HB 42 Suicide; abolishes common-law crime.
Introduced by: Kaye Kory in Subcommittee
Summary as introduced:
Abolish the common-law crime of suicide. Suicide is currently a common-law crime in Virginia, although there is no statutorily prescribed punishment.
Currently, there is no state that by statute makes the completion of suicide a crime and the majority of states have gradually repealed the common law crime. The most recent states to remove the common law crime of suicide include New Jersey (1971), North Carolina (1973), North Dakota (1973), and Washington (1976).
Yet Virginia holds onto this ancient law despite a clear precedent that keeping it on the books has caused no arguments in courts in other states since removing it.
Delegate Kaye Kory introduced the bill she worked on with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. As soon as she was done presenting, they dove in stating they had a problem with it because, if abolished, lawyers might find a loophole to assisted suicide. In no other state in the U.S. has this been a problem. There is a separate code of laws dealing with assisted suicide and abolishing this common law would, in no way, affect those laws.
Many of us who were affected by suicide of a loved one told our stories and expressed strongly that this law needed to be abolished once and for all. A group of us went representing American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. We don’t want our loved ones thought of as criminals but recognized as people who suffered from an illness. Suicide is a public health crisis, not a crime and it is important to abolish this common-law to continue to reduce the stigma associated with suicide as well as the mental illness and addiction that drive rising suicide rates.
Since this assisted suicide was a point of contention, Delegate Charniele L. Herring voted to remove the language pertaining to assisted suicide altogether, effectively removing the argument that it somehow would be a loophole for assisted suicide despite having no statutes attached to it.
The dismissal of this law obviously mattered to those of us who lost loved ones to suicide. It’s archaic and the argument of assisted suicide has nothing to do with this.
I feel strongly that this is not a partisan issue yet it appears to be an opportunity for a party to check the box and put it in the win column. Over the years, they’ve thrown many different arguments against eliminating it and I call bullshit. I also think there was a strategy to put the more emotional bills that could garner public support at the start of the session so we would not have time to get that media attention and support for the bill.
See below for how the vote went. Interesting the gender split.
Looks like we need more women in the legislature. If you are a resident of Virginia and this vote matters to you and your family, I encourage you to remember that vote when any of these Delegates come up for re-election.
Voted to get rid of the common law that says suicide is a crime
OK, these ladies are my heroes.
Voted in favor of keeping the common law that says suicide is a crime
This law dates back to early English common-law where it was considered a ‘felon on himself.’ The person found guilty of it, even though dead, was subject to various punishments including a profane burial. A burial was considered “profane” when the body of the deceased was somehow desecrated to show disapproval of the person’s actions in life.
Profane burials for people who died by suicide usually took place at night, and people were often buried with a stake driven through their heart. They were never buried at a graveyard, but at a crossroads, with no priests or mourners present.