HARRISBURG ¬– The House today approved legislation by Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Dillsburg) to hold those who instruct, cause or solicit another person to commit suicide accountable for their actions.
“House Bill 184
stems from a tragic situation in which a young woman in my district was not only encouraged to commit suicide, but was also instructed how to do it. Predators did this instead of urging her to seek mental health help,” Keefer said. “Sadly, this is not the only such instance. Some have gained media attention, while many others have not.”
Keefer’s legislation is named for Shawn Shatto, who took her own life 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. She was provided the instructions to make the poison to take her own life. Shawn did so and then contacted the forum members saying she was scared to follow through with ending her life. At least one person on the forum told her that suicide was the best route and wished Shawn well on her journey instead of encouraging her to seek help.
Under Keefer’s House Bill 184, 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.
While mental health issues are always prevalent, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the restrictions put in place, brought about an increase in mental health conditions and highlights the need for this bill.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 41% of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition. Of those respondents, 31% reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, while 26% said they have trauma-related stress disorder related to COVID-19. Additionally, 11% said they seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days.
“There are predators out there who are committing murder by proxy. This is a shameful and cowardly act, and it should carry a heavy penalty for those who commit this crime,” Keefer said. “Encouraging another person to take his or her own life through suicide instead of offering to get help is despicable and absolutely no way to treat human beings.”
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