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.


Anonymous said...

In other words, suicide is not illegal. Sexual intercourse is not illegal unless it takes place with a minor child or unless it takes place without consent, in which case we call it rape or sexual assault. If an individual goes to the grocery store to buy cauliflower and baked beans and happens to be packing a pistol that happens to discharge and kill the cashier, there are probably some repercussions. Insurance will not pay out in many suicide cases and also will not pay out if you declare yourself a non smoker but they insurance co can find someone to say you had a cigar with them at a strip bar or in a tax attorney's office. Suicide is generally listed as being a case in which insurance will not pay out but it does not always apply. If you purchased a policy and had no history of mental illness or treatment for mental illness or anything like that, after a period of time, many policies do pay out for a suicide. If you have suicidal tendencies on record, you are not getting insurance to begin with. If you hit someone with the car you are driving on your way to plunge off a cliff, you will be charged.If there is no such collision and you make it to the edge of the cliff, go over and die, you will not be charged and in some instances, your insurance will pay out.

rob lindeman said...

"...[I]t's not a crime to be who you are someone with suicidal ideation..."

Tell that to the person who says she wants to kill herself and ends up incarcerated. It happens all the time Clink. We all know this.

rob lindeman said...

Regarding PAS: IMO, this is a violation of our Hippocratic oath. We're in the life business, not the killing business.

PAS represents not a broadening of freedom, but rather a concentration of power to end life in the hands of the State, via regulation, and a further intrusion by the State into the practice of medicine.

ClinkShrink said...

Rob, I think fundamentally we will never agree on the nature of hospitalization: you say incarceration, I say admission. Non-psychiatrists also have the power to do this under state quarantine laws, for the protection of the public. When you're able to sort out ahead of time which suicidal patient will "quietly" kill himself versus blowing up himself, his kids and his neighborhood while the child protective services social worker stands outside on the doorstep, maybe (and that's a big 'maybe') I'll agree with you.

We may also never fundamentally agree on our baseball allegiances but to each his own...that five run inning was a fluke.

rob lindeman said...

Language matters, Clink. When you say "hospitalization", you make believe there's no coercion. No one wants to coerce or be coerced. But coercion is precisely what this is.

Using a benign term like "hospitalization" makes us and the innocent party feel as though her right to Liberty has not been violated.

There's another hidden problem that language cannot disguise, and that is that when we incarcerate people innocent of crimes we become deputies of the State instead of physicians. That we are mandated to report our suspicions represents a substantial limitation on our own liberty.

And, ahem, about last night: If you are astonished at the outcome, it means only that you've been paying too much attention to the O's and not enough to the Yankees :)

Shruti said...

This Sunday night a high profile suicide happened in India. Varsha Bhosle shot her self to death. She is the daughter of legendary singer Asha Bhosle.
Unfortunately Varsha put mom in trouble by using her pistol.
Asha is the coolest, nice, 80 year old woman. I feel very sorry for her.