At one point, legal scholars referred to suicide as a form of self-murder (for example, see Coke or Hale).

Are those who take their own lives guilty of some crime, or have some forms of the act been decriminalized? What about those who willingly assist?

Note: If you've been contemplating things, the people at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are great. They speak Spanish and English, and their number is 1-800-273-8255.

  • 2
    Assisting a suicide is a crime in all but two U.S. states. One is Colorado and the other is either Oregon or Washington, I forget which. Successful suicide can't be a primary crime because by definition there is no one to convict although attempted suicide could be and there could be non-criminal legal consequences of a successful suicide.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:31

2 Answers 2


This is interesting because things get extremely different on state and federal levels.

Quoting this,

Under modern U.S. law, suicide is no longer a crime. Some states, however, classify attempted suicide as a criminal act, but prosecutions are rare, especially when the offender is terminally ill.

The "some states" part is much more important than was emphasized there, however.

A case that reached the Virginia Supreme Court, Wackwitz v. Roy (referred to in Wikipedia) pivoted about the legality of suicide. From the decision:

We are aware of only one legislative enactment that addresses suicide as a crime. Code § 55-4 provides that "[n]o suicide ... shall work a corruption of blood or forfeiture of estate." Thus, although the General Assembly has rescinded the punishment for suicide, it has not decriminalized the act. Suicide, therefore, remains a common law crime in Virginia as it does in a number of other common-law states. See, e.g., Southern Life & Health Ins. Co. v. Wynn, 29 Ala.App. 207, 194 So. 421 (1940); Commonwealth v. Mink, 123 Mass. 422 (1877); State v. Willis, 255 N.C. 473, 121 S.E.2d 854 (1961); State v. Carney, 69 N.J.L. 478, 55 A. 44 (1903); State v. Levelle, 34 S.C. 120, 13 S.E. 319 (1891), overruled on other grounds by State v. Torrence, 406 S.E.2d 315 (S.C.1991).

To constitute suicide at common law, however, a person who takes his own life "must be of years of discretion, and in his *865 senses." 5 William Blackstone, Commentaries *189; accord Plunkett v. Supreme Conclave, 105 Va. 643, 646, 55 S.E. 9, 10 (1906) ("`To constitute suicide at common law the person must be of years of discretion and of sound mind.'"). This common law rule comports with a contemporary definition of suicide. Suicide is defined as "the deliberate and intentional destruction of his own life by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2286 (1981).

I believe that the "only one legislative enactment" refers merely to Virginia state law, not nation-wide law.

Thus, in Virginia, and other states, suicide could be treated as a common-law crime. However, in United States v. Hudson, it was ruled that such common-law convictions are not allowed at the federal level. I'm not always a fan of Google Answers, but the last one here provides a fairly well-documented section on common-law rulings about suicide. Note that in many states, this is not enforced, as common-law rulings are increasingly rare.

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    The question of which states still have common law crimes is an interesting one (beyond my knowledge) that probably deserves its own question. Wikipedia supports your description of the situation in the U.S. (i.e. that there is state by state variation on that point). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law_offence As of 1947, only 18 states had abolished common law crimes, jstor.org/stable/1118102?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents but many more have done so since then with the 1970s and early 1980s being a particularly common tie to do so.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 19:56
  • Who would be the wronged party in such a case? Society?
    – phk
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 23:17

The question of who would be wronged party is easy, either nobody (state) or any person who feels the choices directly affected them. If say your mother plans on you out living her, or your wife/husband plans on growing old together. Those moments are taken from them and thus are lost forever. But in the case of a suicide there would be no defendant for a successful attempt.

I suppose I find it interesting to note that these who are wronged could also be anybody financially burdened. Stay at home spouses are forced back two the workforce, a company could have paid a lot of money getting you trained for a position just to have it open suddenly and without warning. Or your elderly parent/s live in a nursing home you provide money for... Now the money is gone.

I don't actually know anything about this subject, I heard a suicide referred to as a crime on television and got curious as to the legality of suicide...

  • 5
    None of this has any relevance to the legality of suicide, except for the point where you exply a total lack of knowledge about it.
    – user4657
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 6:18

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