The suicides earlier this week of nine people have renewed concerns over the suicide-related Web sites through which they are believed to have met.
The controversial Japanese Web sites put suicidal people in touch with others who want to kill themselves, but don’t want to do it alone.
On Tuesday, seven people were found dead in a car in Saitama Prefecture at around the same time as two others were found, also in a car, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. All nine died of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting charcoal burners inside the sealed vehicles.
Authorities are hesitant to crack down on the sites because doing so would infringe on people’s freedom of expression. Some have said the sites serve to prevent suicides by providing a forum for people to discuss their problems.
The nine apparently all met through a Web site run by a 34-year-old woman. The suicide-related sections of her site have since been shut down.
But a Web search produces numerous sites containing such phrases as, “Looking for a partner to commit suicide,” and “For people who have gotten tired of life.”
People continue to post messages on such sites.
One message read: “I’ve had no luck ever since I was born. That’s why I want to die.”
Another said: “It’s hard to die on your own. Is there anyone out there who can die with me?”
There were 12 suicide pacts in Japan organized via the Internet last year. This method also tends to spur copycat suicides.
But police have found it difficult to come up with an effective way to prevent such suicide pacts, which break no laws.
Even after finding messages written by people looking for suicide companions, police say it is difficult to track down the authors because the confidentiality of communications is protected under the Constitution. Police say a nationwide debate is needed to discuss how to regulate suicide Web sites.
They said that of the nine who recently killed themselves, some worried about unemployment, while others showed no signs of being suicidal.
Some visitors to the Web sites are not suicidal and are instead trying to help those who are.
“Don’t you think part of you still wants to live?” asked the author of a message posted on one of the sites.
“To live or to die, either way it’s hard. There was a period in my life when I felt like that,” read another.
Suicides have been rising in Japan. Last year, the figure hit a record high of about 34,400, surpassing the 30,000 mark for the sixth straight year.
Japan’s high suicide rate stands out among industrially advanced nations.
The United States has about half the rate of suicides by population.
But some question the wisdom of scapegoating the Web sites.
“Last year, there were an average of 94 suicides every day in Japan. It is wrong to blame the Internet for this,” one Internet site operator said.
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