There is a novel criminal charge in Kentucky where Jeffrey Wisecup, 27, is accused of watching his mother commit suicide and not acting to prevent it. It is a charge based on a theory of an affirmative duty to act to save someone — a premise long rejected in the United States where the “no duty to rescue” rule has been a long-standing part of torts.
According to news station WKYT, Wisecup saw his mother swallow pills and inject herself with insulin in an apparent suicide. After she had a seizure, he dragged his mother to her bedroom and next day found her dead. He then lived with the body for five days during which time he went to work and repeatedly went to the liquor store.
Court papers state that Wisecup “admitted that he should have called emergency services and that she may still be alive today if he had.” Police allege that his “wanton conduct” of not calling emergency medical services when his mother began her suicide attempt created a “grave risk of death” to his mother.
However, the grave risk of death was the decision of his mother to end her life. He is not charged with encouraging her or even helping her. He is simply charged with failing to intervene or rescue. That would suggest that others could be charged for failing to act as opposed to affirmative acts. Would the same rule apply to a non-relative?
Wisecup is clearly a deeply troubled person to live with his dead mother for five days. However, the implications of this charge are quite significant and the case could prove an important cause for appeal if these charges are allowed to stand.
Kudos: Professor Roger E. Schechter