The Toronto Star published an article March 2 about the case of 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, a Carleton 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. The case really clarified the need for our laws to explicitly outlaw internet suicide websites and aiding, abetting 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 Star article suggested that if Melchert-Dinkel is convicted of assisted suicide or a similar charge, it would be precedent-setting in Minnesota. I suggest that the Minnesota justice system attempt to set that precedent.
The Star reported: “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.” Reporter Robyn Doolittle quoted Peter Panos, a spokesman for the St. Paul, Minn. police department: “That’s what we’re working on now. Do they physically have to assist?”
Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota’s Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said that there are free speech issues arising from the case: “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 also noted that anti-suicide laws are “rarely” prosecuted.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Kajouji was probably not the first person Melchert-Dinkel counselled for suicide.
Australia changed its assisted-suicide law in 2005 to specifically outlaw internet suicide counselling. We need to protect vulnerable people from suicide predators who prey on the vulnerable for their own kicks. The time has come for all Western nations, especially Canada, to outlaw aiding, abetting and counselling suicide via the internet. We cannot sit back and allow suicide predators to take advantage of people who are experiencing depression. We must protect the vulnerable from sick people such as the alleged nurse in Minnesota. We need to update our laws to specifically protect vulnerable people from online suicide predators.
Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. A version of this article originally appeared at his blog, www.alexschadenberg.blogspot.com, on Feb. 25 and March 2.