Sadly, 2018 Virginia Legislature voted to keep law that states suicide is a crime

Here is the latest on this in 2021, now called HB 1951.

Group that went to the General Assembly to eradicate that old law

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there is no state that by statute makes the completion of suicide a crime and the majority of states have gradually repealed the common law crime.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, D – County of Fairfax (part), 38th District

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.

My take?

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.

Delegate Charniele L. Herring, D -46th District, City of Alexandria (part)
Delegate Vivian Watts, D -39th District, County of Fairfax (part)

Voted in favor of keeping the common law that says suicide is a crime

Del, Todd Gilbert, R -15th District, Counties of Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Warren
Delegate Les R. Adams, R – 16th District Counties of Henry snd Pittsylvania; City of Martinsville
Delegate John Bell, R -58th District, Counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, and Rockingham
Delegate Ben L. Cline, R -24th District, Counties Amherst(part), Augusta(part), Bath, & Rockbridge; Cities of Buena Vista, Lexington
Delegate Michael P. Mullin, D – 93rd District, Counties:James City, York;Cities Newport News, Williamsburg
Delegate Christopher E. Collins, R – 29th District, Counties of Frederick, Warren; City of Winchester

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.


Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

18 thoughts on “Sadly, 2018 Virginia Legislature voted to keep law that states suicide is a crime”

  1. My brother (best Friend) died late February everyone was shocked that he would do this . I wont every know the pain he felt ,but then find out this was a criminal act from a 13 century law what were our law makers thinking that it was not updated .

    1. First I’m so sorry you lost a brother that way. It is shocking. I had no idea my son struggled with thoughts of suicide for years. When he died I thought they’d made a mistake when they described the suicide. And while this law is only listed in a few states now, I’m embarrassed to say they didn’t wipe it off the books this past 2020 session either. I don’t think we had a good patron. I spent hours at the general assembly and paid so much on parking. It’s just crazy they are holding onto it. And it’s all political. They don’t want anyone in the other party to have a win. Such a shame because suicide strikes no matter what political party one is in.

  2. Pingback: Jesenia Weisbecker
  3. Sadly the ones who did not support this have not been impacted by someone in such pain. God help them when they are. One of my daughter’s best friends saw no other way at the time.

    1. Surprisingly, Delegate Michael P. Mullin, D did have a family member die by suicide. A close one. I didn’t hear the very start. He was very emotional. I thought we could just come in and basically show support for getting rid of a law that was written in the 13th century England. But apparently we’ll have to take a more strategic and organized approach and have all kinds of arguments and win them over prior to session.

      I a so sorry you have to watch your daughter grieve a loss that is so difficult. And you, too, Janet. It is such a painful loss. When I lost my son to suicide, I just didn’t know how I would ever survive. But I did. And I have. And every day presents some kind of struggle but it’s easier than it was in 2015.

  4. 1 am appalled on a daily basis. by the stupidity shown by politicians. A disgrace to the people of Virginia..
    God forgive them for thrir opinionated. judgementsl views.

  5. I went to JMU with Kirk Cox. I just might write him to ask about this. When could they vote again??
    Why doesn’t the whole legislature vote on it?

    1. They will vote again in January 2019. So we will have to visit them prior to session. Next time we will put out the word and get more people to support. And media. That would be great if you could reach out to Kirk just to let him know how disappointed you are.

    2. Most houses have more legislation than they have the time of day for. They use subcommittees, typically filled with members who have particular expertise or interest in a certain area, to refine legislative proposals and filter out those which are unlikely to pass in the full house.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap