NRL News

Minnesota Supreme Court upholds law against assisting suicide–strikes “advises, encourages”

by | Mar 19, 2014


William Melchert-Dinkel

William Melchert-Dinkel

In State of Minnesota v. Melchert-Dinkel, the Minnesota Supreme Court today upheld the state’s law against assisting suicide. In a 4-1 decision, the justices noted that the statute “proscribes speech or conduct that provides another person with what is needed for the person to commit suicide” including “speech instructing another on suicide methods,” although the court, on First Amendment grounds, did strike the words “advises, encourages” from the statute.

In its decision, Minnesota’s highest court followed the U.S. Supreme Court in recognizing “that the prohibition against causing or aiding suicide was rationally related to the State’s legitimate interest in preserving human life, protecting vulnerable groups, protecting the integrity of the medical profession, and avoiding the path towards voluntary or involuntary euthanasia.” (Two of the court’s seven justices did not participate in the decision.)

State of Minnesota v. Melchert-Dinkel involved a man who posed as a depressed and suicidal nurse. William Melchert-Dinkel responded to posts on suicide websites by an Englishman and a Canadian and, in the court’s words, “feigned caring and understanding to win the trust of the victims while encouraging each to hang themselves, falsely claiming that he would also commit suicide, and attempting to persuade them to let him watch the hangings via webcam.”

Melchert-Dinkel gave specific instructions on how to commit suicide by hanging. After both victims killed themselves, Minnesota law enforcement officials, having received a tip, were able to obtain records of the email and chat communications and charged him with violating the statute.

He was convicted, and an appellate court upheld the conviction, setting up the appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. After its decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel is guilty of assisting suicide under the law as modified by the striking of the words “advises, encourages.”

Meanwhile, individuals associated with the Final Exit network who had been present at suicides in Minnesota were convicted in a separate case that was initially overturned by another intermediate appellate court. Presumably that case will now also be sent back to its trial court for further proceedings in light of the Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

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