Jan. 28, 2021

HARRISBURG – Seeking to bring those who encourage others to commit suicide to justice, the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 184 by Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Dillsburg). 

“The toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on our communities’ emotional well-being has been extraordinary, with lockdowns and isolation mandates propelling mental health emergencies and suicides rates.,” Keefer said. “Passage of this bill is needed now more than ever to deter those who prey on some of our most vulnerable populations as they struggle with thoughts of suicide.”

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found 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, 13% reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Quite alarmingly, 11% said they seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days.

“The numbers are alarming and should give us pause,” Keefer said. “The quick passage of House Bill 184 by committee this session sends a strong message that aiding or encouraging someone to take his or her own life will not be tolerated in Pennsylvania. This is nothing more than murder by proxy and, in addition to being a shameful and cowardly act, should carry a heavy penalty for those who commit this crime.”

House Bill 184 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.

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
RepKeefer.com / Facebook.com/RepKeefer