Florida has become the center of controversy over the right to die, following the legislature's decision to extend the life of a severely brain-damaged woman. Last fall, though, the serious debate took a silly turn in St. Petersburg, when a local shock-rock band announced plans to incorporate a suicide into a concert.
The Web site for the band, Hell on Earth, includes a page full of elaborate pranks it's pulled off, but local officials said that, although they sensed a hoax, they had to take the threat of suicide seriously. The St. Petersburg City Council passed an emergency ordinance making it a crime to advertise suicide as part of any public performance, or to promote or sell tickets to such an event--a move quickly seconded by the Pinellas County Commission and now under consideration in the state legislature.
Under state law, it's already illegal to assist in a suicide. But, says St. Petersburg councilman Bill Foster, "unless this group did more than serenade a victim, it was going to be hard to get them."
Performers can still emulate suicide, as with the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. But creating the expectation that a real death will take place--especially in a heavy-metal atmosphere where much of the audience may be drunk or stoned--carries too much potential to get out of hand in a hurry. "They can have all the fake death they want," says Foster. "But at the end of the show, everybody better have a heartbeat. If somebody dies, somebody's going to jail."