I was horrified to read news articles about people who assist and encourage others to commit suicide. There is no way I can even begin to understand what goes through someone’s mind when he or she encourages or aids another person to commit suicide.
About two years ago, a Massachusetts woman, Michelle Carter, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, after she encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself. Conrad H. Roy III died in 2014 by inhaling carbon monoxide inside his pickup truck. Carter played a key role in his death, the jury found, and she was held responsible for her part.
In the lead up to Roy’s death, Carter texted and called him, and pushed him toward suicide. Having read the sickening texts messages Carter sent Roy, it’s abundantly clear the only outcome for her was Roy killing himself.
Sadly, that wasn’t the first case, nor was it the last. Earlier this year, a beautiful young woman, Shawn Shatto, killed herself in her parent’s Newberry Township home after she received a step-by-step guide on how to commit suicide from an online chat forum.
According to press accounts, the website contained information about how to prepare poison. Shawn did so and then contacted the website, saying she was terrified. At least one person on the forum gave her reassuring words that suicide was the best route and wished Shawn well on her journey instead of encouraging her to seek help.
It is absolutely appalling people are willing to not only provide a recipe for death, but also to encourage someone to commit suicide. I cannot fathom the mindset of these people who nonchalantly dole out this kind of information and push someone already dealing with depression and anxiety toward such an irreversible outcome.
To allow law enforcement to more harshly crack down on such people, I introduced Shawn’s Law, named for Shawn Shatto, to amend a provision in the Crimes Code entitled Causing or Aiding Suicide. Currently under this statute, causing or aiding suicide is a crime and is graded as a second-degree felony and a second-degree misdemeanor, depending on the case. These charges carry penalties of 5-10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, and two years in prison and a $5,000 fine, respectively.
I don’t believe these penalties are harsh enough. People who guide or encourage others to kill themselves are committing murder by proxy. Our justice system must be given more tools in the form of harsher sentences to combat this evil.
My legislation would increase sentences when someone who commits suicide is under the age of 18 or has an intellectual disability. Under the law, intellectual disability is defined as someone, regardless of age, who has significantly below average intellectual functioning and has significant limitations in two of the following areas: communication, self-care, home living, social and interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, health, or safety.
It seems to me that such an enhancement is needed to send a message to these disturbed people who encourage or guide people toward suicide that their actions will not be tolerated. If they do so, they’ll face the full extent of the law.
Suicide claims the lives of over 2,000 Pennsylvanians each year, or an average of five lives each day. Clinical depression is one of the largest risk factors for suicidal thoughts. Depression can be treated with medicine and counseling, or a combination of the two. The vast majority of the people who seek help for depression improve with treatment.
Suicide is never the answer. If you, or some you know, needs assistance, please seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24-hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources and best practices for professionals.
Representative Dawn Keefer
92nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross