors and your estates. This point is clearly settled from a societal standpoint. If you attempt suicide you are depriving society those resources. In difficult times this can't be permitted.

  • ||

    Obvious troll [etc.]

    Anyway, you know who else thought suicide was a good idea?

  • Rich||

    Ozzy Osbourne?

  • Goethe||

    Young Werther?

  • T||

    Jim Jones?

  • ||

    Good guesses all! Butterscotch candy all 'round.

    A few more and someone is sure to get it.

  • ||

    M*A*S*H*?
    Oh, "a good idea..." I though you said "painless."

  • Mensan||

    Vincent van Gogh?
    Earnest Hemingway?
    Meriwether Lewis?
    Kurt Cobain?
    Hunter S. Thompson?
    George Eastman?
    Virginia Woolf?

  • ||

    Blue Oyster Cult?

  • ||

    This attitude is understandable only if you take it for granted that police have a legitimate role in standing between a man and his self-chosen death.

    Killing yourself is just like stealing from the government; only they may decide the time and manner of your "premature" death.

  • WTF||

    [...] only they may decide the time and manner of your "premature" death.

    "STOP RESISTING!"

  • T||

    He's not angry at the cops, until he finds out fixing his door is all on him and the cops won't pay for it. Then he might be a bit peeved.

  • ||

    This story would be much more amusing if the police tasked with preventing the man's suicide had shot him dead for objecting to their forced entry.

  • robc||

    Or if he had shot the police dead.

    "Amusing" doesnt really cover it.

  • ||

    Those pikers didn't even shoot his dog.

  • Chatroom Crank||

    I was just wondering what would have happened if he had been sitting on the couch holding a TV remote or a cell phone.

  • Mensan||

    Something like that happened around hear a couple months ago. A woman called the police, because her autistic teenage son was threatening to kill himself; so the cops busted into his bedroom and shot him to death.

  • WTF||

    "I thanked [the police officer who spoke to him on the phone about the incident] for taking it seriously and making sure that I was OK."

    "Thank you sir, may I have another!"

    When seconds count, the cops are minutes days weeks months away.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Nice.

  • Janet Napolitano||

    the condominium complex's manager reported that he had seen the kit buyer "carry a bag into his house earlier in the day."

    If you see something, say something.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "they were there to hinder—to forcibly prevent someone from ending his life in the privacy of his own home for reasons he considered sound."

    I think the right-to-suicide thesis needs more support than this.

    And I don't think it's a fair summary of the anti-suicide position to say, "the government just wants your taxes, lol!"

  • Chatroom Crank||

    I have a chronic, incurable, progressive neurological disease. I have decided that once my quality of live degrades past a certain point I am going to end things. What other support does my "thesis" need? Does the state have the right to force me to live in pain, unable to walk, having to stick rubber tubes up my dick?

  • ||

    Of course it does.

  • ||

    I have a chronic, incurable, progressive neurological disease.

    Everyone does. It's called -- life.

    I don't mean to minimize your disease, CC, but short of accident, we're all going to go downhill at some point. Sucks when it's sooner rather than later though.

  • humanizzm||

    One of my closest friends suffers from chronic lyme disease. She was infected at age 12, and is now 28. She is the only person of whom I would say that suicide would be a rational choice.
    Few people can even imagine such an amount of suffering, I know it took me years to wrap my head around it.

  • ||

    I think the right-to-suicide thesis needs more support than this.

    Why? Its my life. Why can't I dispose of it in the time and manner of my choosing?

  • cynical||

    I guess maybe it's like abortion, where people sometimes try to justify protecting a non-sentient blob of human cells because it will eventually be a legal, sentient human.

    That is, Present You may want to die, but (depending on the situation) that will also result in killing or preventing from existing non-suicidal Future You. That's more of an argument for intervention in the case of treatable/temporary depression than degenerative illnesss, though.

  • Robert||

    Because obviously there are people who need to be persuaded on that point, and are a tough sell.

  • Bee Tagger||

    the condominium complex's manager reported that he had seen the kit buyer "carry a bag into his house earlier in the day."

    So his homely wife drinks a lot and frequently passes out. Wouldn't you if your husband was having suicidal thoughts?

  • Wiggum||

    Sorry, you have the wrong number, this is 9-1-...2.

  • Invisible Finger||

    This attitude is understandable only if you take it for granted that police have a legitimate role in standing between a man and his self-chosen death.

    He's a local newspaper reporter. In Oregon. He is predisposed to kissing the ass of all local government.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Granted, this particular case is merely another shining example of local police ineptitude, and one wonders about the appropriateness of their response, given what the facts could have shown with a modicum of investigative work.

    But the larger point, which seems to be that a person has the right to off himself "in the privacy of his own home for reasons he considered sound" - I dunno if can fully get behind that. Not saying that the police should come kicking in your door if the landlord says he saw you carrying a plastic bag into your apartment earlier - but speaking from personal experience, the unfortunate reality is that often people attempt or commit suicide because it seems to them at that point to be the right solution. But if someone had managed to intervene, the person could have been counseled and recovered and gone on to lead a fruitful life.

    I agree with the "end of life" decision being a personal one - e.g., someone who is suffering from an incurable, terminal illness should be able to die on his own terms, with dignity.

    But someone who is suffering from temporary depression or mental illness is not in the right state of mind to make the decision, no matter how "sound" the reasons *seem* to him or her at the time.

    Again, I'm not advocating that the police should have the power to forcibly enter your home just because someone thinks you bought a plastic bag to stick over your head - I'm just saying I'm not convinced it's a good policy to say, in every case, "oh well, if he wants to kill himself, that's his right; we should leave him alone if that's what he wants to do." Not in every case. The person is not necessarily making a lucid decision; not thinking clearly at that point. A little intervention could prevent a much larger tragedy.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure someone determined to commit suicide won't be deterred by the police. Its all those chickenshits that aren't sure that police can talk down.

    In any case, busting down the door probably wouldn't help, but clears the department of any future lawsuit by relatives saying the police could have done more (did I mention how much I think lawyers suck).

  • Coeus||

    I'm just saying I'm not convinced it's a good policy to say, in every case, "oh well, if he wants to kill himself, that's his right; we should leave him alone if that's what he wants to do." Not in every case.

    So who gets to decide? Maybe we should appoint a czar.

    I'd rather deal with the problems associated with freedom than tyrany. But that's because I'm a libertarian.

  • Coeus||

    FWIW, I did stop someone from committing suicide once. But he was going about it in a way that was gaurenteed to harm someone else. He tried to use a blind freeway off-ramp. If he'd tried to use a bridge over water, I'd have tried to talk him out of it, but I wouldn't have forcibly restrained him.

    You own nothing if you don't own yourself.

  • anonymous||

    "I'd have tried to talk him out of it, but I wouldn't have forcibly restrained him."

    Interesting. Imagine the statement, "I'd have egged him on, but I wouldn't have pushed him." If that doesn't resemble your own moral code, then I suggest you value the lives of others more highly than you let on.

  • Coeus||

    "I'd have egged him on, but I wouldn't have pushed him."

    Depends on the situation. If I knew him, and he was a waste of space who frequently harmed others with no reguard, then perhaps I would egg him on, provided no one else was in danger. Not knowing this, I err on the side of caution.

    then I suggest you value the lives of others more highly than you let on.

    Persuasion, not coercion. I take the same tack towards vaccinations, due to the fact that a very small percentage die from them. I absolutely highly value the lives of others. And I especially value their ownership of said life.

    I took the risky tack of pulling him off that ramp, not for him, but for the innocent person who would've been injured or killed trying to avoid him at high speed.

    I've saved a few others, and been saved myself. In none of those situations was the intention of any party death to oneself or others.

    Trying to protect people from themselves leads to all manner of evils. The war on drugs comes to mind, as do the lobotomies of eccentric people which frequently took place in the previous century.

    Bottom line:
    You can save people after they make stupid decisions, but that decision is their own to make. If the decision is death, that's too bad, but it's not my, nor anyone else's place to make that decision for them.

  • Coeus||

    Though I should add that visible intoxication changes the equation. In that instance, the ingestion of intoxicants is the stupid choice, from which they need saving.

  • ola||

    Great, you've given Wolf Blitzer another question at the next CNN repub debate. Congressman Paul, you are a doctor, should society just let people who want to kill themselves, kill themselves? The crowd goes nuts and Paul says, well I'm for freedom.

  • Joe M||

    Just waiting for dunphy to come along and harangue Jacob for saying the condo owner had the wrong emotional response and should be mad.

  • Hank||

    Jacob said he didn't understand this emotional response: This attitude is understandable only if...

    Riggs said the emotional response was "ridiculous".

    I still agree with dunphy on that one.

  • ||

    This attitude is understandable only if you take it for granted that police have a legitimate role in standing between a man and his self-chosen death.

    Not even then, given the colossal amount of incompetence and ineptitude that was necessary to kick that door down at that time.

    I don't care if the police are hot on the trail of puppy-raping, kitten-killing, mass-murdering Islamo-Christfag terrorists with a sideline in penis enlargement spam. When the cops fuck it up that bad, not being pissed at them for kicking down your door is not understandable at all.

    Unless you are a brainwashed beta-male serf, of course.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    No Simpsons alt-text? Take him away boys!

  • ||

    The purchase of a suicide kit seems like an extremely flimsy reason to break down someone's door.

    However, on the larger question of whether suicide should be legal, the state does have a legit interest in making sure that its citizens don't off themselves while not thinking clearly. We certainly wouldn't support standing idly by while children or mentally ill people kill themselves, would we?

    In practice this would be difficult, but I think some sort of licensing process could be put in place to make sure that the person is really freely choosing to kill themselves, and not being manipulated by someone else or incapable of making reasoned choices.

  • RyanXXX||

    A license to suicide? STFU Tulpa

  • ||

    If the only response you have is "STFU", what does that say about my argument?

  • Coeus||

    At the risk of summoning the pale injun, you own yourself. This is a basic libertarian principle. You'd rather have someone appeal to authority in order to give you permission to do something to yourself. This is a basic Tulpa principle.

  • Brandon||

    Yeah, the idea of a license to kill yourself really doesn't deserve any more of a response than STFU.

  • Dekedin||

    We can't prevent people from committing suicide, so we might as well make it easy. Honestly, suicide bags should be in every store, it would probably make the world a better place.

    To quote Dune, "The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it." You either own your body or the government does.

  • CE||

    Setting aside the issue of whether preventing possible suicide based on flimsy evidence ought to be a matter requiring police involvement, or even forcible entry, why is the FBI involved here? Don't they have serious crimes to investigate, like interstate kidnappings and bank robberies?

  • Ed||

    In the military if a guy started talking shit about killing himself, someone would tell him to wait a second while they went and got a .45. Pretty much ended any suicidal thoughts

    Of course, the guy that hung himself never said shit to anyone.

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