Is it illegal to kill yourself?

Ok as a disclaimer to this question, before you go nuts, I am not insane/suicidal/depressed/etc.

This question has been the center of much legal/moral/ethical discussion at different times of my life. You might start off saying that “no thats ludicrous, who would arrest such a person,” but hold your horses. Many people I have approached with this question respond to the idea of suicide as being selfish. They claim that suicidal people should get punished for worrying their loved ones. Others claim that in a legal sense it could be argued as an extension of murder. Of course the more psychology oriented folks tend to think that its horrible to punish someone whos already apparently going through a horrible time in their lives. They argue that even if all they want is attention then they will get it. Even if it is negative attention, its still attention.

(1) Do you know of any laws expressly forbidding suicide?

(2) Whats your take?

If you commit suicide you will not be arrested.
I promise.

At common law, attempting to kill yourself was a crime, punishable by death.

(Okay, so I made that last part up.)

But yes, originally it was an offence to try to kill yourself.

Someone can be charged for a crime posthumously. Cant they?


What purpose would it serve to charge someone who is no longer living?

Chapter 51 of Wisconsin State statutes makes suicide illegal, that is to say, being a danger to ones self or others (that would include attemting suicide or making credible statements that you intend to commit suicide) is probable cause for a peace officer to take the person into protective custody. However, simply being a danger to yourself will not result in a criminal prosecution (something can be illegal without actually being “criminal”). So while you’re not under arrest for a criminal offense, you still are in custody, handcuffs and all. Clear as mud, right?

<<CB just coming off his 6 week inpatient psychiatry rotation>>

I can’t tell you what the law dictates, but I can tell you what happens to folks that try to off themselves. First, they are kept in the medical part of the hospital until they are medically cleared. At this point, they are shipped to an inpatient psychiatry ward. In NY, they’d probably be put on 2PC status (if 2 MD’s agree, they can hold you against your will for 60 days, although you have the right to judicial review). In the hospital, they’ll talk to you and medicate you, and get you some supportive services if you need them. When the staff feel you no longer constitute a danger to yourself, you’ll be sprung, but with outpatient follow up. If you are a really tough case, and they don’t feel OK about sending you out, then they will recommend longer-tern state hospitalization for you.

The police are never involved and neither are the courts, except to verify that you are not being kept in hospital unreasonably.

Well, at common law, upon the death of an accused person the charge abated (i.e. - went away). There may be local variations, depending on the jurisdiction.

My understanding is that here in Victoria Australia, suicide is not illegal (since once you’re dead, there’s nothing anyone can do, so they don’t write laws about it) and attempted suicide is illegal, but decriminalised, that is, although it’s against the law, they’re not going to arrest and prosecute you for it.

Another factor is that in democratic societies, it seems whenever there is a problem everyone always wants congress/local legislature etc to pass a law so that everyone can go back to feeling hunky-doory, even if there is a unenforced law on the books that is completly adequate or even if there is no need for such a ludicrous law in the first place.

As someone else said, we should make suicide a capital offense!

Under English Common Law, suicide was a criminal offence (which meant that attempted suicide was also a criminal offence), and this carried over into the US (aside from Louisiana, who’s legal system isn’t based on Common Law). In some states it’s still considered a common law offence, and some states have a specific statute making suicide a crime (and, of course, attempted suicide a lesser crime). Other states have removed the laws, for example NC has a specific statute which abolishes the common law penalty for suicide.

Note that, as choosybeggar says, there are also laws allowing you to be held in a psychiatric facility if you’re a ‘danger to self or others’, so while you won’t be arrested for attempting suicide, you could be locked up for it.

Here’s a summary of the common law attitude to suicide, from Chief Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion in Washington v. Glucksberg, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997):

(footnotes omitted)

“Although suicide is deemed a grave public wrong, yet from the impossibility of reaching the successful perpetrator, no forfeiture is imposed.”

From the 1881 New York penal code, composed by David Dudley Field, apparently a “giant in American legal history”.

AFAIK suicide used to be illegal throughout Europe during the Middle Ages (I think it was “legalized” in the 18th or 19th century), and it’s still regarded as a sin by the Catholic Church; officially, a suicider won’t get a Catholic priest for his funeral (our local priest did bury a suicider and got into some trouble with the Bishop because of this).

The Master tangentially addresses this topic, but only for Britain.

When people ask law questions it would be nice if they would give the country &/or state. Otherwise we kinda of get ‘yes’ + ‘no’, Which is interesting.

Speaking from experience, many people who are suicidal are trying to find an excuse not to go through with it. In my case I kept telling myself that it would break my grandmother’s heart (I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion) if I took a swan dive off the 38th floor. Perhaps a silly objection, but it gives one something to hang on to.

I’ve always been under the impression that it was illegal, and for 2 very good reasons.

I can easily imagine someone holding back because 1) killing themselves would be illegal and they have strong belief in the importance of law and order, or 2) from the (misguided) fear that the attempt would fail, and they’d go to jail (jail being a fate worse than death in their minds).

"You cannot commit suicide. It’s a crime against the State.


The punishment is Death."

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It’s in the movie, at least, for which Jon Pertwee (yep, The Doctor himself, and he got a cameo) wrote the screenplay. I can’t recall if it’s in Larry Gelbart’s original Broadway script.

Up till the 60’s this was a criminal offence here in the UK. An unsuccesful suicide would be prosecuted as soon as they were well enough to face criminal charges. Of course helping somebody else commit suicide is still a criminal offence, hence the court case which is going through the European Court concerning a terminally ill women who wants her husband not to be prosecuted if he helps her to end her life.

There has been a lot of discussion here in Germany about medicide and the like; the letters to the editor pages were flooded regularly. The legal situation currently is that helping another person to commit suicide is legal, but medicide is not. Now there’s the problem of defining the difference between the two; my understanding is that if someone wants to kill himself and I get the poison for him which he swallows on his own, it’s legal (unless I got the poisin by illegal means, of course).
If someone depends on oxygene supply, however, and I cut this off, it’s illegal. The borderline is pretty fluid, though.

[sub]With special thanks to the online dictionary that got me the word “medicide” - I hate that nasty term “euthanasia”.[/sub]