Editorial: We have a right to decide what happens to our bodies

Published 8:55 am Friday, July 27, 2012

It would be so easy to join the clamor calling for Lady Justice to hurl her book at William Melchert-Dinkel. But it would be wrong.

What he did was unquestionably despicable. The 49-year-old Faribault man engaged clinically depressed individuals online in an effort to help them commit suicide, and he did so posing as a woman, and using different screen names.

One man and one woman took Melchert-Dinkel up on his suggestions, and for that he was convicted of two counts of assisting another person to commit suicide, currently against the law in Minnesota.

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Melchert-Dinkel appealed on the grounds the state law was too vague and that the conviction violated his right to free speech. The state Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling last week. His case now goes before the state Supreme Court.

But you don’t have to like Melchert-Dinkel’s actions to defend them. Laws about assisted suicide, including Minnesota’s, need to change. It is not the government’s responsibility, nor right for that matter, to determine how long a person lives.

Those who object to the alleged Obamacare “death panels” can understand that argument.

This is not about the morality of suicide. Often morality and legality are confused in debate. Whether it’s morally acceptable to end your life is not the point and not the place of government to decide; merely whether it should be legal. If an individual suffering from a horrific disease — and clinical depression is just that — wants to end his life, no one should be prosecuted for aiding them in doing that.

The First Amendment protects speech, no matter how distasteful, and we’re grateful it does. Again, this isn’t about what is moral. Melchert-Dinkel lied about who he was and why he was engaging people online. He “relished” the knowledge that he had helped other people die. His actions are an utter perversion of moral behavior.

But that shouldn’t make his online conversations illegal, any more than suggesting the president is a “socialist,” or the Muslim Brotherhood is like the Nazi Party. Minnesota’s law exceeds its authority; the First Amendment assures us that no government can make a law infringing on the right to free speech.

Any ruling suggesting that Minnesota’s law supersedes that basic right, particularly without being extremely narrow and well-defined, risks an erosion of one of the most basic freedoms we have as citizens of the United States.

It isn’t moral, but it is constitutional.

— Faribault Daily News, July 23

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