Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Suicide Definition:

To intentionally take one's own life.

Related Terms: Euthanasia

In Solorano v Bristow, Justice Bustamante of the Court of Appeals of New Mexico wrote:

"We define suicide as a voluntary, deliberate, and intentional self-destruction by someone of sound mind."

Historically, suicide was known by the Latin expression felo de se or felonia de se.

The Athenians would punish the self-murderer by cutting off his hand or, more properly stated, off the corpse of the self-murderer.

The prevailing view at the time was aptly summarized by Plato (427-347 BC), who wrote:

"Man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door of his prison and run away.

"A man should wait and not take his own life until God summons him."

This attitude continued for centuries.

As recently as 1759, William Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, that suicide was a common law criminal offence - also referred to as self-murder - and harshly punished:

"(T)he law of England wisely and religiously considers that no man hath a power to destroy life but by commission from God - the author of it. And as suicide is guilty of a double offence: one spiritual, in invading the perogative of the Almighty and rushing into his immediate presence uncalled for; the other temporal, against the King who hath an interest in the preservation of all his subjects. The law has therefore ranked this among the highest crimes, making it a peculiar species of felony, a felony committed on one's self....

"What punishment can human laws inflict on one who has withdrawn himself from their reach? They can only act upon what he has left behind, his reputation and fortune; on the former by an ignominious burial in the highway with a stake driven through his body; on the latter by a forfeiture of all his goods and chattels to the King, hoping that his care for either his reputation or the welfare of his family would be some motive to restrain him from so desperate and wicked an act."

In England, the 1961 Suicide Act provided that, at §1:

"The rule of law whereby it is a crime for a person to commit suicide is hereby abrogated."

Concurrently, suicide was decriminalized in more and more countries, excepting the crime of assisting suicide or the aiding or abetting thereof. This conduct continues to be criminalized not only in England but in other jurisdictions. For example, §120.30 of the New York Penal Laws:

"A person is guilty of promoting suicide attempt when he intentionally causes or aids another person to attempt suicide. Promoting a suicide attempt is a class E felony."

Or, §241 of Canada's Criminal Code:

"Every one who counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years."

Suicide is an essential component of insurance law as many life insurance policies state that benefits do not accrue if the life insured person committed suicide.

In Re Davis, Justice Sellers of the House of Lords wrote:

"Suicide is not to be presumed. It must be affirmatively proved to justify the finding. Suicide requires an intention. Every act of self-destruction is, in common language, described by the word suicide provided it be the intentional act of a party knowing the probable consequence of what he is about."


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