Monday, March 2, 2009

Do assisted suicide laws apply to the virtual world?

The Toronto Star article published an about the case of Nadia Kajouji (18), the Carlton University student in Ottawa who was allegedly counselled to commit suicide in March 2008 by William Melchert-Dinkel, a nurse from Minnesota, over the internet. This case really clarifies the need for our laws to explicitly outlaw internet suicide websites and aiding, abeting and counselling suicide via the internet and other communications devices.

If the alleged crime that Melchert-Dinkel is accused of doing actually happened, then Melchert-Dinkel is a suicide predator.

The Toronto Star article suggests that if Melchert-Dinkel is convicted of assisted suicide or a similar charge that it would be precedent setting in Minnesota. I suggest that the Minnesota justice system attempt to set that precedent.

We need to protect vulnerable people from suicide predators who prey on the vulnerable for their own kicks.

Australia changed their assisted suicide law in 2005 to specifically outlaw internet suicide counselling. Every Western nation, especially Canada needs to also update our laws to specifically protect vulnerable people from suicide predators.

This is the text from the Toronto Star article that was written by Robyn Doolittle and published on March 2, 2009.

Minnesota officials say they'll make arrest soon

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – When investigators lay charges against a suspect they allege has counselled several individuals via the Internet to commit suicide, including an 18-year-old Carleton University student, it will be precedent-setting.

It is illegal in Minnesota to advise, encourage or assist someone in taking their own life. But the statute has never been applied to an offence which occurred online.

"That's what we're working on now. Do they physically have to assist?" said Peter Panos, a spokesperson for the St. Paul's police department. Investigators with Minnesota's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force think not.

Within two weeks, police expect to make an arrest in the case of an Internet predator known as cami, falcongirl and Li Dao, who encouraged Brampton teen Nadia Kajouji to kill herself about a year ago.

Investigators announced Thursday they are investigating Minnesota nurse William Melchert-Dinkel, 46, in connection with the case.

They seized his computer about eight months ago and in mid-January contacted Ottawa police after uncovering "suicide Internet conversations" between the man and Kajouji, just prior to her death.

But what constitutes assistance online? And would Kajouji have taken her life anyway?

Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota's Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said there are freedom-of-speech issues involved. "There are First Amendment rights that come into play here, about what people can and can't do over the Internet or what they can or can't say," he said. "The reality is, there's been anti-suicide laws on the books for many years. They rarely ever get prosecuted."

If officials are able to show that Minnesota's assisted suicide laws not only apply to the physical world, but also the virtual one, it would set a precedent. It will have a ripple effect across the U.S.

Dr. Eric Caine, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, said assisted suicide is typically associated with the end-of-life debate involving patients with terminal illness. "This is an entirely different set of issues."

Link to the article in the Toronto Star:

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