The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned the state’s longstanding prohibition against encouraging and advising a person to commit suicide. The 4-1 ruling is a significant setback in efforts to protect citizens from the danger and injustice of suicide and assisted suicide. Those most at risk are the elderly and persons with disabilities, whose lives are often the most devalued.
“Today’s ruling rolls back years of protections for vulnerable citizens who are not receiving the medical and mental health care they need to live,” said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). “Instead of guaranteeing care for those with chronic pain or depression, for example, the Court has turned its back and said, ‘Let others urge them to commit suicide.’”
The Supreme Court ruling in State v. Melchert-Dinkel means that Minnesotans suffering from difficult physical or mental illnesses can be subjected to encouragement to commit suicide, including from those who may benefit financially from the death.
The Supreme Court overturned an appeals court ruling in the case of William Melchert-Dinkel, a Faribault ex-nurse who urged two vulnerable people online to commit suicide by hanging. He gave them details about the length and diameter of rope, how to tie the knot and where to place the noose on their necks. He also urged them to set up a webcam so he could watch them die; both committed suicide.
Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in 2011 under Minnesota Statutes section 609.215, subdivision 1, which provides criminal penalties for anyone who “advises” or “encourages” suicide. MCCL was instrumental in the passage of this protective law in 1992.
The Supreme Court has not acted on a Minnesota Court of Appeals unpublished September ruling in the State v. Final Exit case that said the law’s prohibition against advising and encouraging suicide was unconstitutional.
“MCCL will carefully consider the Court’s ruling that the current law’s wording lacks specificity,” Fischbach said. “We will look at the possibility of clarifying the statute through legislation. People at risk of suicide need care and protection, not prodding and guidance on killing themselves.”
UPDATE: The title of this article has been changed to make it more clear that the court upheld the assisted suicide ban but struck down the part related to “encouraging” suicides.