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Former Ridge euthanasia advocate in trouble in Cambodia

Swimming to Cambodia Roger Graham poses in his adopted town of Kampot, where he was threatened with arrest for advocating that those who wish to end their own lives come to Cambodia to do so.

Swimming to Cambodia Roger Graham poses in his adopted town of Kampot, where he was threatened with arrest for advocating that those who wish to end their own lives come to Cambodia to do so.

Photo By Roger Graham

Why so touchy?
Cambodia, which has been trying over the past decade to establish itself as a tourist destination, is still perhaps best known for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, the communist regime which committed genocide on a grand scale in the 1970s, following the U.S. war in neighboring Vietnam.

Former Paradise resident Roger Graham maintains that he never intended to become the Jack Kevorkian of Southeast Asia. In his mind, he’s an aging progressive who found a slice of heaven in the scenic Cambodian town of Kampot, and who hoped to stimulate the local economy there by using the Internet to lure tourists to the charming seaside town.

If they chose to end their lives there once they arrived, he said, that would be up to them.

Graham, 57, a right-to-die advocate and a former Ridge antique dealer, had his Kampot Internet Cafe put out of business Dec. 12 by a court order issued by the provincial governor, who accused Graham of hurting the province’s reputation by touting it on a Web site as being a wonderful place to die.

According to Graham’s Website, www.euthanasiaincambodia.com, Cambodia is “a place that will make [your] own end of life experience easier for [you] and [your] families.”

“I am not advocating for your death. It is your life and you are responsible for it,” his Web site states. “If you come to visit me here in Cambodia, I am not going to pull any switches for you. If all you want to do is kill yourself, do it at home. I am offering you an alternative end of life experience, not a suicide pact. If you are considering choosing the time, place, and manner of your end of life experience then I would like to recommend that you visit Cambodia.”

But while there may be no law against euthanasia there, neither the Cambodian government nor his fellow expatriates have been receptive to Graham’s message.

“I am shunned by the ex-pat community, the few people who still claim to be my friends have had stones thrown at them, the provincial governor, (who is responding to complaints from the ex-pat community), has threatened to close my cafe, throw me into jail, throw me out of the country, etc., and the police at all levels have interrogated me numerous times,” Graham said in an e-mail to the CN&R sent before his business, Blue Mountain Internet Café, was shut down. At one point, Graham had hoped to build a “long term care facility … [which] would be friendly to those who wished to consider euthanasia for their final act in life,” in Kampot but those plans have apparently been shelved.

Graham is known in Butte County for creating a similar stir when, in 2001, he attempted to get the Paradise Town Council to approve a letter that supported “the efforts by local citizens to establish a peaceful and painless death.” The request was voted down. Graham, who left the United States in 2003 partially out of disgust with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was a founder of the Assisted Euthanasia Society of Paradise (AESOP), which advocated for the rights of terminally ill people to end their lives with a doctor’s assistance.

Yet he said he had no intention of continuing that work when he moved abroad.

“I decided I would either go to Southeast Asia or Brazil and, at the time of the SARS epidemic, airline tickets were very cheap here,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I had a local lawyer research the issue that I became aware that there was nothing against [suicide] in Cambodia, so I thought I would let others know. My intention has always been to do something to help the Cambodian people. I thought that by trying to bring a new group of people to Cambodia that would also bring new money here.”

Graham said he had no way of knowing how many people his Web site brought to Kampot, but it only took one such person to end his hopes for making the town a destination for suicide tourism.

When Kim Walton, a 46-year-old Scottish woman, was found dead last September in a Kampot guest house with a bottle of pills and a will next to her body, authorities immediately suspected that Graham had something to do with it. Indeed, Graham admits that he corresponded with Walton before she came to Kampot, using the alias “Tola.”

“One British girl did come here after seeing my Web site, and while she did not indicate to me that she had seen it when I met her, I discovered after her suicide that we had been in contact via e-mail,” Graham said.

Although Graham was never charged with a crime, Walton’s death brought with it condemnation, ridicule and international news coverage, not to mention the attention of the Cambodian government, which sued Graham for defamation and revoked his license to operate a cafe.

While Graham said he will comply with the order, he remains unapologetic. His Web site has been slightly altered but is still operating, and is currently receiving thousands of visits per day.

“I am tired of fighting. I can only hope the governor is satisfied with putting three Khmers out of work in order to demonstrate his power,” Graham said. “I had hoped to spread the knowledge of euthanasia and help the people of Cambodia. It didn’t work out that way.”