The Volokh Conspiracy

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Another MA Case About Encouragement to Commit Suicide

Prosecutors charging Boston College student's girlfriend with involuntary manslaughter


I blogged previously about the Michelle Carter case here, here, and here. Even though the Massachusetts legislature has not yet spoken on the proposed legislation that specifically addresses encouragement of or assistance with suicide, prosecutors are continuing to use charges of involuntary manslaughter to go after individuals who allegedly told others to kill themselves. According to CNN:

Inyoung You, 21, tracked Alexander Urtula's location on May 20 and was present when he jumped from a parking garage only hours before graduation, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins told reporters.

Authorities said You, also a student at Boston College, was "physically, verbally and psychologically abusive" toward her boyfriend during their 18-month-long relationship.

Investigators looked through a trove of text messages the two exchanged in which You allegedly tells Urtula, 22, to "go kill himself" or to "go die" and that she, his family and the world would be better off without him, prosecutors said.

You and Urtula exchanged 75,000 messages in the two months before his suicide and, according to the prosecutors' statement, "Many of the messages display the power dynamic of the relationship, wherein Ms. You made demands and threats with the understanding that she had complete and total control over Mr. Urtula both mentally and emotionally."

While I will eagerly await further facts, I currently remain rather skeptical of such claims of complete relinquishment of free will on the part of young men at the hands (or rather, words) of girlfriends even younger than themselves. Some commentators have also pointed out the potentially gendered nature of these claims in the Michelle Carter case, which follow the lore of witches who can coerce men in Satanic ways.

It will be genuinely interesting to see the public reaction if prosecutors decide to start charging male defendants for encouraging their girlfriends to kill themselves. And one cannot help but wonder how a scenario would fare in which prosecutors claimed that an alleged perpetrator committed a sexual offense by exerting "total control" over a victim that was, therefore, no longer able to consent. I am not sure these MA prosecutors are champing at the bit to test that one, even though there is no logical reason their arguments about subversion of will should stop at suicide.