Don’t Help Someone Commit Suicide, New Bill Says — Unless You’re A Doctor

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A new bill would make it explicitly illegal to encourage another person to commit suicide in Massachusetts if the encourager has “substantial control” over the suicidal person or provides the means to do it, but leaves an exception for doctors who help their patients kill themselves.

The new bill, known as Conrad’s Law, is inspired by a now-famous 2014 case where a 17-year-old girl urged her boyfriend Conrad Roy to kill himself after he showed signs of faltering. The bill includes a line saying it “shall not apply to a medical treatment lawfully administered by, or in a manner prescribed by, a licensed physician.”

Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in Massachusetts, but a high-profile bill currently before the state Legislature would make it legal.

The new friend-encouraged suicide bill would apply to someone who “Exercise[s] substantial control over the other person” and “intentionally coerces or encourages” the other person to commit suicide or attempt it if the person goes through with the attempt, whether it succeeds or not.

It would also apply to someone who provides the means or knowledge of the means to commit suicide or physically participates in the act – with the exception for medical doctors.

The maximum penalty proposed by the bill is five years in prison.

The lead sponsor of the state House of Representatives version of the Conrad’s Law bill (HD 4386) is state Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster).

Higgins said Conrad Roy’s story “exposed a major gap in our law that we need to fix.”

“We’re hopeful that now that that gap has been shown, that this can be something that’s dealt with swiftly,” Higgins said, according to State House News Service. “It’s happened in other scenarios with legislation where we see a big gap that we need to fix, so we’re going to do everything we can to advocate with our colleagues.”

Higgins is also a co-sponsor of the physician-assisted suicide bill in the House (Massachusetts House Bill 1926).

The lead sponsor of the state Senate version (SD 2505) is state Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover).

“I see on a daily basis how influential young people can be on each other’s mental health,” said Finegold, according to State House News Service. “This is especially true now that our children are moving through life with their cell phones basically attached to their bodies. There is no way to come home from school, close your doors and shut out the bullying like there used to be. Facing this reality, we need to set boundaries around what is and what is not acceptable behavior.”

Finegold is not a sponsor of the physician assisted suicide bill before the state Senate or the one before the state House of Representatives.

Massachusetts courts have already found that manipulating someone to commit suicide is illegal under current state law. In June 2017 a district court judge found Michelle Carter of Plainville guilty of involuntary manslaughter for egging on 18-year-old Conrad Roy to end his life by sending text messages ordering him back into his pickup truck in Fairhaven after he initially backed out of killing himself with carbon monoxide from the truck’s exhaust. Carter was 17 at the time of Roy’s death.

This past February the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the involuntary manslaughter conviction, saying that prohibiting “wanton or reckless pressuring of a person to commit suicide that overpowers that person’s will to live … is necessary to further the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in preserving life.”

Carter, who is serving a 15-month sentence at Bristol County House of Correction is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider her appeal on federal grounds.

The Conrad’s Law bills were filed Monday, July 22. They were announced publicly during a press conference Wednesday, July 24.