Suicidal Speech: Minnesota Case Raises Difficult Questions Over Assisted Suicide and Free Speech

320px-ChattertonProsecutors in Minneapolis have a fascinating case involving assisted suicide and free speech. Nurse William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, is accused of using Internet chat rooms to convince people to commit suicide, giving them step-by-step instructions on how to kill themselves — preferably so he could watch. At least two people are believed to have fed Melchert-Dinkel’s fetish with their deaths: Nadia Kajouji, 18, and Mark Drybrough, 32 (shown here).

ALeqM5i_uZ6LvYHkFmTVedzjaxM76dFNVA-1ALeqM5h7EM7smmlPGYw0mxtvsXNhcgZWHgMelchert-Dinkel is quoted in such Internet exchanges as “Most important is the placement of the noose on the neck … Knot behind the left ear and rope across the carotid is very important for instant unconciousness and death.” Drybrough hanged himself at his home in Coventry, England in 2005 while Nadia Kajouji, a student at Carleton University, drowned herself in Brampton, Ontario.

Melchert-Dinkel has been stripped of his nursing license but insists that, as for any criminal charges, “nothing is going to come of it. I’ve moved on with my life, and that’s it.”

Well, it’s certainly good to have a life to move on with.

He may be right, however, about the difficulty of a prosecution — though I expect criminal charges will be brought. This is not your standard assisted suicide case since it involves only speech. Police often deal with people who scream Jump! at people standing on the edge of windows or bridges. What is the difference between that act (which is generally not prosecuted) and giving the same advice on the Internet? There is no question that this is a horrible and destructive fetish. However, many people in such chat sites are simply engaging in fantasy.

In the case of Melchert-Dinkel, it seems like he was actually trolling for vulnerable people, but is that a crime? If so, where do we draw the line? There are many caring people who believe in assisted suicide to relieve the pain of the terminally ill (though neither of these victims appear to have been terminally ill). How do you draw the line between giving such advice to someone terminally ill as opposed to depressed or demented on the Internet?

What if Melchert-Dinkel merely used the words to MASH’s Suicide is Painless below in his communications?

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna to lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin

And Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are the key
Is it to be or not to be
and I replied ‘oh why ask me?

And suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

and you can do the same thing if you please.

It is interesting that the state not the federal authorities are moving on the case. This may be a reflection of the fact that the feds do not have an assisted suicide law as opposed to the Minnesota prosecutors. It could also reflect a concern by the Justice Department that this could be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The state investigators report that Melchert-Dinkel “admitted he has asked persons to watch their suicide via webcam but has not done so.” They state that he used anonymous names such as “Li Dao,” “Cami” and “Falcon Girl.” He was later found to have what a hospital terms as a “suicide fetish.”

For the story, click here.

6 thoughts on “Suicidal Speech: Minnesota Case Raises Difficult Questions Over Assisted Suicide and Free Speech”

  1. She drowned herself in the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. She was from Brampton, ON, just wanted to clarify since the locations are like five hours apart.

  2. AY–

    It was just a question I threw out there. Thanks for responding.

    I think it would be difficult for anyone corresponding with others via online chat rooms to really know the truth about the individuals they’re corresponding with. Pedophiles trolling for victims on the Internet have certainly have been fooled.

  3. Elaine M.,

    If that is directed at me, I would say that only if they have jurisdiction would that make a difference. Then under the Juvenile Code or Criminal Code could such an act be prosecuted.

    If they wanted to try under the Public Health Codes/Mental Health Code I would think that he would have to have actual knowledge or that it could be reasonably inferred that he had knowledge of a mental deficiency or that the person committing suicide was underage(d).

  4. What if the individuals that Melchert-Dinkel helped convince to commit suicide were underage? Would that make any difference?

  5. Speech is speech but is this a “but for” causation of the final act. I do not see how the state can pick up on Federal and/or International Violations of Law? Have they been granted special authority to prosecute?

  6. As a survivor of my own attempts, you will not until you want and you want until you will. If you are depressed enough and the psycheache is sever enough you will and nothing will stop you. I was either lucky or unlucky depending upon your view of luck.

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