While many of us find death as the commonality we will all find ourselves inevitably experiencing, once we find ourselves seeing stories or watching new reports on which a young teenager has taken their life early, we can no longer sympathize like we thought we could, as the event of suicide never makes sense to those who cannot fathom it.
In recent years we have seen depression rates increase exponentially in our youth, which makes us bound to see a rise in suicide rates, as they often go hand in hand. As we neared the end of the 2010s, statistics showed that suicide rates have increased by 23% from 12.0 to 14.8 deaths per 100,000 population in the last nine years. Why do you think that is? Sure we can consider instability in mental health and the innate well-being of our generation, however, the leading factor isn’t necessarily intrinsic, but outside factors of bullying.
The cases in which bullying have pushed others so far as to take their life is on the same frequency of purely self-inflicted death, and as a result, we will never see consequences be implicated. It is quite easy for bullies or people indirectly responsible for the death of another to go unafflicted in the legal aspect, as there is not a set punishment that incriminates bullying that results in the death of a victim. But that begs the question: what happens when someone’s actions border the line between bullying and assistance to commit suicide, and they are tried for it? Consequently, how are the courts supposed to try that when there’s no law to incriminate someone’s coercive actions? The solution is complex, but simple: laws that make this a legitimate cause for legal involvement.
As I mentioned before, this is a simple concept conditioned with complexity and many loopholes. The initial reason which makes it difficult to implement ramification is the first amendment. The common factor keeping officials from creating a law that conditions free speech is the fact it will impinge on the rights under the first amendment, which will arouse conflicting opinions of the people. For instance, let us evaluate the case of Conrad Roy III, who was believed to be coerced by his girlfriend Michelle Carter into killing himself through text. To some, the case served no real purpose, as from their perspective, it did not provide any punishable offense or reason for the indictment, ergo the case was not going to have any real influence. Even those distraught by the event and believed that Carter should have been punished were unable to provide a stance in terms of the law, as this case blurred the lines been murder and suicide. Carter’s psychiatrist even testified, saying for her to be indicted was prejudice, as she was mentally ill and was most likely not in her right mind when assisting Roy in his suicide, as she truly believed that what she was doing was right.
Regardless of feelings on the matter or the standpoint each person is entitled to, we must objectively evaluate that there were no laws in Massachusetts at the time which would have made this a punishable offense. Since then that has changed and more action has been taken or the Right To Die movement there. Nonetheless, the truth of the matter is that as of 2020, the U.S. has only ten jurisdictions that recognize Right To Die/ Death With Dignity laws (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington). This is quite troubling, as this essentially prevents this case or others like it from being taken to a higher court on account of the lack of acts that rationally criminalize assisted suicide. If we take action to incorporate these laws into our Constitution, families will be able to see justice for the loved-one lost to someone else’s actions and manipulation.
The concept of morality and ethics comes up, as well, as many found her actions evil and horrid. It was believed that what Carter did was nothing short of self-serving and was only a ploy for her to be sympathized with as “the grieving girlfriend.” The evidence provided by the prosecution argued that the extreme lengths of the actions which Carter took were for the sole purpose to get the attention of her friends and classmates so she could cope with the feelings of loneliness and need to feel popular and admired by others. In response to this, the defense argued that Michelle’s actions were not done out of malicious intent, as she truly believed she was doing what she thought was right for the person she loved, even if meant sending him to his death. With the credibility of Carter’s psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, who believed Michelle to be incapable of making the well thought out plan the prosecution was suggesting she did, advocated for her innocence and the sympathy of the judge, as he determined her mind was altered by psychoactive drugs (SSRIs) at the time, which was meant to be treating her depression.
With the two sides of the story circulating through the news and communities, it raised the question, “Was someone so unstable capable of doing something so heinous? Or was she simply trying to do what would make her boyfriend happiest-- death?” This caused people to wonder if the case was really necessary because, in addition to there not being any laws that could incriminate her actions, she was likely to carry the regret and guilt of Conrad’s death as it was, so there was no reason to “humiliate” her further by making the case so public.
Public opinion and morality aside, it is the court who inevitably would be the ones to prosecute whether by jury or judge. Carter was wrong to have allowed her boyfriend, who she presumably loved, to be so intent on committing suicide in the first place, so for her to be the dictator of his plan made this even more conspicuous. But if we consider the legal aspect of this case, which ruled in favor of the prosecution, little punishment was given and was even up for debate when the sentencing was held. While it is uncommon for a case concerning suicide to be brought to court, the implementation of suicide laws and Right To Die laws can be extremely useful in the rare instance a suicide case is brought to court. With the publicity the Michelle Carter case received, other cases have been brought to light since then, and as a response, states are validating these cases with concrete laws that could solidify the severity of assisted suicide.
Death is never an easy thing to process, regardless of the nature in which happens, so when the story becomes an even more complex and twisted tragedy like this, we have to ask the question, “What could we have done better?” To paraphrase Jesse Baron, an Esquire journalist that wrote a story on the case and was interviewed for the HBO docuseries I Love You: Now Die, “there are two sides to the story: one where it is Michelle’s fault for Conrad’s death and that he never intended to die, and another where it is the family’s fault for noticing too late.” If there was one thing I learned from this documentary, it was that sometimes, there’s more beneath the surface than you perceive. If you know someone who is struggling, talk to them, acknowledge their issues, and be there for them. If you are the person struggling, don’t feel confined to deal with it on your own, and know there are people that will be with you every step of the way.