The plaintiffs allege that Amazon recommends an unusual assortment of products to consumers searching for sodium nitrate, including an assisted suicide handbook.
The families of two deceased teenagers have filed a lawsuit against Amazon, accusing the e-commerce giant of selling so-called “suicide kits” to children.
According to National Public Radio, the lawsuit was filed by the parents of 16-year-old Kristine Jonsson of Ohio and the parents of 17-year-old Ethan McCarthy of West Virginia.
In their complaint, the plaintiff parents said their children—now deceased—were able to purchase sodium nitrate off Amazon.
Sodium nitrate, adds N.P.R., is a common food preservative. When ingested in large quantities, the substance can cause serious injury or death.
The lawsuit notes that Amazon customers who purchase sodium nitrate are also shown recommendations for products including food scales, anti-vomiting drugs, and a digital edition of a handbook about assisted suicide.
“Amazon is selling a product that is deadly as cyanide,” said attorneys Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, the law firm representing the families.
“For months, we avoided press attention to this case,” Goldberg told ARS Technica. “But we have reached a breaking point of too many people dying, of medical providers not knowing what is happening or that a treatment protocol exists, and of press spiking stories about it—presumably because of corporate ties to Amazon.”
Goldberg and Leeds suggested that Amazon’s unrestrictive sale of sedum nitrate is questionable, since—unlike other potentially life-threatening products—sodium nitrate lacks any common, household use.
“This is different from them selling rope, knives, or other implements that can be used for death because there is no household use for [sodium nitrite] at the level of purity (98-99%) it sells it,” the attorneys said.
Sodium nitrate, notes N.P.R., is typically used to cure meats including ham, bacon, and hot dogs.
However, persons who ingest high levels of sodium nitrate could experience symptoms such as trouble breathing, abdominal pain, and even death.
Goldberg says that Amazon sells sodium nitrate of such high purity that a single teaspoon, if ingested, could kill.
Amazon responded to the lawsuit—as well as another, similar complaint filed in Washington state—by explaining sodium nitrate’s ordinary uses.
“Sodium nitrite is a legal and widely-available product offered by retailers to preserve foods, such as meats and fish, and for use in laboratories as a reagent. Sodium nitrite is not intended for consumption, and unfortunately, like many products, it can be misused,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
The parents of the deceased teenagers say that “posts on online suicide forums” routinely discus the misuse of sodium nitrate as a potential suicide method.
Amazon, claim the parents, had received multiple warnings from consumers about the potential abuse of sodium nitrate, but failed to either remove or restrict the product’s sale.