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Is it illegal to encourage someone to commit suicide? This question was raised by a tragic incident that recently occurred in Massachusetts.
Teenagers Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III had a complicated friendship. When Roy threatened to commit suicide, Carter encouraged him to complete the act. He did. Now Carter faces twenty years in prison, and her attorneys are arguing with prosecutors over whether her actions were illegal.
Assisted Suicide -- Illegal?
In most states, it is illegal to help someone commit suicide. Forty states have specific statutes prohibiting people from assisting in suicide, but Massachusetts does not. As Carter's attorney argued in the New Bedford Juvenile Court, "There's no law in Massachusetts that says you can't encourage someone else to commit suicide."
Instead, prosecutors have charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter. Massachusetts involuntary manslaughter laws define involuntary manslaughter as "An unlawful killing that was unintentionally caused as the result of the defendants' wanton or reckless conduct."
The Right State Statute?
Prosecutors have said Carter exchanged over 1,000 text messages with Roy leading up to his death, and some of those texts deliberately encouraged him to gas himself to death in his truck. She asked Roy to "let me know" when he was going to kill himself, and told him to "get back in" his truck when he got scared.
Carter's attorney, Joseph Cataldo, told The Sun Chronicle, "Taking all the texts in context, she tried to talk him out of it," and Roy "caused his own death." A grand jury indicted Carter in February, but Cataldo is asking the court to dismiss the charge. As a case of first impression in the state, it's likely that a jury will have to decide whether Carter's texts constituted wanton or reckless conduct.