– Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland) today unveiled new legislation to increase criminal penalties for people convicted of aiding or encouraging another person to commit suicide.
“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,” Keefer said. “It seems to me that such an enhancement is needed to send a message to the actions of these disturbed people will not be tolerated.”
Under Keefer’s House Bill 1827
sentences for a person who encourages another person who is under the age of 18 or has an intellectual disability to commit suicide would be increased. 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.
“This bill would give law enforcement an added level of tools to bring justice and should serve as a deterrent for those who believe they can encourage others to end their lives,” said First Assistant District Attorney Tim Barker from the York County District Attorney’s Office.
Keefer’s bill is named Shawn’s Law for Shawn Shatto, who 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.
“We are here today to use our strength and our advocacy to turn tragedy into a means to help save lives, so that no other parent has to go through this awful heartache. And, we are here to thank our State Rep. Dawn Keefer for taking steps to fight against and penalize these predators who prey on our most vulnerable; on the depressed, on the mentally ill, on our veterans, on the fragile, and on the suffering. We are deeply honored that ‘Shawn’s Law’ has been introduced to further penalize these criminals and to raise awareness about this darkness, about the need to work our hardest to uplift our children and help them recognize that there is always LIFE. There is always hope,” said Jacqueline and Chip Bieber, Shawn’s parents.
“We lost our beloved daughter Shawn, but we are grateful we can assist others, by turning this horrific tragedy into Shawn’s legacy. A legacy to create hope. A legacy to target criminals. A legacy to create greater resources for mental health. A legacy of awareness, with the message that suicide isn’t the answer! Please get help. Please tell someone about your thoughts. Please text or call Crisis Intervention,” they continued.
Keefer’s bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.
Assistance to prevent suicide can be found by calling The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24-hours a day, seven days a week. 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