Monday, October 08, 2012

Murder of the Self

Darn you, Blogger. I'm trying to get two presentations done along with lots of other work and there you go, distracting me.

So we have the issue of suicide and criminal law and a discussion of whether it's a crime to kill yourself. Dinah and I just did a presentation about social media and suicide at a local conference on suicide, so the topic is fresh in my mind.

To my knowledge there are no states that still have laws against someone who attempts suicide. In some states, suicide is a common-law crime that could bar recovery in civil cases (and insurance companies don't pay out for the survivors of people who kill themselves).

The complications come up when the suicide attempt puts others at risk. When someone shoots himself and lives, but puts others in danger during the act he could be charged with reckless endangerment or criminal negligence (as well as the associated handgun offenses if applicable). Yes, people have gone to prison for this. Possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, even if possessed for the purpose of suicide, is a crime.

A lay person who forms a suicide pact with someone could be guilty of conspiracy to commit murder (at worst) or aiding and abetting a suicide. Euthanasia, the killing of a terminally ill person, is less of an issue now that we have living wills and advance directives. There is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, by a physician or anyone else, according to two cases decided in the 1990's by the U.S. Supreme Court. Few states allowed physician-assisted suicide, and many have recently passed laws banning it.

Suicide is similar to drug addiction in that both could be considered "status offenses"---it's not a crime to be who you are (someone with suicidal ideation or someone with an addition to drugs), but it could be a crime to possess the materials to express who you are (drugs, a gun, etc) or to carry out some aspects of the behavior (buying the drugs, firing the weapon, etc).

No time to put up specifics about which states and how many of them do what, just an outline of the issues FWIW.