BOSTON — State lawmakers introduced a bill into the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday aiming to penalize suicide coercion by introducing criminal charges. The bill, also known as “Conrad’s Law”, would criminalize individuals in Massachusetts found guilty of encouraging suicide by imprisonment for up to five years. The legislation is named after 18 year-old Mattapoisett native Conrad Roy, who killed himself in 2014 after being allegedly pressured by his girlfriend, 17 year-old Michelle Carter. The bill is being sponsored by Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and State Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Worcester), with support from Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford).
Massachusetts is one of 10 states currently without a law prohibiting suicide coercion. The legislation comes at a time when suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers, claiming the lives of 6,769 youths in 2017 according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I see on a daily basis how influential young people can be on each other’s mental health,” said Finegold during a press conference. “This is especially true now that our children are moving through life with their cell phones basically attached to their bodies. There is no way to come home from school, close your doors and shut out the bullying like there used to be. Facing this reality, we need to set boundaries around what is and what is not acceptable behavior.”
To be held liable, a person would need to have undue influence or exercise substantial control over the victim and intentionally coerce a victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide. The bill would not apply to doctors administering medical aid in dying.
Roy’s case resulted in a highly publicized 2017 trial that drew national attention after Carter was sentenced with two and a half years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Text messages indicated Carter not only encouraged Roy’s suicide, but detailed specific methods of carbon monoxide poisoning—the eventual cause of Roy’s death. Carter is currently serving a 15 month sentence at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth. An HBO documentary on the case, “I Love You, Now Die” was released earlier this month.
“A lot of people looked at this case and they said, 'Manslaughter? This isn't manslaughter, telling someone to kill themselves,'” said Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University Professor of Law who helped draft the bill. “I think a lot of people reacted very viscerally to that charge.”
“It's designed to send a deterrent message to people that it's not okay to pressure other people into committing suicide when you know about their suicidal tendencies.”
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, who prosecuted the Carter case, stated he would testify in support of it once the proposal heads to a committee hearing.
“While the charge of involuntary manslaughter has been shown to fit in the most egregious of cases, it is important for Massachusetts to join with 40 [other] states across the country who have already passed suicide by coercion laws for those cases that do not rise to the level of manslaughter.”