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Cyberspace suicide brings death Net to Japan

Cyberspace suicide brings death Net to Japan

This is a modern tale of a middle-aged male dentist and an unemployed young woman destined for an untimely demise.

They made contact in an Internet chat room. They exchanged scores of e-mails. Then they watched each other die as their brief and intense relationship ended with a double suicide pact.

The two were not looking for love on the Net. They were looking for support and consolation as they turned to one of the several Japanese Web sites established for people contemplating suicide.

Feelings of isolation, depression and helplessness have marked the dark side of Japan's post-war industrialisation. But it was not until the advent of the Internet that people could find a place where they could maintain their anonymity, remain in the safety of their homes and yet reach out to people to share their misery.

The 46-year-old dentist was living in the Sea of Japan coastal prefecture of Fukui and suffered from a chronic disease. The 25-year-old woman lived about 150 km (90 miles) away in Aichi prefecture and had just lost her job.

They both turned to a Web site where visitors who register can access information on how to kill themselves. The site also featured a chat room, where the two first made contact around the end of July, according to news reports.

After their first encounter they exchanged e-mails and turned to each other for support as they prepared to commit suicide.

"If we have a common purpose, we have nothing to fear," said one e-mail carried in the national daily Yomiuri Shimbun.

SUICIDE SITES

They met face-to-face for the first time on October 23 and were found dead together in the dentist's home three days later, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills, police said.

Experts said this was neither the first nor the last time the Internet would have a hand in aiding suicides in Japan, where a record 33,048 people committed suicide in 1999.

Debt or job loss was blamed for one in five of the suicides, according to a police report released in August.

The alarmingly high number prompted the Health Ministry and Labour Ministry to request about $3 million to launch programmes aimed at suicide prevention.

But news of the double suicide quickly faded as newspapers and daytime gossip television moved on to other topics.

There are scores of sites dedicated to suicide in Japan with names such as "Dead Line" or "Suicide Link" that offer a mixed bag of support, counselling, recipes for death and advice on mixing lethal drug cocktails.

On one site, a young man writes that he had been a good student but the pressure of college entrance exams and his subsequent failing scores pushed him into deep depression. He became a shut-in who never left his home, but found help through a counselling service offered on the Web.

Another site lists over-the-counter drugs that can be mixed into a lethal potion, and on another people exchange information about a black market for cyanide and other suicide essentials.

"Before the Internet became popular, some people wanting to commit suicide came across each other while travelling and committed double suicide. But these days, the first step seems to be the computer screen," social critic and Kyoto University professor emeritus Tsuyoshi Mori told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

DEADLY E-COMMERCE

Psychiatrist Naoki Sato opened his own Web site to counsel those contemplating suicide. He said many of his patients were so overwhelmed by depression they would not leave their homes and the only way to reach them was through the Web, which can produce both heart-warming and heart-wrenching results.

"Some people access suicide Web sites hoping to find salvation, but instead find tips on how to take their own lives," Sato told the national daily Asahi Shimbun.

The convergence of digital communications and suicide came to light in Japan in December 1998 when a woman killed herself with cyanide bought over the Net from a former employee of a pharmaceutical testing company.

Police suspected the 27-year-old man, who called himself "Dr Kiriko" after a character in a popular comic series who helped a patient commit suicide, set up a Web site and sold cyanide to eight people for 30,000 yen per lethal dose. The poison was delivered to a convenience store where it could be picked up under an assumed name.

The man killed himself after news broke of the 24-year-old woman's death.

Other anecdotes of Internet-assisted suicide and suicide attempts have peppered Japanese newspapers over the past year or two.

In August 1999, a 37-year-old woman attempted to kill herself with a muscle relaxant she bought over the Net. She later told police she sent an e-mail to a vendor she found through a suicide Web site that read: "I want to die so please give me medicine."

Earlier this year, police in western Japan arrested a woman for mailing 100 sleeping tablets sold over-the-counter in the United States to a 38-year-old woman who took them in a failed suicide attempt. The two had met over the Net and exchanged e-mails.


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