Should (Assisted) Suicide Be Legal?

Yesterday was my first day returning to Courts of Justice, after a two-year exile.  I’m now at the far end of the dais, which is fine because I sit next to Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun), who has a lot of experience in criminal law.  (My practice is mostly commercial).

The most dramatic hearing yesterday involved SB 22, brought by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), which sought to repeal the common-law crime of suicide.  Various representatives came forward to testify about mental health, depression, and other causes of suicide.  But none of this addressed the real issue:

Why is suicide a common-law crime?

To the outsider, this would be non-sensical.  By definition, someone who successfully commits suicide is dead.  So there’s no prosecution.  And if they are not successful, a criminal prosecution is probably the last thing that would be warranted.

However, there’s a separate issue.  By making suicide legal, we implicitly legalize the activity of assisting suicide.  And that does have larger significance.

Right now, we have no statutory crime for “assisting suicide” in Virginia.  However, we do prosecute people for being an accessory to a criminal act.  So anyone who assists a suicide, like Jack Kevorkian, would be an accessory to a felony, even if the victim consented.  And, yes, they would be prosecuted.

The Courts committee deferred action on Senator Ebbin’s bill.  It’s fair to say that we are not going to permit assisted suicide in Virginia.  I’m not voting for it.  So the bill has to be modified to reflect that reality.

That’s the real issue.

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  • Vinifera

    Why do you say it’s fair to say assisted suicide won’t be permitted in Virginia? They permit it in Washington State. They permit it in Belgium and the Netherlands–in fact even for minors and non terminal illnesses. These are progressive policies that Virginia will eventually embrace as the state becomes more and more blue. Believe it.

  • Tess Ailshire

    Laws criminalizing assisting a suicide give life-and-death authority to the state rather than recognizing individual liberty. At some point, we must allow individuals to make a choice.

  • Chad Parker

    Does this impact law enforcement’s ability to intervene when an individual is threatening or attempting to harm himself?