Minnesota Court Rules Against Ex-Nurse in Assisted Suicide Case

A judge in Minnesota has handed down a controversial verdict of guilty in the case of former nurse, William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, who encouraged people to commit suicide online. Civil libertarians and right-to-die advocates have criticized the prosecution as an assault on free speech. I share those concerns and believe that there is a strong basis for appeal in this case.

By any measure, Melchert-Dinkel’s conduct was shocking. He was charged with aiding in the suicides of an English man and Canadian woman. Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, hanged himself in 2005, and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville ruled that Melchert-Dinkel was not merely advocating the right to die but engaging in what he called “lethal advocacy.” That is a new and undefined term. It is hard to see the distinction with hundreds of sites that advocate the right to die and often supply information on how to commit suicide. Neuville simply took narrow prior exceptions to protected speech and wildly extended them to include forms of advocacy: “The court finds that defendant’s speech imminently incited the victims to commit suicide, and can be described as ‘lethal advocacy,’ which is analogous to the category of unprotected speech known as ‘fighting words” and ‘imminent incitement of lawlessness.”

This case has not received the attention that it warrants among civil libertarians. It presents an exceptionally important issue of free speech — making the appeal of the verdict equally important.

Source: AOL

Jonathan Turley

15 thoughts on “Minnesota Court Rules Against Ex-Nurse in Assisted Suicide Case”

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  2. What puzzling said. I’ve always found the idea of criminalizing suicide as inherently repellent, inequitable and unjust. The right to existence (or ceasing to exist) is the primary human right one has once one is able to live outside the womb. And I also agree with CE’s take on euthanasia for the terminally ill. Quality of life is as important as the quantity of life.

  3. ” 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008. ”

    If I remember correctly, Ms. Kajouoji was a University student who was suffering from untreated mental health issues….depression & anxiety I believe. Conditions that can be chronic, but are not typically terminal. Rather than encourage her to seek out mental health treatment ( which is both free of charge and is in ralative abundance in Brampton ) he told her how she could take her life. Some compassion, skills ( which nurses typically have training to obtain )therapy and an anti-depressant would have saved this young woman’s life.
    I don’t see this as a civil suit in any way what-so-ever. In one 1 the 2 cases of which Mr.Melchert-Dinkel was involved, he coerced a vulnerable, mentally ill woman to take her life. Similar to the the Manson murders to a degree. Manson ” brain washed ” his band of merry murderers to committ the crimes that they did, while never once even joining them for the rides to the waiting victims. Would we have at any point agreed that all he deserved was a Civil suit? Judging by the fact that he remains in prison to date, some 41 years following his ” ordered ” crime spree I would think not.
    Mr. Melchert-Dinkelt sought out vulnerable people on the internet and his actions differ only from a serial killer in that he did not phsically participate in the crimes.

    As a Mental Health professional I face people with suicidal ideation almost weekly. Not only do I discourage compltion of suicide with my clients, but I often point out that most methods of suicide lead not to death, but ongoing physical and mental complications. If needed I spell out everything that can go wrong during an attempted suicide but also the lasting effects/consequences that often result. I book emergency appointments with their Doctors if able and otherwise accompany & wait with them at the local ER until they are safely admitted to a Schedule 1 Phsyciatric ward for a minimum 72 hour committal.
    I am a supporter of Euthanasia in terminal cases. Once a terminal patient has no quality of life remaining, is simply counting down the days they have remaining, as they are watching their loved ones suffer for their suffering, and pre-arrange that option on their own by way of a living will or Power of Attorney.

  4. I voted for the Assisted Suicide law in Oregon, but I have a serious issue with this case. As others said, this man was not an advocate, in even the most liberal application of the word, except for something so sick it goes beyond description.
    This guy’s goal was to watch people kill themselves so he could get off on it. A predator, he sought out individuals who clearly were not ready to kill themselves yet or they would not be still alive and communicating with others. They would be dead. Those who REALLY want to die kill themselves.
    People on suicide boards obviously haven’t made the final choice yet. He encouraged them to do it, assured them he felt the same way about the world, life, that they did. Said he’d do it with them. They wouldn’t have to die alone. He built relationships with them, not to support them in their search for answers as to whether or not to end their lives, but to trick them into doing it through a false personality that probably felt more caring to them than most relationships they’d ever had. The one victim was 18 years old, for God’s sake. He was discovered through the suicide pact he made with a 13-year-old girl.
    Investigators learned he often tried to set up multiple deaths simultaneously so that he could have a particularly satisfying experience.
    Free speech? I don’t think so. There is a line to be crossed and this guy did it, preying on who could arguably be labeled as THE MOST vulnerable members of our society, those who get the least amount of help as it is, those struggling with mental health issues.
    This creep makes a great case for those who say there is real evil in this world.

  5. An interesting interplay between the protections of free speech and “criminal speech.” Although I consider myself to be a strong supporter of broad free spreech rights, after learning of his conduct (e.g., entering suicide pacts with others online, encouraging already suicidal people to proceed), which appears to be undisputed at trial, my kneejerk reaction supports the conviction. But we all know about kneejerk reactions, and I think if one would mull it over, as well as the 1st amendment precedent, this gets reversed on appeal. Would be interesting to see how and why SCOTUS would come down on this after its recent Westboro ruling.

  6. This is not just aiding suicide but inciting suicide by lies and manipulation – the same abhorrent behaviour concerning social suicide we’ve come to expect from FOX news, Breitbart, Rush, et al.

    Free speech is necessary to incite the most vulnerable to do things that can only be detrimental to their health, well-being, and sometimes their life.

    puzzling – I agree.

  7. It’s a tough one. This guy was not a simple advocate:

    “Prosecutors said he acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.”

    Breech of contract much?

    More seriously, I think it should be against the law when cops seek out malleable people, enter into personal relationships, influence their thinking and supply them with the means and methods to commit crimes. That is not police work and goes beyond the bounds of simple entrapment IMO. It should be illegal. What the plaintiff did in the above cases is almost indistinguishable in substance to the above example of police over-reach. I’m leaning to have him put behind bars.

  8. Oregon has it right. Other states should buck up and follow its example.

  9. After going back and reading up on this case, Melchert-Dinkel’s behavior was clearly abhorrent. The guy is a sick puppy himself, and his lawyer said as much in court. However, it seems to me that this was a case for a civil lawsuit rather than criminal. If I were a family member of either of the deceased, I too would want him punished severely, so I understand their gratification at the verdict, but that does not make it the correct verdict.

    I am sure we will be watching this one in the future as it works its way through the appeal process.

  10. There should be no laws against suicide, attempted suicide or assisted suicide. People own their lives.

  11. Is “lethal advocacy” illegal? I thought that was what Free Speech was all about. Prof., you are up late tonight!

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