Thea E. Potanos


On March 15, 2011, William Melchert-Dinkel, a Minnesota nurse, was convicted of two counts of assisted suicide, based solely on things he said in emails and online chat rooms. This note examines whether cyber speech encouraging suicide, such as Melchert-Dinkel's, should be protected by the First Amendment. States have compelling interests in preserving life, preventing suicide, and protecting vulnerable persons from abuse, and the majority of them have assisted suicide statutes that could be applied to cyber-suicide speech. However, because cyber- suicide speech does not fit neatly into recognized categories of "low-value" or unprotected speech, punishment may be foreclosed by the First Amendment. Nevertheless, because counseling suicide was a felony at common law, speech encouraging suicide—including cyber-suicide speech—should be identified as a "traditional" category of unprotected speech. Alternatively, an assisted suicide statute as applied to cyber-suicide speech has a good chance of surviving strict scrutiny.