Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Underground Railroad

He might have done it for ideological reasons. He might have done it for money. I don't care. He is the motherfucking Underground Railroad to me. His name is Jeff George Ostfeld, and he was arrested recently for allegedly smuggling barbiturates into the United States - and potentially supplying these drugs to a 29-year-old Oregon woman who used them to commit suicide.
Authorities say Ostfeld, from Las Vegas, was carrying 1,200 milliliters of pentobarbital — vials with a picture of a Great Dane on the label — when U.S. officials stopped him May 18 at the Progreso International Bridge in South Texas. Officials said at a detention hearing last month that he was also carrying a camera with still photos of what appeared to be a deceased [Oregon woman Jennifer] Malone and videos that included what appeared to be her last words, "I'm scared."

At that May hearing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Robert Haberkamp III said Ostfeld, 33, told him that he planned to sell the remaining animal tranquilizers he bought in Mexico. He said he wanted to sell them to others seeking to end their lives, including a woman in the United Kingdom and a man in Australia, according to Haberkamp. He has not been charged in Malone's death.[Emphasis mine.]

Suicide is the only act that is not a crime, the assisting of which is a crime.

Fuck that. We would-be suicides are slaves. Those who would assist us, at the price of their own liberty, are no less heroes than the conductors and stationmasters of the Underground Railroad.

From the AP:

Malone's boyfriend, Tom Piazza, says she suffered from chronic depression and had attempted suicide before. But he says she couldn't have done it without help.

To me, it sounds like Jennifer Malone was in the same situation I am in - she was even within two years of my age. Would my last words have been "I am scared?" Possibly. But should that have any effect whatsoever on Ostfeld's criminal liability? How could it? Who would not be somewhat scared on approaching death? But a determined adult who ingests poison is the proximate cause of her own suicide - not the person who provided the poison to her. A person who provided pentobarbital to me would be nothing but an agent of my deliverance.

Ostfeld was charged with importing a controlled substance and intent to distribute.

Yes, let's keep that drug war going. It seems to be working out so far.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Siblicide-Suicide

Followers of The View from Hell know a great deal about murder-suicide - characteristics of the typical shooter, the typical relationship between shooter and victim, etc. Enough to recognize how very, very strange this case of murder suicide is:
Pa. brother, sister die in apparent murder-suicide

YORK, Pa. - Police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide of a brother and sister in south-central Pennsylvania.

Sgt. Rod Varner of the York Area Regional Police says the man was in his 50s and the woman in her 40s. Their names have not been released.

The bodies were found inside an apartment around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The woman didn't show up for work at York Hospital, so a co-worker stopped by to check on her. The co-worker found the back door unlocked, discovered the bodies and called 911.

York County Coroner Barry Bloss says the deaths appear to be a murder-suicide , the two appear to have died of gunshot wounds sometime Sunday evening.

Bloss says there were no signs of a struggle inside the home. A gun has been recovered.

While filicide-suicide is fairly common, as is uxoricide-suicide and various combinations of the two, siblicide-suicide is nearly unheard of (thought it is almost certainly more common than stranger homicide-suicide). A murder-suicide happening at all in south-central Pennsylvania must be a very rare occurrence. But do the police in south-central Pennsylvania realize how very strange this particular murder-suicide is?

More details about the incident reveal that the situation of the shooter resembled a maternal filicide-suicide or paternal familicide-suicide in many ways, however:

David Stoner loved his sister, Kathy.

He protected and looked after his sister, who was mentally challenged. He made sure she made it to her job in food services at York Hospital.

But, according to neighbors, David Stoner was sliding deep into depression. He was angry and unhappy after losing his job as a mechanic about a year ago. He became more beaten down each day he could not find work.

The shooter's caretaking role toward his sister, coupled with the loss of his job, closely resemble the failed belonging/burdensomeness perceived by a suicide, and his relationship with his younger, disabled sister seems to be one that would clearly be a candidate for the proprietariness expressed by familicide-suicides.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Isadore Millstone

1907-2009.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Perhaps he wanted us to talk about it. How else to explain the public nature of his final act? In fact, it was the means of his death that most puzzled me. Why not a fistful of pills and a highball? That would have been the easy way. Pour a glass of the finest whiskey, cut it with sweet vermouth — whiskey lovers will argue that that is a waste of good whiskey, but a man about to enjoy a final drink should not worry about such criticism — and then wash down the pills and sip your drink. Let the caregiver find your body.

Maybe because they're fucking impossible to get, asshole.[1] Especially for a 102-year-old saint.

RIP.



1. I don't actually think Bill McClellan is an asshole. Based on his article, I think he's kind of a mensch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"I regard this as justice"

June Hartley of Lodi, California, was charged with "assisting a suicide" and "causing injury leading to death" for helping her brother to commit suicide. She recently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of "being an accessory to a crime." (I thought suicide was not illegal?)

Her brother, blues musician Jimmy Hartley, had suffered a series of strokes which left him bound to a wheelchair and in constant neuropathic pain. Prior to his death, at age 45, he had begged others to help him end his life.

Both Hartley's lawyer, Randy Thomas, and the prosecutor in the case, Sherri Adams, expressed approval of the plea agreement.
"I regard this as justice," Thomas said. "It sent two messages: The district attorney had an acknowledgement [sic] that the law was broken but also that it was a unique situation involving mercy."

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Sherri Adams, said the plea agreement was just. Adams said the District Attorney's Office must scrutinize cases of assisted suicide, which are illegal in California, to prevent malicious killings that are masked as merciful.

Hartley's actions, Adams said, were a genuine act of mercy.

"This case did not involve any ill will," Adams said. "The defendant violated the law out of love and support for her own brother." [Emphasis mine.]

Both Hartley's attorney and the prosecutor seem to agree that this is the correct outcome for a case of assisted suicide.[1] Adams and Thomas recognize two kinds of harm:

  1. The harm of living in misery and not being able to die (hence the recognition that the act of helping a person to die can be merciful or compassionate, and that such a person should not be punished);
  2. The harm of a "malicious killing" (presumably a murder, but perhaps something else is meant) going unpunished.

The statement that the outcome in Hartley's case is "justice" indicates that the correct balance has been struck between the two kinds of harm.

In fact, in this case the first interest - the right to choose death over suffering - is almost completely sacrificed at the expense of the second - punishing "malicious" killers. James Hartley's interests, and those of people like him, are ignored. Adams is concerned with "malicious" killers disguising their work as assisted suicide. But what about all the people suffering in misery, who have a longstanding wish to die, but cannot die because anyone assisting them will face prosecution? The idea that June Hartley's actions were "merciful" concedes that her brother had an interest in dying. Prosecuting people who assist suicides does nothing to protect that interest.

Also, as I have previously argued, prosecuting assisted suicides is an extremely poor way (in practical terms) to prevent malicious killings from being disguised as suicides. In Oregon and Washington, for example, it would be extremely difficult to make a murder look like an assisted suicide, at least a murder of a person ill enough to qualify for suicide assistance from a doctor. Since a comfortable means of assisted suicide is legal, with many safeguards to ensure that it is the true wish of the decedent, an "assisted suicide" by any other means would be unlikely and extremely suspicious. I assert that assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington is much harder to fake than in California - and, of course, the right to die is protected better there, as well. Both interests recognized by Adams and Thomas are poorly protected by the solution they claim is "justice."

Elsewhere on the web, TGGP rips apart Frontier Psychiatrist's definition of rationality, in the context of suicide ("Life is a disease, so cut the bullshit please."). Rationality in this context means that a decision is "characterized by reason or ‘makes sense’ to others," FP claims. I manage to comment in both places without rolling my eyes or sighing deeply.

And Bryan Caplan wonders why so few terminally ill people kill themselves.



1. The term "mercy killing" is often used in cases such as Hartley's. I think this term is misleading: "killing" implies that one person caused another person's death - such as by smothering or shooting the person - without his permission. In Hartley's case, she merely helped her brother achieve his own aim of dying. Helping someone to commit suicide who has a longstanding wish to die is not properly considered a killing.

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