Promoting a Suicide Attempt in New York
What does it mean to promote a suicide?
Promoting a suicide is where an individual or group encourages another to commit suicide. This encouragement can take many forms but often arises when a physician offers, encourages, or assists a terminally ill patient in ending their life through medications. However, this is not the only way that this can occur.
Here are a couple of examples of how an individual may be promoting a suicide.
- A doctor wants to help his terminally ill and suffering patients. He lets them know about a way that they could take their life by ingesting or administering a lethal cocktail of medications. He informs the patient that this might be the best option since the disease is likely to get worse and puts a financial strain on the patients’ families.
- The most prominent example of this occurring was with Dr. Kevorkian, who was often referred to as Dr. Death. Dr. Kevorkian assisted in many assisted suicides. He was arrested multiple times and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in California for his role in administering a toxic dose of medications to a patient in California.
- A girlfriend encourages her boyfriend to follow through with committing suicide.
- This was recently in the news that Michelle Carter helped her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III to commit suicide. She was recently released from a psychiatric hospital when her boyfriend began to trap and inhale exhaust. He left the vehicle after he did not want to go through with it, but Carter sent a series of texts that told him to get back in and follow through with his suicide.
He heeded her texts, and he committed suicide by asphyxiation. Carter was arrested and convicted of involuntary manslaughter when her role in the suicide was discovered.
- A young boy is the victim of severe bullying and has suffered several physical assaults from his tormentors. One day, after school, he is forcefully taken to a remote location and suffers extreme physical abuse. The bullies provide the boy with a pistol and say if he really wants the bullying to end, he can take his life. The young boy takes the pistol and commits suicide while his captors chanted “Shoot!”.
- Harassment and bullying involving children have had a large media presence, such as 13 Reasons Why, and as noted with Michelle Carter, some laws are allowing punishment to progress against the suicide victim’s bullies.
- A group of buddies who had been out drinking came across a person on the outer rails of a bridge. The person looked as if they were going to take his life by jumping off the bridge. The buddies stopped the car and started to shout out various insults and goaded the individual to jump while filming the event with their phones.
The jumper several times hesitated and tried to get off the rails, and the buddies stood at the edge of the railing and prevented the jumper from coming back over the rails. The group continued to harass the individual into jumping. The jumper eventually turned and jumped off the bridge and committed suicide.
- In 2019, the opposite of this occurred. A group of schoolboys chanted and discouraged a woman from jumping off a bridge.5
These are not the only ways an individual can promote suicide. If an individual engages in the course of conduct that encourages another person to take his or her life, then it can be considered promoting a suicide.
If you or a loved one has been charged with promoting a suicide, please call one of our law offices today. Our team of attorneys is dedicated to providing you or your loved one the best possible representation and will represent your best interests.
What does New York law say about promoting a suicide?
New York law criminalizes a few behaviors related to promoting a suicide. The New York legislature is currently considering amending the promoting a suicide law to include criminal actions against vulnerable individuals.
If the law is amended, individuals who have taken actions against the elderly, disabled, or other vulnerable individuals, and it significantly influences suicide, that person could be prosecuted under this law.
While this law can address a broad range of behaviors, it seems that this law was created to stop physician-assisted suicides. However, it is important to note, that since the New York legislature is considering adding to this law to prevent actions against vulnerable individuals, that the law will be utilized more often in certain cases.
Why are there two separate laws in assisting suicide?
New York has also divided the assisting suicide into two separate laws. The promoting a suicide law addresses individuals who encourage another to attempt suicide, and manslaughter in the second degree is where an individual assists another person to commit suicide.
Essentially, promoting a suicide is meant to criminalize actions that result in an attempted suicide, whereas manslaughter in the second degree is meant to criminalize actions that result in a successful suicide.
Promoting a suicide
Any person who assists or intentionally causes another to attempt suicide has violated the promoting a suicide law.
- For example, Chris has been longtime friends with Danny. Chris is also an anesthesiologist. Danny has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Danny has been placed in hospice care and asks Chris if there is anything he can do to help with the pain.
Chris informs him that Danny is taking the proper drugs to help with his care and that they cannot be increased without risking Danny’s death. Danny states, “Chris, I have lived a long and good life. I am ready to go. Please just give me something, so this can all go away. I don’t want to live anymore.”
Chris reluctantly provides Danny with a large dose of morphine and anxiolytic drugs along with a strong sedative, which is a very lethal drug cocktail. Chris says goodbye to Danny and leaves.
A nurse comes in shortly after Chris leaves and notices the unusual combination of drugs being administered to Danny and stops them from continuing to be administered. Danny has survived the drug administration and is now comatose.9 Chris has violated the promoting a suicide law.
Promoting a suicide is a class E felony. The maximum penalties associated with this are a fine of 5,000 dollars and four years in prison.
Manslaughter in the second degree
This law addresses three types of behavior. If an individual recklessly causes the death of another, an unlawful abortion causes the death of the female, and aiding or intentionally causing another to commit suicide; it will be considered manslaughter in the second degree.
- For example, Dave has been a family physician for the Morgan family for many years. Trisha Morgan has been diagnosed with ALS. She also suffers from severe chronic paresthesia. Trisha knows that the ALS will slowly take away all of her motor function and will be confined to a wheelchair. She will eventually die from lack of muscle control while fully retaining her mental faculties.
She does not want to be confined within her own body and asks Dave to provide her some drugs that she can die with dignity. Dave attempts to persuade Trisha several times, but eventually provides Trisha the drugs that she can take to end her life. Trisha takes medications and commits suicide. Dave has committed manslaughter in the second degree.
Manslaughter in the second degree is a class C felony. The maximum penalties associated with this are a fine of 5,000 dollars penalty and 15 years in prison.
Individuals who are facing charges relating to another’s attempted or committed suicide to have a variety of defenses available to them.
The best defense that an individual has to a charge of aiding or causing a suicide is that the person must have had the intent for that person to commit suicide. In many cases, this will be difficult to prove. However, a person who has contributed to another’s suicide can still be found guilty of another crime even if his or her actions were not intended to cause suicide.
It is important to note that a victim consenting to suicide assistance is not a defense. A person may often assist another in a suicide, and since that individual asked for their assistance, that person feels that he or she did not commit a crime. This is not true. A person can never consent to his or her own death.
Depending on the circumstances, an individual can be charged with promoting a suicide or manslaughter in the second degree for his or her role in assisting with a suicide. These are both felony charges and have substantial penalties attached.
Are there any charges that can accompany a charge of promoting a suicide?
Yes. New York law stipulates that if an individual coerces another, either with force or deception, to attempt suicide, it will be considered attempted murder instead of promoting a suicide. If the suicide attempt is successful, and it was made under duress or deception, it will be second-degree murder.
- For example, Roberta has experienced severe traumatic abuse from her husband, Julio, for many years. She has become suicidal after the abuse worsens. Her husband becomes aware of her suicidal thoughts and hands her a large knife. She is reluctant to take her life and places the knife down.
Her husband starts to strike her and yells that she should take her life. After this continues for a few hours, Roberta grabs the knife and stabs herself. The police arrive after a neighbor hears the shouts from Julio. They are able to save Roberta’s life. Julio has committed attempted murder.
Attempted murder is a class B felony and murder in the second degree is a class A-I felony. The penalties for violating these laws are substantial. If convicted with second-degree murder, an individual may be facing life in prison.
There are other charges that could be brought against individuals who have contributed to an individual’s suicide. A person may be found violating endangering the welfare of a vulnerable person or criminal harassment.
A person who is charged with a crime relating to another’s suicide may also face additional charges from other laws. If the person contributed to another’s suicide through the use of force or deception, it will be considered second-degree murder.
What have the Courts said about promoting a suicide?
The courts have addressed a variety of issues with the laws surrounding suicide assistance. Here are a few cases that the courts have addressed some of these issues.
- In People v. Duffy, the New York Court of Appeals determined that an individual who did not intend another to commit suicide can still be charged with manslaughter in the second degree if that person was acting recklessly.
The defendant, Patrick M. Duffy, had been arrested and convicted for manslaughter in the second degree for his involvement in the suicide of his friend Jason Schuhle. Schuhle was distraught after breaking up with his girlfriend and confided in Duffy that he wanted to take his life.
Schuhle was severely intoxicated, and at times Duffy would tell Schuhle to go dive off his porch. At one point, Duffy provided a gun to Schuhle, and Schuhle took his life. Duffy stated that he provided the weapon to Schuhle because he was tired of Schuhle complaining and saying he will take his life.
Duffy stated that he should not be convicted of manslaughter in the second degree since he did not intentionally cause or assist Schuhle to commit suicide. The Court agreed partly with Duffy.
The Court stated that even though one part of the law in manslaughter in the second degree addresses intentionally causing or assisting the suicide of another, a person could still be charged with recklessly causing the death of another if that individual acts with conscious disregard towards a risk that someone will take their life. The Court affirmed the manslaughter conviction against Duffy.
To read the full court opinion, please click here. Or copy and paste the following.
- In Vacco v. Quill, the Supreme Court determined that New York’s law that prohibits assisted suicide does not violate the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Three terminally ill patients who were seeking to undergo a lethal treatment to end their lives sued the New York Attorney General stating that the laws prohibiting assisted suicide were violative of the 14th Amendment. The patients stated that the laws that outlawed assisted suicide caused unequal treatment of terminally ill patients that wished to undergo end of life treatment. The Court disagreed.
The Court stated that the 14th Amendment protects suspected classes and fundamental rights. While it is a fundamental right to refuse medical treatment, it is not a fundamental right to receive a treatment that will ensure death.
The Court also said that terminally ill patients are not a protected suspect class, but even if they were, no one is allowed to have assisted suicide. Therefore, there was no unequal treatment.
To read the court opinion in full, please click here. Or copy and paste the following.
- In Myers v. Schneiderman, a New York appeals court determined that the laws prohibiting assisted suicide do apply to physicians who provide life-ending medical treatment to medically competent yet terminally and can be prosecuted if found engaging in this behavior.
The plaintiffs consisted of physicians, a special interest group, and a few terminally ill patients who were challenging the law. The physicians and patients wanted the New York courts to determine that assisted suicide laws did not apply to the physicians providing rational treatment for individuals who were medically competent.
The plaintiffs stated that since the assisted suicide laws were created in the 1960s, it was not meant to include physicians who provide this type of treatment to individuals who are terminally ill and are competent enough to understand their decisions to end their life through medical treatment. The Court disagreed.
The court stated that because a practice that would violate an older law does not make that law inapplicable against the new behavior. The laws addressing assisted suicide have to be construed using their plain meaning. The laws expressly prohibit anyone from intentionally aiding or causing a suicide.
Since a patient is taking his or her own life, it is a suicide, and if a doctor provides any type of medical treatment for that purpose, it is intentionally aiding in a suicide. This plain language of the statute includes physicians and any physician who aids in the suicide of another, regardless of intentions, they can be prosecuted under the law.
To read the court opinion in full, please click here. Or copy and paste the following.
Who investigates promoting a suicide?
Charges of promoting a suicide will be investigated by the New York Police Department (NYPD). However, this often may be discovered from a disciplinary investigation from the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) if the accused is a physician.
I have been charged with promoting a suicide, what should I do?
Suicide is not well understood and is often a taboo subject. A charge of aiding or assisting in the suicide of another, even attempted suicide can cause severe detriments in all the aspects of your life. Even the well-intentioned Dr. Kevorkian, permanently damaged his reputation and was given the infamous moniker, Dr. Death.
This is not a title a respected physician or medical professional wants to have as part of their treatment. One act, even given with utmost consideration and care, can tarnish your reputation and plummet your career and future opportunities.
Help is Available
Also, any criminal charge takes a tremendous toll on your relationships, both professional and personal. It strains finances and makes it difficult to keep up with certain obligations. This is why you need a legal team who knows and understands the law. Our team of attorneys also have the proper experience to defend you and will seek your best interests. Dr. Kevorkian was able to have three trials go in his favor.
He decided to forgo an attorney in his 4th trial, believing he could adequately defend himself, and he was convicted of second-degree murder. Don’t let a charge of assisted suicide impact your life forever. Let our team assist you, and they can help each step of the way.
Please call us for a free legal consultation today!
What is New York’s future status with promoting a suicide?
As of early 2019, the New York legislature has a bill that would decriminalize a physician who aids in the suicide of a terminally ill patient. This is often referred to as a death with dignity bill. It has some support, but as of right now, it is uncertain if it will pass through both houses and received the stamp of approval from the governor.
It would also be an odd development if the promoting a suicide law is expanded to include actions against vulnerable individuals, and the death with dignity bill is also passed with this act.
What states have death with dignity laws?
As of July 2019, nine states and one district have adopted death with dignity laws, either through the judicial system or through statutes. The states and districts that have adopted the death with dignity are:
- Washington D.C.
- New Jersey
It is important to note, that although some states have recognized assisted suicide via a physician is not a criminal offense, it still has to follow very stringent rules and practices. A violation of these laws can result in criminal and civil charges, as well as losing your license to practice medicine.
Also, many of these states also prevent the promotion of suicides outside of these very specific contexts with physicians and terminally ill patients. Many states have it expressly in their statutes, whereas others state it is part of the common law definition of murder or manslaughter, depending on the circumstances.
We strongly recommend individuals refrain from any activity that could be construed as aiding or causing a suicide, regardless of your intentions.