Two years ago I wrote this post about the striking down of a Georgia law that made it a crime to advertise for assisting someone's suicide. The judges reasoned that advertising for assisting suicide couldn't be illegal since suicide isn't illegal in Georgia. Strangely enough (and to my mind, inconsistently) they said that the Georgia legislature could outlaw actually assisting a suicide but couldn't outlaw advertising one's assistance, unless the advertisement actually got takers and the assistance actually took place!
Now we have a case in Minnesota where a perverted male nurse talked people into committing suicide and broadcasting it to him by webcam because he enjoyed watching. (You really cannot make this stuff up.) Minnesota has a law against assisting suicide (unlike Georgia) but also includes in the law "advising" or "encouraging" suicide. It is these words, and this fiend's conviction, that the MN state Supreme Court has just struck down on First Amendment grounds. (Reminding us that state courts also can make use of the federal constitution to justify their rulings.)
The case has been returned to the trial court to see whether any of the accused's actions rise to the level of assisting a suicide.
Now look at this bit in the WSJ article:
Certain speech is beyond the protection of the First Amendment, such as fraud, incitement of a violation of the law and speech that plays a key part in a crime. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s contention that Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s words fit into those exceptions.
Suicide isn’t illegal in Minnesota. So Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s speech couldn’t have incited a crime or been integral to criminal conduct, Justice Anderson wrote.
So once again we see that the fact that suicide isn't illegal is used to argue that bringing about someone else's suicide is "protected speech." In this case the justices were kind enough to leave standing the state law against assisting (thanks so much, gents), but if this particular evil man chose merely to press and urge people to commit suicide, even deceiving them (as he did) into believing they were entering into a suicide pact with him, and didn't "assist" them in any other way, he is supposed to get off scot free. Where exactly "advise" falls, I'm not sure. The Hemlock Society offers how-to advice on committing suicide. Would that be allowed by the courts to count as assisting? Who knows.
I say it again: We need to recriminalize suicide. As far as I know, it would be easy enough for any state legislature to set a punishment that was actually therapeutic for the suicidal person and that was exactly the sort of thing that can now allegedly be imposed upon a person who is found to be a danger to himself. For example, the penalty could presumably be court-ordered anti-suicide counseling and having to stay in touch with a psychiatrist to make sure the suicidal behavior did not re-emerge. Recriminalizing suicide need not mean that people who attempted suicide would be thrown in jail. It would simply remove the legal ambiguity that currently surrounds acts of self-harm (they're not illegal, but unlike a harmless legal act such as baking a cake, if you try to commit suicide, you can, allegedly, be forcibly stopped from doing it and even locked up if you persist), because this legal limbo status causes absurd rulings like those in Georgia and Minnesota.
We see again in this case that the fact that suicide itself is already officially legal has legal consequences, and they aren't good ones.
Oh, and by the way: Someone argued in the comments thread on my old post that the Georgia attorneys weren't able to show that any "harm" was caused by advertising for assisting suicide. Well, you can't say that here: At least two people committed suicide in fake "suicide pacts" with this pervert. So, harm? Yes, real harm.
But never mind. He was just exercising his First Amendment rights.