Friday, October 24, 2014

MAAS Demand Letter to People Magazine: "The risk of suicide contagion is real. The potential victims include children."

Dear Editor:

I represent Montanans Against Assisted Suicide (MAAS)

People Magazine’s coverage of Brittany Maynard breaks all recommended media guidelines for responsible reporting of suicide. The risk of suicide contagion is real.  The potential victims include children.  

It is well known that media reporting of suicide can encourage other suicides, sometimes called "copycat suicides," or more generally, a "suicide contagion."  A famous example is Marilyn Monroe, whose suicide death led to a suicide spike.

This encouragement phenomenon can also occur when the inspiring death is not a suicide.  An example is the televised hanging of Saddam Hussein, which led to suicide deaths of children worldwide. An NBC News article begins:    
The boys' deaths - scattered in the United States, in Yemen, in Turkey and elsewhere in seemingly isolated horror - had one thing in common:  They hanged themselves after watching televised images of Saddam Hussein's execution.

Your coverage of Brittany Maynard is, of course, exponentially more intense and of broader range than that of Marilyn Monroe or Saddam Hussein.

As a major media organization, you are expected to be familiar with recommended guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide. Important points include that the risk of additional suicides increases "when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage."  See

Your coverage of Brittany Maynard's upcoming death violates all of these guidelines.  We are told of the planned method, when and where it will take place and who will be there.  There is repeated extensive coverage in multiple media.  Your website says that the story has gone "viral."

Meanwhile, People Magazine, in grocery stores everywhere, with children in line, glorifies Ms. Maynard's upcoming death.  Her photo is on the cover; she's beautiful and now she's one of your celebrities. In big white letters, there is this headline: "My Decision to Die." There are also these words, also in white, simple enough for a child to understand: "Why Brittany Maynard, 29, plans to end her life in less that three weeks."

According to your publication, Ms. Maynard is going to kill herself, and if you don't do something to change this suicide promotion trajectory, so will many other people.

Now you can write me back, and say, "Oh, but Ms. Maynard's not suicidal, it's different."
Saddam Hussein wasn't suicidal and it wasn't different. Those boys died.

My client, Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, hereby demands the following:
1.  That you immediately cease and desist your suicide promotion activity, which means removing all glorifying content from your website, grocery stores, wherever;
2.  That you immediately add suicide prevention content to your publications, including  where to call for help; and
3.  That you in no shape or form promote Ms. Maynard's suicide if and when it occurs.
People Magazine celebrates the heroes among us.  It's time for People Magazine to show its integrity by this time being the hero among us to stop the contagion.


Margaret Dore,
Attorney for Montanans Against Assisted Suicide (MAAS)

Law Offices of Margaret K. Dore, P.S.
1001 4th Avenue, 44th Floor
Seattle, WA  98154
206 389 1754 main reception
206 389 1562 direct line