Is It Illegal To Tell People How To Commit Suicide Online?

from the first-amendment? dept

Well, here’s a tricky First Amendment issue. Apparently, a guy in Minnesota has been arrested and charged with “assisting suicide” because he spent an awful lot of time on various “suicide” websites, telling people how to commit suicide, and sometimes even agreeing to “suicide pacts” with people. At least two of the people he spoke to did, in fact, commit suicide. Now, it’s hard not to be sickened by this guy’s actions. He almost certainly needs help. But is telling people how to commit suicide illegal? That gets tricky pretty fast. There are state laws against assisted suicide, but those are generally targeting people helping others commit suicide directly — in person. Also, it’s not clear that Minnesota’s state law on this applies when the two suicides both took place not just out of Minnesota, but outside the US (one in Canada, one in the UK).

But, really, the bigger question is the First Amendment question. It seems as though Minnesota’s assisted suicide law is really quite broad. The key provisions:

Subdivision 1.Aiding suicide.
Whoever intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other’s own life may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 15 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $30,000, or both.

Subd. 2.Aiding attempted suicide.
Whoever intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another who attempts but fails to take the other’s own life may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or to payment of a fine of not more than $14,000, or both.

That “advises” part seems especially broad. Again, this is a tricky situation no matter what. It’s certainly difficult to defend this guy and his actions. But, there are larger issues here, concerning freedom of expression and a potentially overly broad law.

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Comments on “Is It Illegal To Tell People How To Commit Suicide Online?”

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Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Re: What a bastard

Making a suicide pact with somebody to get them to end their life knowing full well he never intended to do the same. Sheesh!

As to the law in question, if someone specifically helps an individual, advising them directly, is how this law is worded. I would bet it would be perfectly legal to start up a website on how to kill yourself as long as it is mostly informational without advising individuals specifically. Probably would still draw the ire of law enforcement.

MarksAngel (profile) says:


I don’t see how they can actually charge the charge the guy, talking about suicide isn’t a crime. Especially considering that the people who died didn’t even live anywhere close to him.

Is the guy a doctor? if so then that holds a whole other stigma I guess, but if it’s just some random person who decided to tell people how they could accomplish a goal they already had in mind, whether one agrees to it or not, seems a bit like stretching the law to fit the circumstances to me.

Peter (profile) says:

more than speech is required to "assist suicide", at least in California

You make an interesting point. Here, from In re Ryan,112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 620 (Cal. Ct. App. 2001)(, is the view of the California Courts:

Although on its face the statute may appear to criminalize simply giving advice or encouragement to a potential suicide, the courts have—again by analogy to the law of aiding and abetting—required something more than mere verbal solicitation of another person to commit a hypothetical act of suicide. Instead, the courts have interpreted the statute as proscribing “the direct aiding and abetting of a specific suicidal act…. Some active and intentional participation in the events leading to the suicide are required in order to establish a violation.” (McCollum v. CBS, Inc. (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 989, 1007, 249 Cal.Rptr. 187, first italics in original, second and third italics added.) Thus, in order to prove a violation of section 401 it is necessary to establish all of the following essential elements: (1) the defendant specifically intended the victim’s suicide; (2) the defendant undertook some active and direct participation in bringing about the suicide, such as by furnishing the victim with the means of suicide; and, finally, (3) the victim actually committed a specific, overt act of suicide. (Ibid.; People v. Matlock (1959) 51 Cal.2d 682, 694, 336 P.2d 505; Donaldson v. Lungren, supra, 2 Cal.App.4th at p. 1625, 4 Cal. Rptr.2d 59.)

633*633 In the leading case, our Supreme Court has explained that the key to distinguishing between homicide and the crime of aiding, advising, or encouraging a suicide “is the active or passive role of the defendant in the suicide. If the defendant merely furnishes the means, he is guilty of aiding a suicide; if he actively participates in the death of the suicide victim, he is guilty of murder.” (In re Joseph G., supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 436, 194 Cal.Rptr. 163, 667 P.2d 1176.) Any statute dealing with assisted suicide as a crime less than murder “`… does not contemplate active participation by one in the overt act directly causing death. It contemplates some participation in the events leading up to the commission of the final overt act, such as furnishing the means for bringing about death,—the gun, the knife, the poison, or providing the water, for the use of the person who himself commits the act of self-murder. But where a person actually performs, or actively assists in performing, the overt act resulting in death, such as shooting or stabbing the victim, administering the poison, or holding one under water until death takes place by drowning, his act constitutes murder, and it is wholly immaterial whether this act is committed pursuant to an agreement with the victim, such as a mutual suicide pact.'” (People v. Matlock, supra, 51 Cal.2d at p. 694, 336 P.2d 505, quoting from and relying on People v. Bouse (1953) 199 Or. 676, 702-703, 264 P.2d 800, 812, overruled on other grounds in State v. Fischer (1962) 232 Or. 558, 376 P.2d 418, 421.)

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

Maybe my morals in this area don’t align with the general public, but I really don’t see what is wrong with assisted suicide.
If somebody really wants off this earth enough to go through with suicide, and just wants a little help so they do it properly, then what is the problem?
Why is helping people do what they want to do a bad thing?
I almost see it as humanitarian. The guy is helping others out.
And before anybody brings out any “you cant help somebody rob a bank” type analogies, I just want to say that I think the only reason committing suicide is against the law is because of religious morals. Being a moral argument, I see it as helping them. Sure, some people will be sad the person is gone, but I don’t really see it as their decision.

Along the same lines, a movie is being made about Michigan’s own Jack Kevorkian. He is pretty much one of the most well known names when it comes to assisted suicide. At least round these parts anyways. I agree with his views on the ‘right to die’.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

It isn’t just a religious thing – there are pragmatic reasons for a society to deem assisting in suicide illegal.

Those reasons generally have to do with the myriad of ways in which laws to legalise suicide can be exploited to get away with murder.

A society also has a vested interest in the well-being of individual members – allowing those members to off themselves due to otherwise temporary mental states may have nasty long-term consequences for the society as a whole (if we don’t value and respect life itself, what does that imply for those things like truth, justice and beauty that are meaningful only in the context of human consciousness?).

Should euthanasia be an available option for people that have done everything they wish to in life? Possibly. But it isn’t as simple as just making assisting in suicide legal across the board.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

“It isn’t just a religious thing – there are pragmatic reasons for a society to deem assisting in suicide illegal.”

While I agree, this is an incredibly nuanced and sticky situation, and I have a hard time nailing down even my own personal feelings on the matter.

Having said that, to me, this case isn’t so tricky. Engaging in multiple suicide pacts with people that he could reasonably assume had mental issues, particularly when he never intended or followed through with the pact on his end? Depraved Indifference, slap him with Murder 2 for the two that died, 30-Life per count, second degree attempted murder for the rest, 15-30 Years per count, serve them consecutively, and we’ll see you in hell, cock-sandwich…

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

The area I would be quickest to want assisted suicide legalized is for those who are terminally ill and approaching the bad times. Such as those with incurable cancer who are about to go through tons of medical visits and non stop deteriorating health conditions. For those people they are already going to die before long, and ending it sooner is just a way to save the survivors on medical expenses and the drawn out trauma of watching their loved one suffer a lot before death. I would almost think that the insurance companies would approve of that too. (Not that it overly matters what they want, aside from wanting to not cover life insurance if you die unnaturally, which in a case such as above would have to be deemed natural)

You make a good point on the assisted suicide being a possible avenue to get away with murder. I would think we could set some high bars to have it approved far in advance for those who went to go through with it though. That might also help prevent it being an impulse thing.

Overall I am more concerned about talking about the morality of assisted suicide then the legality of it. I merely wanted to mention why I think it is illegal. However, you have brought up some goods points as well for why it is. Assisted Suicide is not exactly something I have talked about with many people. It just never comes up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

if people want to die they should have the right i would love to die because of my spinal pain but i would like donate all my organs to the people who need them and want to live i could help save 6 peoples lives if they would put me out take all my organs then i would have what i want and 6 other people could have what they want it sure sounds like a great deal to me 6 people live and 1 dies i would do that in a heart beat and when they are done getting my organs they could take me out back and trow me in the dumpster

WammerJammer (profile) says:


The slavery imposed on our lives from Birth to Death is implorable and anyone that has an illusion of being free in this world needs to be committed as a crazy person. We don’t even have the freedom to kill ourselves. What a joke! Did anyone ever vote on this? Who came up with this stuff to restrict our freedom? This has to be one of those self righteous situations where the few impose their will upon the many by not giving the masses a chance to even decide their own fate.

Morgan says:

Re: Slavery?

I’m under the impression the anti-suicide laws are there strictly for economic reasons. the government wants to control you for as long as you’re a viable contributer. If you’re not, they want you dead. Go figure. Skip Spense was euthanised. I saw him get the morphine overdose in Santa Cruz, but I got kicked out of the room when they yanked his life support.

The stories in the paper were crap.

JB says:

other options

providing information and advice for people who want to end their lives can’t be illegal, that’s protected speech and this law overreaches in that regard. Encouraging and suicide pacts are another story, they will get him on that but the idea behind the website is nothing new. In 1992 a controversial book was released called The Final Exit by Derek Humphrey who wrote the book as a how to guide for terminally ill patients wishing to end their suffering. The book is now in its 3rd edition so I think that fight has already been fought over the legality of advising on how to kill yourself.

Pangolin (profile) says:


Whether you like it or not – a literal reading of the law shows that this guy is Guilty. The law applies to Minnesotans advising…. not to those who attempt/commit suicide.

On broader issues – there are two types of suicide:

Terminal illness/suffering
Depression/Mental illness

This guy is actually a serial killer in my mind because he is taking advantage of the latter and manipulating a sick mind into the ultimate act of preventing recovery. Suicide removes all choices.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not complicated

While I do understand that under the current interpretation of the first amendment free speech isn’t absolute, I believe that it should be. Using your example, if I were to run into a crowded theater screaming “Fire!” and that is followed by a stampede where people are injured or killed, then I should be civilly liable for damages and possibly criminally liable for deaths.

I’m all for unlimited free speech however, I also accept that with rights come responsibilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Technically - no

“You” continue to persist legally for some time. If you commit suicide by driving your car into someone else’s and cause them injury as a result, the other party can sue your estate and recover damages. While you won’t necessarily feel the effects of the punishment, the beneficiaries of your now depleted or non-existent estate, will.

AWL says:

Further speculation

So…the government (i.e. the police) sends a Minnesota resident (an employee) to a dangerous location (supplying them with a gun (having trained them in it’s use) and providing transportation to the site) and the person kills themselves (even if unintentionally) while there. The police department is then responsible for it?

A little broad for my tastes…

Anonymous Coward says:

This would erode free speech. Simply telling a person the facts of painlessly killing yourself I would not see to be enough. Now if he was befriending and working on an emotional relationship with the intent of the person killing them self I think that is a completely different animal.

In my personal experience all of the reasons, support and knowledge in the world gets you up to the line. The last hurdle is yourself and no one can help you with that.

The best way to prevent needless suicide is to provide people with all the facts. Tell them how to kill themselves and tell them why they shouldn’t. Although I know that people who would choose life over suicide and attempt at every turn to give it no thought would NOT be able to properly consul on this.

NullOp says:


Well, I for one, am NOT sickened by the guys actions! Is it my life or not, God Damnit?????

However, I also don’t agree with suicide as a solution to worldly problems. People always have a choice or an alternative.

Is it or should it be illegal to tell someone how to commit suicide…NO. What we really don’t want is botched suicides! Losers hanging around on the public dole! This makes good sense fiscally. So actually we SHOULD have websites giving out good, sure fire advise on how to end it all if you really MUST take that course of action!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Great book on suicide – “Final Exit” Its intended for terminal patients, gives you drugs and dosages, helpful tips, things you haven’t considered, etc. That holds facts and stories about people on all sides of the issue. And its a damn good book.

That said, this isn’t 1st ammendment. If I told you that GM and Ford were secretly going to merge, thats still insider trading, and me saying it outloud doesn’t let me use the 1st to protect myself from the insider trading lawsuit, nor should it.

Suicide effects more than just the person that kills themselves. These people all have/had parents, siblings, maybe even spouses and children. A terminal patient with an understanding and open conversation with thier loved ones is one thing. A depressed person acting on an impulse in a moment of need leaves a wake of more pain.

Anonymous Coward says:

I'd like the "2-for-1 nannystate deal"

Must be rough living in a socialist nanny state like Minnesota.

But at least now when someone commits suicide, it’s not all in vein because if successful, the nannystate is required to investigate and assign blame. Perhaps a suicide note that claims it was the fault of an ex or similar, would assist the nanny state in assigning blame.

Once it is determined what is legally admissable, one hopes that it ultimately results in more nannystate suicides.

Anonymous Coward says:

By my reading of the Minnesota law, it sounds like any advice to someone considering suicide would be included. I wonder if there are specific provisions excepting those professionals or friends who try to keep someone from committing suicide, if said individual kills himself anyways. Likely wouldn’t be pursued in such a situation, but still…

Ian Andrew Bell (user link) says:

This isn't freedom of speech

Lots of people consider suicide at various times and for all kinds of reasons… in fact a study revealed that 8 MILLION Americans consider suicide every year:

This isn’t about free speech … telling people HOW to commit suicide is something that should probably be on Wikipedia. In fact, it IS:

What the unfortunately named Mr. Melchert-Dinkel allegedly did was incite those who were, for varying reasons, “considering” suicide to actually DO IT. And he spent hours, weeks, months counseling people from all over the world in order to worsen their depression and catalyze them to take their own lives. Apparently this was purely for pleasure, not because he’s Dr. Kervorkian.

The fact of the matter is that any individual who wants to commit suicide can figure out HOW in about 30 seconds using Google. What many of us do is announce that we’re thinking about it as a way to incite sympathy or get assistance.

Melchert-Dinkel appears to have been motivated to see these people kill themselves as entertainment. This is not an interesting legal issue because it has ANYTHING to do with the First Amendment. It’s an interesting legal issue because this is quite possibly a new form of murder for which there is almost no legal framework in place.

Jon Hansen (profile) says:

Coverage and Interview with Victim's Mother & Criminal Profiler

As my coverage of this story expands,the above link provides access to my radio interview with Nadia Kajouji’s mother Deborah Chevalier, and Criminal Profiler and author Pat Brown.

Besides expert Brown’s conclusion that Melchert-Dinkel is indeed a serial killer, and the fact that the Compassion & Choices organization (formerly The Hemlock Society) which supports assisted suicide, has distanced themselves from the killer’s actions, the most alarming news is that in writing Melchert-Dinkel made the statement that he had found a way to commit “legal murder” should make this a slam dunk case!?

So what does the purported violation of Melchert-Dinkel’s right to free speech have to do with his actions and, why does his attorney believe that his client will be acquitted?

More to follow but, this is case that needs to be talked about.

Jon Hansen
Author and Host of the PI Window on Business Show

anonymous says:

Re: assistied suicide

You selfish and deluded brat! How dare you type that BS! Suppose someone who you care about committed suicide. Would you allow that to happen?

And who are you tell somebody that having a purpose is bullcrap? Telling somebody that having a purpose is bull crap is a lie. How about a tell any of your relatives that?

If you’re going to encourage your closed-minded way of thinking, then I’d like to see other people kill the hell out of you.

Anonymous Coward says:

It depends also on EXACTLY how he said the statements to the people he supposedly “assisted” in suicide. In the legal system, the precise wording of phrases and sentences is important.

Here are some examples of ILLEGAL things to say:
I want you to kill yourself. (a generic statement urging a person to kill themself)
I want you to commit suicide. (a generic statement urging a person to kill themself)
I want you to go into a closed garage, and run your car until you die of carbon monoxide poisoning. (a specific statement urging a person to kill themself including how do to so)

All of the above statements are intentionally pressuring someone to take their own life, and therefore are illegal under all circumstances. Your only defense would be if the person you said it to, did not take their own life, after you said it to them, and even then it could still result in the charge of “attempted assisting suicide” (not the word “attempted” in there), regardless of if the person was suicidal or not, or whether you would know, or have any reason to know whether or not the person was suicidal.

Here are some examples of some CONDITIONALLY LEGAL things to say:
You should kill yourself (recognized as a general insult if you are mad at someone, but if the person is claiming they are suicidal then your statement could be considered urging the person to kill themself)
You should commit suicide (recognized as a general insult if you are mad at someone, but if the person is claiming they are suicidal then your statement could be considered urging the person to kill themself)
You should go jump off a bridge (recognized as a general insult if you are mad at someone, but if the person is claiming they are suicidal then your statement could be considered urging the person to kill themself including specific info on how to do so)

The above statements could be considered “assisting suicide” if the person actually kill themself, or “attempted assisting suicide” if the person was suicidal but chose not to kill themself even after hearing what you said to them. If the person was not suicidal (or there was no reason for you to believe they were suicidal) then the statement is legal “free speech”.

Things that are LEGAL to say, no matter what:
A person could kill themself by walking into a garage, and then starting their car and letting it run until they died, as that would give them carbon monoxide poisoning. (this is simply providing one with information, an act that is considered “informational”, “informative”, or “educational”, and is therefore protected as “free speech”)
A person could kill themself by walking off of a bridge. (this is simply providing one with information, an act that is considered “informational”, “informative”, or “educational”, and is therefore protected as “free speech”)
A person could kill themself by walking out in front of a car that is moving at high speed. (this is simply providing one with information, an act that is considered “informational”, “informative”, or “educational”, and is therefore protected as “free speech”)

The above statements are legal no matter what, because those statements are protected as free speech. This means that criminal charges can not be filed against you. However, the family of the deceased may still believe that the person wouldn’t have tried anything to kill themself if you hadn’t told them of ways to accomplish it. As such, the family still has the right to sue you in civil court with a “wrongful death” lawsuit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also “go kill yourself” is legal in the same way that “you should kill yourself” is. That is it is conditionally legal. There are very few things that are always legal, no matter what, unless they are VERY carefully worded.

I don’t have any specific source that says this, but my knowledge of legal things from reading about the law on the net is enough to give me an idea of what’s legal and what isn’t. Hence the categories that I created in my above post based on level of legality or illegality. However if you have any questions about the law in your area, you should always contact a lawyer.

Cowards are Fun says:

Whats wrong with assisted suicide?

You CAN accept suicide as a “healthy way of dealing with the bad hand life gave you”… in a way. But people never really need assistance in killing themselves… unless they’re completely and utterly incapable of doing so.

“Assisted Suicide” is more “I don’t want to live in pain, but I am more afraid of killing myself.” These are people that “want the attention they need to make their lives better.” Instead, we’re ignoring their cries for HELP and giving them the option they don’t “really” want.

To stress the point, “SUICIDAL PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO KILL THEMSELVES!” If they truly did, they’d be dead already… so intentionally pushing a suicidal person to the edge is akin to murder. Without your intervention, they may have come out alive… with it, they did not.

*Again, with cancer or otherwise… if they want to die, they’ll die. If they don’t, they’ll ask someone else “kill me.”

janet starcher aka veronica nissan says:

People are targeted.. T.I. and placed into one or more of the “depopulization” programs operating covertly… and then when they have endured all they can humanly take, unwilling to allow themselves to be tormented and tortured another day… their is no help for them to take their lives “swift”ly and successfully. Gov, this is mercifully wrong!! How dare you.

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