Kampot (Cambodia), Nov. 8: Distraught and depressed after the break-up of a relationship, Kim Walton surfed the Internet until she found euthanasiaincambodia.com.
“In Cambodia anything is possible,” it read. “For those of you who prefer to take charge of your own destiny, come to Cambodia! Live your life the way you want and end it when you are ready.”
Walton, 46, a mortgage adviser, who was divorced more than 20 years ago, sent an e-mail to the site operator with the simple subject heading “Death”. A brief correspondence ensued.
Within a fortnight she had left her home in Pennsylvania, Bucks County, and was travelling 6,000 miles to Kampot, a quiet, dilapidated riverside town. There, several days later, she wrote a five-page suicide note and overdosed on medicines and alcohol in a '5-a-night guesthouse.
Her sister is convinced that had it not been for the website she would still be alive. “We were very close,” said Sally Spring. “She couldn’t have done it to me in this country. She would never have put us in a situation where we might find her body.”
The relationship that had so upset her had lasted only two months, she added. “If she had been here I would have got her through it,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do to bring Kim back but I just want the website closed down.
“Any vulnerable person could see it and I don’t want any other family to suffer. It’s just got to be stopped.”
The site gives a description of an elasticated plastic bag, available through it for '55, and helium gas to ensure a “peaceful and painless death”.
It is operated by Roger Graham, a 57-year-old American former arts and antiques dealer from Paradise, California, where he founded an assisted euthanasia society.
He moved to Cambodia two and a half years ago in response, he says, to the US invasion of Iraq. He adopted the name “Tola”, bestowed on him by a bar girl.
According to a legal opinion he got from a Phnom Penh law firm, Cambodia has no law against assisted suicide.
On the site, which he has taken off-line after provincial authorities filed a defamation action against him, he said: “I am not going to pull any switches. I will do whatever it is that is necessary, within the law and my own comfort level, for you to have a satisfying end-of-life experience. I let you make all of your own choices. It is your life.”
Graham asked for '14,000 in charitable donations from potential users of his service. At his cafe on the bank of the Kampot river, he said: “I don’t put the stigma on death that most people have. Death is simply the end point of life. To deny it exists is to be afraid of it, is to be ridiculous. Cambodia is a good country. If you are going to die, come here, leave some money.
“I will do whatever I can to make their experience enjoyable but it remains up to them what they want to do, when they want to do it, how they want to do it.”
When his time comes, he added, he will kill himself. “I’m not going to go plugged into some machine. I don’t intend to do it tomorrow, but I might. It’s my choice.”
Graham does not differentiate between the terminally ill and those who want to die for other reasons. “I don’t care if you have a problem or not, that’s not for me to decide, it’s your life.”
He said though Walton visited his cafe, she never broached suicide, or revealed herself as the e-mail sender, and he never saw her again. “The inference is I was involved, and I was not,” said Graham.
She did not give him any money or ask him to make any
charitable donations for her, he said, and independent
witnesses say that all the money she had with her was
returned to her family.
No other foreigner is known to have committed suicide
in Kampot since Mr Graham arrived and, while he
receives e-mails on the subject "all the time", he is
not aware of anyone else coming to the town due to the
site. He suggested that euthanasia tourism could be
"positive" for Cambodia.
Others are revolted by the concept. When the website
became public knowledge after Mrs Walton's death in
September a third of Kampot's expatriate population
signed a petition calling on the authorities to take
Prosecution authorities say they will question Mr
Graham over alleged defamation soon. But Kampot's
vice-commissioner of police, Lt-Col In Chiva, admitted
that they had been unable to find any law against the
Puth Chandarith, the governor of Kampot, said his
legal action was for defamation and "false statements
that Cambodia is the best place to commit suicide".
If the action failed, he could revoke Mr Graham's
11 October 2005: Impassioned debate as peer revives
his right-to-die Bill
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