The Minnesota Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a state law criminalizing speech that "advises" and "encourages" another's suicide is unconstitutional. In the suit filed against the national right-to-die group Final Exit Network [advocacy website] after they were charged with the 2007 suicide of a Minnesota woman, the state argued that speech advising or encouraging suicide is unprotected because it is similar to speech integral to criminal conduct. However, the three-judge panel found "no long tradition of proscribing speech that advices or encourages another in taking the other's life," and thus deemed the law [text] facially unconstitutional. Writing for the court, Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman noted:
[T]he state could achieve its goals through less-restrictive means. To protect vulnerable people from being coerced or unduly influenced to commit suicide, the state could draft a statute that prohibits only that speech. And the state has already expressly prohibited assisting suicide, so restrictions on advising and encouraging speech are not necessary to prevent assisted suicide.Final Exit Network's general counsel Robert Rivas welcomed the ruling on the group's Facebook page [text].
The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue in the US and around the world. In May the governor of Vermont signed a bill [JURIST report] that legalizes physician-assisted suicide in the state. The only European countries that allow assisted suicide are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Also in May the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that Swiss law does not provide sufficient guidelines on the extent of the right to die. In April the Supreme Court of Ireland rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a paralyzed woman seeking to allow her partner to help her commit suicide. Although Ireland decriminalized suicide in 1993, it is still a crime to assist another to commit suicide. In December a report released by the French government recommended [JURIST report] that the country permit doctors to "accelerate death" for terminally ill patients seeking doctor-assisted euthanasia. Last August, the High Court of England and Wales denied [JURIST report] the plea of a paralyzed man challenging the legitimacy of the Suicide Act 1961 and other laws barring his ability to commit suicide.