A friend asks via text:
“What you do if you knew a friend was trying to commit suicide?”
You text back,
“Talk them out of it”
Then he texts you…
“The thing is i wanna help kill them. it be awesome. seriously im going to help her. Its like getting away with murder! Im so fucked up. I’m seriously not joking. Its going down in about a week or two.”
This was the actual scenario preceding the suicide of a 16 year old girl (above. left) in Utah.
Hunters found the girl’s body hanging from a tree. A can of industrial strength air duster and a cellphone were nearby, and the latter contained a video of the girl’s death.
It showed the girl with a noose around her neck, standing on on a rock. She inhaled the contents of the air duster can, lost consciousness, and fell off the rock, causing the noose to tighten and slowly strangle her. The video captures the ten minutes it took the girl to die.
Tyerell Przybycien, 18, arrived at the scene to claim credit for the video, telling officers that he knew the girl and was with her when she died. He told detectives that he had a fascination with death and wanted to see what it was like to watch somebody perish.
Yes, it was Przybycien who wrote the text message to a friend.
There are other disturbing aspects to the story, but my professional interest is in the conduct of Przybycien’s friend. Let us eschew, for now, the question of why anyone would have a friend like this sicko in the first place.
We know the friend has at least rudimentary ethics alarms, since his first response, “Talk her out of it,” was the right one. After that, however, his ethics alarms died. Przybycien told him that he was planning on helping a girl kill herself because it would be a turn-on, and the friend did nothing to stop him…or at least did nothing that did stop him.
We can speculate endlessly about what would work and what would not, but this tragic scenario lands squarely in the realm of the Ethics Alarms principle, “If you are in a position to stop unethical conduct, stop it.” Here a life was involved, activating the coda, “Whatever it takes.”
What might some measures be that could fulfill this ethical imperative?
1. Get the friend to tell you the name of the girl.
2. Try to talk HIM out of it.
3. Alert the police.
4. Alert the girl’s family.
5. Alert the friend’s family
6. Alert the friend’s school
7. Alert a local suicide hotline.
8. Alert news organizations.
9. Alert a local elected official and tell him that if the girl dies, you’ll let the news media know that he let it happen.
10. Alert anyone you can possibly think of until the girl is safe.
11. Get the friend to agree to keep you informed about his plans.
12. See if he”ll agree to let you help, so you can contact rescuers before the event.
This is a sequence that needs to be improvised according to events. One thing we do know: Przybycien’s friend failed to stop the tragedy. Is he or she legally culpable? No. Did he or she fail an ethical duty? Absolutely.
There would be risks involved for the friend. It all could be a false alarm, and that could get Przybycien’s friend in trouble. Whatever trouble it would be, however, was dwarfed in comparison to the looming tragedy and loss of human life if Przybycien was serious, as it turned out he was. Assuming that there is no danger is a gamble an ethical human being can not make.
Fix the problem. Whatever it takes.
What would you do?