Fix the problem not the symptom

Andrew Fergin

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Late into March there was a large controversy over news that an anonymous San Diego woman was selling helium hood method suicide kits. For the unaware, the helium hood method of suicide involves wrapping a hood over the user’s head and flooding the hood with helium via a tank connected to the hood through tubing. News of the product generated heated ethical debates over the morality of selling a product for customers to take their lives with. What’s alarming however, isn’t that the product exists, but rather that there is a demand for the product in the first place.
In an interview with CBS the anonymous San Diego woman explained that when she first started her business she only averaged selling two of her kits each month but that by the time of the interview last month her sales had risen to roughly 45 kits each month. What should generate concern isn’t that the woman is selling suicide kits but rather that the demand for her kits has risen with time.
Whether selling weapons, narcotics, or Cinnabons, the market only exists because there is a demand for the product. It’s easy to point a finger at the sale of suicide kits and say that their sale is unethical but to make such a claim ignores the more important issue that the demand for the kits rose. Rather than discuss the ethics of the suicide kit itself what should be discussed is how to eliminate the demand for the product. After all, the suicide kit is a symptom of an existing demand not a cause.
Be it increased funding to suicide and crisis prevention hotlines, discounted therapy for people suffering suicidal thoughts, or another solution, the bottom line is that discussing the ethics of a product made to aid in suicide is an exercise in futility and represents time that could be much better spent looking for ways to decrease the number of people who want to kill themselves in the first place.
Perhaps selling a product with the primary function of assisting the user in taking their own life is callous, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we stay focused on fixing the real problem rather than attacking its symptoms.