Are the differences between a right to die choice and a victim of murder too subtle for the courts to differentiate between the two?

“The cases highlight the confusion surrounding the legal tests for murder, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Campaigners argue there should be clear guidance on how prosecutors should respond to cases where a competent adult requests help to die, and where relatives inflict death without the clear wishes of their loved ones. “The law needs to protect potentially vulnerable people by being tough on malicious or irresponsible behaviour, but it also needs to be flexible enough to show mercy when the motivation is clearly compassion”, said Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying.”

from the article Kay Gilderdale case: A clear verdict on the law’s confusion on assisted suicide by Afua Hirsch, Guardian.co.uk Jan. 25th, 2010

On April 11th, 2011 the WilliamMelchert-Dinkel trial in which the former Minnesota nurse stands accused of violating Minnesota’s assisted suicide law in the deaths of Canadian Nadia Kajouji and UK resident Mark Drybrough will finally begin.

While we will once again welcome our panel of experts including NCR Distinguished Professor of Law and Technology Susan Brenner, TV’s Cop Doc Dr. Richard Weinblatt and criminal profiler Pat Brown to discuss what we might expect from the trial in a 90 minute Special on April 10th at 8:30 PM EST, there is one thing that is certain . . . the uncertainty surrounding assisted suicide laws and how the jury will ultimately respond to the evidence that is presented in the Rice County courtroom.

Never one to sit idly by and wait for information, I thought that I would dig even deeper into my research notes to see if there was any way to determine if there was legal history or precedence that could be used as a reference point relative to a possible verdict under circumstances similar to the pending Melchert-Dinkel adjudication.  Ignoring the fact for the time being that the crimes for which the defendant has been accused occurred over the Internet, I wanted to examine the potential boundaries between a persons right to die and the potential risks posed by predators who with seeming alacrity troll the suicide chat rooms for vulnerable individuals or victims.  I use the word victims in the context of someone who, without the intervening prompting of another individual, would not otherwise have chosen to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, instead of finding answers I found more questions as demonstrated by the different verdicts referenced in the Guardian article.

In the Kay Gilderdale case, in which the presiding judge asked “why did this come to court?” the jury cleared the accused of murder resulting in Gilderdale being given a 12 month conditional discharge.  Conversely Frances Inglis, the mother who injected a lethal dose of heroin into her son, was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to 9 years in prison.

The key difference between the two cases according to legal experts is that with Gilderdale her daughter gave clear indications of her intent to die as a result of a previous suicide attempt and the execution of what was referred to as an “advance decision” or living will in which a person that is ill can stipulate that they do not want to “receive life-sustaining treatment in advance.”  No such intentions were demonstrated by Inglis’ son.

It seems to be straight forward however, and in line with a comment made by Professor Brenner during our December 15th segment Cybercrime, Insanity Pleas and the Right to Die: A Guest Panel Discussion she posed the question, if the people who committed suicide at the urging of Melchert-Dinkel did not intend to take their lives, then why did they visit the chat rooms in the first place.  In short, does ones presence and/or participation within the virtual realms of a suicide chat room sufficiently indicate the prerequisite intent associated with the Gilderdale trial?  If it does, should Melchert-Dinkel be acquitted?

Many would of course argue (and yes I would be one of them) that neither Nadia Kajouji or Mark Drybrough are on trial here, only Melchert-Dinkel.  When one reads his ready acknowledgment that he pursued these individuals in a “thrill of the chase” frenzy that was so compelling that he had to – and again in his own words – check himself into a local hospital complaining of an “addiction” to suicide chat rooms, it is more than reasonable to view his actions as being malicious and predatory.  His references that others on the Internet had found a way to “commit legal murder” does little to assuage this position.

As stipulated on many occasions, I myself am not a lawyer and for this reason the April 10th segment with our expert panel promises to be a very interesting and lively discussion.  Be sure to tune in as we will be opening both the chat room and toll free lines for you to weigh in on this complex and emotionally charged trial.

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