by Kevin Yuill, Spiked, 27 June 2017
Dr Yuill reflects on the case of Massachusetts woman Michelle Carter who was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter for sending her boyfriend hundreds of texts encouraging him to commit suicide.
Carter had initially attempted to dissuade her boyfriend from suicide, urging him to get help. But by July 2014 she was urging him to end his life in a series of texts. When Roy expressed concerns about his family, Carter blithely replied: ‘Everyone will be sad for a while, but they will get over it and move on… They’ll always carry u in their hearts.’
Her motive seemed to be attention. She tweeted after the event: ‘Such a beautiful soul gone too soon. I’ll always remember your bright light and smile. You’ll forever be in my heart, I love you Conrad.’ One of Roy’s younger sisters testified that Carter texted her on the day of his death: ‘Find him yet?’ Three days later, she added: ‘I will never understand why this had to happen.’ She even organised a suicide-prevention fundraiser in his name.
Dr Yuill asks “If her text messages were wrong, surely ‘assisted dying’ is wrong?”
How can we delineate between those like Roy who are manipulated into suicide and those who are determined but want help to die? We can’t. The only way we can be certain that someone has come to the decision themselves is if they take the action with no assistance. As soon as assistance is offered, particularly to those in age or disability categories, it becomes a joint venture. The second party must take some responsibility for the action.
The case also tests our moral and legal attitudes to suicide. Is it wrong? Is it a crime? If it is not inherently wrong, how can assisting a suicide be wrong?
It is still wrong.
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