Suicide “Pro-Choice” Websites and the loss of Shawn Shatto | Alexa Moody
Sometimes Please Live needs to make a statement about a news story, and when this happens, 99% of the time it is with a heavy heart. This post will address a recent local news story out of York Haven, PA featuring the loss of a young woman, Shawn Shatto.
If you haven’t heard yet, Shawn’s mother and stepfather, Jackie and Chip Bieber, are courageously speaking out about Shawn’s suicide. While a suicide of any age, any means, any place is one of life’s utmost tragedies, the piece of the story that is garnering the most attention is how Shawn sought comfort and help from an online forum that is self-described as suicide “pro-choice” — that is to say, you have the right to choose when/how you want to take your life.
Of course, here at Please Live, we desperately want you to live. So much so that we literally named our organization in a desperate pleading for anyone who is hurting and losing hope – Please, LIVE!
The gist of the story is this: Shawn, a beautiful young woman, was struggling. I can’t definitively say with what – I don’t know what circumstances were in her life, I don’t know if a mental illness (diagnosed or otherwise) was a factor, I don’t know anything about her other than she was hurting in such a way that she thought of suicide, and in her search for answers, came across this website forum where “pro-choice” posters gave her instructions on how to end her life and then encouraged her to go through with it, even when she expressed fears and doubts.
I hesitated before making any comment on this story because I wanted to be sure my commentary was accurate and would provide the most amount of help. To be frank, I was afraid. I was afraid that using the megaphone of the internet/media might drive more teens to dark websites with ill-intentions shrouded by the illusion of “freedom”. I was afraid that more people in dark places would become victims of this suicide “pro-choice” kool-aid.
But I decided that it was more important to talk about it, because honestly knowledge is power. When we’re too afraid to talk about teen sex and just pretend it doesn’t exist, does that make it go away? No. Teens still have sex. But if we educate them on how to safely navigate sexuality – abstinence, safe sex, condoms, birth control, regular health checkups, etc. – then teen pregnancy and STI’s go down because now youth have education as a tool and a weapon to make smart and informed choices.
If we don’t talk about rape or assault or domestic violence and sweep it under the rug, does it go away? No. Again, education on how to communicate in relationships, recognizing signs of all types of abuse, knowing you’re not alone and having access to help resources all saves lives because with education we know that anyone can be a victim regardless of what you wear or what gender/orientation you are and that includes me and you.
Failing to discuss the fact that there are disgusting, horrible, and vile websites out there in cyberspace is not going to stop those sites from existing, nor is it going to protect us or our children from stumbling upon them. We need to talk about this so that we can arm parents and teens and young adults and everyone with knowledge on how to navigate the dangerous digital world and how to recognize sites and forums that will genuinely help and navigate AWAY from the dangerous ones.
Kevin Hines is a phenomenal person to pretty much the entire suicide prevention community across the globe. He is an international speaker that became well known after deciding to use his personal story as his message. This happened after his own suicide attempt – jumping off the golden gate bridge. Out of the thousands of people who have lost their lives using that same method, he is one of only 20 to have survived the jump.
Why did he decide to use the golden gate bridge as his suicide method? He read it online.
He says in his speeches that the night before his attempt, he was hurting. He was struggling. He’d been struggling for years and years – since highschool – with bipolar disorder. And he sat at his computer and one Google search went to the next and he found himself on a site that said,
“If you live in San Francisco, and you go to the Golden Gate Bridge and you jump off, you will die on impact. Good luck!”
And Kevin says upon reading that sentence, it broke him. He was already in this dark place of pain and that website and that recommendation is what snapped him and he made the decision that he was going to do just that.
Thankfully, he survived and shares his story around the world, providing hope to those who feel hopeless.
I wish, I wish Shawn would have survived too.
Two things about this suicide pro-choice website that upset me the most.
Firstly, the use of the word “right”. In America, we’re very particular about our rights. It’s in our red-white-and-blue American blood, our individualism and a profound belief that so long as we’re not hurting ourselves or anyone else, we have the right to life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness. As such, if someone says we have the “right” to something and then tries to take it away, we stand firm to protect our rights.
“You have the right to live your life as you see fit”
Yeah I do! Absolutely! 100% agree!
“You have the right to end your life when you are ready”
Yea— wait, what?
See how that sentences makes you… want… to agree? Like on some primal level you want to say yeah, I do have that right? What’s the alternative, that I don’t have the right to live how I deem fit? Who are you to take my rights away?
See, the above sentence is crafted in a way that feels like a lose-lose even to someone who isn’t mentally/emotionally struggling. For someone that IS hurting, desperate, maybe feels powerless, this sentence gives a false sense of power. A false sense of control.
Instead, what about the very real power and control each of us has to make our lives better? To see a doctor? To take, or not take, medicine as recommended by that doctor? To see a therapist or counselor or psychiatrist? To travel the world or change our degrees or find new friends or connect with old ones? To buy a cat or a dog or both?
What about the RIGHT to health, the right to a doctor who believes and trusts you, the right to fight your hardest for a brighter tomorrow? If this “pro-choice” website is trying to provide empowerment, THIS is what real empowerment looks like for someone who is hurting.
The second piece is how when Shawn expressed fear and doubt, they encouraged her to keep going through with her plan.
Real humans change their minds and that is OK. If she was unsure, if she was second guessing this, then someone who is really suicide “pro-choice” would encourage her to take a step back and re-evaluate. They should’ve said, “If you don’t want to do this, that’s OK, there are other options here.”
You’re not pro-choice if the only choice you agree with is the choice you want someone to make.
I admittedly have many other thoughts on this topic, but a blog post should only be so long.
As a recap:
- We must not be afraid to discuss difficult topics. Through education we give people the power to safely navigate dangerous spaces. We must be aware of the reality of these dangerous websites and make sure that our parents, families, friends, and children know about them so that we can collectively protect one another.
- If you feel powerless or that you have no control over your life – you DO have the power and the RIGHT to seek help, seek treatment, fight for yourself, and make improvements for a better tomorrow. Sometimes those improvements are just inch by inch, day by day — but progress is still progress.
- To be “pro-choice” in something is recognizing that sometimes the other person will choose to change their mind and that is OK.
If you’re hurting, thinking about suicide, or if you’re worried about someone you know – please reach out.
Chat online at ImAlive.org or CrisisChat.org