Two Australian DJs made international headlines earlier this week when they duped a British nurse into providing them with confidential information about the state of Duchess Kate Middleton’s medical condition. This morning, the nurse was found dead of apparent suicide. If people were angry at the DJs before, then they’re out for blood now — but the rush to judgment is unfair.
Hospital worker Jacintha Saldanha’s death is, as any suicide, extremely sad. But if she was willing to kill herself and leave a husband and two children behind to grieve, there had to be more going on than just embarrassment or shame over falling for a stupid hoax.
There’s no way the two DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian could possibly have expected that their prank call would push a woman to commit suicide, and there’s no reason they should have expected it or should be blamed now. The two apologized for the prank before this latest development, saying they didn’t expect it to work and that it was “meant in fun.”
The prank definitely toed an ethical line by invading the privacy of an ill pregnant woman, regardless of whether that woman is one of the world’s most public figures. But while it was careless and insensitive, it certainly wasn’t very high up on the scale of cruel prank calls. A fake British accent and some prying questions are nothing compared to the much-publicized case from July in which two teenage girls called police in Tucson, Arizona, and pretended to be a young kidnap victim.
There are cases when a second party is at least partially to blame for a suicide: relentless, cruel bullying has driven many kids to kill themselves when they couldn’t see an end to their misery. Rape victims have committed suicide when the trauma of what they’ve been through is just too much to bear.
But a relatively harmless prank call can hardly be considered on the same level as rape or long-term bullying.