Gov’t, public must act now to stop ‘charcoal burners’

The China Post news staff

Before the creation of modern Italy in the 19th century, there existed on the Apennine Peninsula and — possibly — on the offshore island of Sicily, a revolutionary group that called itself “Carbonari,” or, “the Charcoal Burners.” These people would kill, if necessary, for a noble cause, such as the creation of a constitutional monarchy or a republic. In modern Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, there is also a group of people also called “charcoal burners.” They are known to be the number-two killer in suicide cases in southern Taiwan. Some of these charcoal burners have killed themselves using what is believed to be the least painful method: by deliberately inhaling the toxic fumes and carbon-monoxide produced while burning charcoal in airtight or poorly ventilated places. Perhaps encouraged by the painless aspect of the method, many others have taken their helpless children along while they bid farewell to what they must see as a cruel world. In the process, they became the most unforgivable of all killers. The same copycat tragedy grabbed headlines again Thursday when a debt-ridden mother tried to kill herself and her 8-year-old son by burning charcoal in her home. Fortunately, the boy had the smarts to save his own life and that of his mom by calling his father on his cellphone when his mother was not watching. A younger child, or a less alert one, would have been killed. Unfortunately, many more have died at the hands of their own parents recently, including a young woman who broadcast her suicide live on Facebook. Claire Lin live-broadcast her gradual asphyxiation, blow by blow, on Facebook on March 18. Neither the network’s webmasters nor her friends alerted the police. One suspects the publicity given to Lin’s suicide is to blame for the subsequent increase in suicide by burning charcoal. While people may be vaguely aware that burning charcoal is less painful than other ways of killing oneself, the relatively less “grisly” footage and images that showed no blood, disfigured bodies, or severed bodily parts could really appeal to those bent on killing themselves and their helpless innocent children. Especially those who shrink at the threat of physical pain. A 12-year-old elementary schoolgirl also killed herself by burning charcoal in an airtight room a few days ago. In another instance, an unemployed man burned charcoal in his car to kill his pet dog before he and his sister hanged themselves. There is no use in pointing an accusing finger in the aftermath of these tragedies, but this nonsense has to stop now. Before we have a general solution to people’s personal troubles, we have to stop the suicidal from killing others collaterally. People — very young people — are dying, and so are pets. This is an emergency. The government and the community have to act now. Given that publicity on social networks can encourage copycats, we suggest that they seriously consider installing an emergency button in order to alert the police when similar tragedies happen on their sites or pages, and to establish protocols on how to react appropriately and efficiently to these situations. However sympathetic we may be toward survivors of suicide attempts, we simply cannot forgive those who also try to kill others while they try to kill themselves. The judiciary must make it known that anyone who does so, whatever their justifications may be, will be charged with murder, duly tried, and sentenced in accordance with the country’s criminal code. And if they are found guilty, they will be sentenced and punished — regardless of their physical and psychological condition.

The Department of Health and health professionals should impress on the public the painful consequences of self-harm, especially brain lesions in charcoal burners, which permanently scar survivors of suicide attempts.