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.