The Supreme Court of Canada recently struck down a prohibition on aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide, but the Criminal Code’s prohibition on counselling another person to commit suicide remains valid law.
Consider our new legal landscape in light of a recent story out of Massachusetts. The circumstances surrounding the suicide of Conrad Roy, a young man who was embattled with depression, have been widely reported on in the past week.
In the months following Roy’s death, a high school senior named Michelle Carter helped raise thousands of dollars for suicide prevention in Roy’s name. Carter had been Roy’s girlfriend. And now Carter has been charged with manslaughter for her role in his death.
Police have determined from text messages between the couple that Carter knew about Roy’s plan to kill himself. Apparently, Carter not only failed to seek help for Roy, but actively encouraged him to carry out his suicide.
On the same day that Roy died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his truck, Carter texted him, “Let me know when you’re going to do it.” She is also reported to have asked him repeatedly why he hadn’t done it yet.
It gets worse. In the middle of his last suicide attempt, Roy got out of his truck, which was filling with exhaust fumes, and texted Carter, telling her that he was afraid and didn’t want to leave his family. Carter replied, “Get back in.”
Carter also reportedly texted a friend after Roy’s suicide, “I (expletive) told him to get back in … because I knew he would do it all over again the next day … ”
Police officer Scott Gordon suggested that Carter’s motivation was to attract sympathy from her friends. Mr. Gordon’s theory is based on evidence that Carter had told her friends — two days before Roy died — that it was her fault he was dead.
Under Massachusetts law, Carter has been charged with manslaughter and could face a prison sentence if found guilty. Under Canadian law, her actions more clearly constitute a crime of counselling a person to commit suicide. Had she done what she did in Canada, this crime would earn her prison time here too.
Counselling to commit suicide is a crime. But, thanks to the recent declaration from the Supreme Court, aiding or abetting suicide (unless Parliament acts) will soon no longer be a crime in Canada. Does this fly?
What if this were the young man’s umpteenth attempt and he “didn’t have the guts” to go through with it, but evidently wanted to? As Carter told her friends, “I knew he would do it all over again the next day … ” What if he had not stepped out of the truck and her text instead was, “You can do it, just a little longer”? Still a crime, right?
What if she hadn’t texted him at all while he was in the act but, knowing about his desire to die, had placed a garden hose and some duct tape in his truck? A crime? What is the difference between that and physician assisted death? The doctor’s expertise? In what, exactly?
Even if we grant that a doctor is better able to assess how badly someone wants to die than your average non-doctor, can adding a visit (or several) to the doctor erase the repulsion most of us feel about anyone in any way supporting another’s efforts to kill himself?
Is the ability to decipher whether someone’s desire to die is their own free choice really what it’s about? Perhaps Carter mistook her boyfriend’s apparent desire to die as his true desire? If it were his true desire, shouldn’t he be allowed to do it — and enlist whatever help he needs? Did she push him over the edge prematurely? Was that her crime?
Legalizing aiding or abetting suicide (as the Supreme Court has done), but continuing to criminalize counselling suicide is contradictory. It requires ignoring the subliminal message communicated by giving a suicidal person the tools to kill himself — be it a garden hose or a prescription.
Many people are wholly opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide for the simple reason that they hold the sanctity of life as an inviolable and absolute principle.
May I suggest another reason: human nature. People will use even the suicide of another for selfish gain, financial or otherwise. I would dare to include physicians among them, however few. If and when Canada begins to allow and possibly even pay for physician-assisted suicide, Michelle Carter may be watching from jail, wondering at the reward for her assistance.
Women face up to 10 years in prison for ‘abetting suicide’
ISTANBUL – Doğan News Agency
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[Women face up to 10 years in prison for ‘abetting suicide’ ]
A probe, which was launched into two women who allegedly encouraged a man to jump off a the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul on March 8, has been completed, with the prosecutor demanding up to 10 years in prison for each women for “abetting suicide.”
An indictment, prepared at the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office, said that the suspects, Hülya Uysal and Merve Özocak, allegedly abetted Erol Çetin to jump off the bridge when they shouted at him saying: “We have been waiting in traffic for hours because of you. Jump now if you are going to jump.”
Upon the women’s call, Çetin, who was negotiating with police officers trying to talk him down, jumped off the bridge some 64 meters above the Bosphorus Strait. Çetin had previously attempted suicide but had been discouraged from doing so numerous times.
The indictment, which demands imprisoning the women from four to 10 years, included the suspects’ denial of the charges in their testimonies, saying that they did not intend to commit the crime.
Meanwhile, according to the witness testimonies of police officers at the scene, he was in the process of being convinced to save himself but jumped off the bridge in a reaction to the women’s’ calls.