Imagine a sociopath (let's call him A) and has his fun by playing with depressive people, especially B.

One day, B asks A if he can obtain potassium cyanide capsules for commiting suicide. A replies that yes, indeed he can get those, and a few days later he gives him crushed tictacs inside a digestible capsule. B goes into the basement of the place where A and B met, and takes the pill in good faith of dying from it.

Meanwhile, A and some friends of A are upstairs and are laughing, while B sits in the basement and waits hours until the pill works.

The pill was delivered freely, without any money or other goods or services or anything like that involved.

This is morally reprehensible of course, but is this illegal in any way? I'd be interested especially in Germanys law, but laws of other countries would be interesting too.

This is neither murder nor manslaughter as A does not kill B (or even really harm him), and also (at least in Germany) suicididal tendencies are not illegal.

How would this be prosecuted?

  • 2
    Cynical, but legally not impossible angle: fraud for intentionally delivering not what was agreed (tictacs instead of cyanide).
    – Greendrake
    Sep 29 '20 at 12:40
  • Gets A money (or something else) from B for delivering the "potassium cyanide"?
    – K-HB
    Sep 29 '20 at 15:03
  • 1
    Might be illegal under good samaritan statutes. Some jurisdictions require you to seek law enforcement or medical help if you know someone is attempting suicide.
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 29 '20 at 19:09
  • @K-HB: No money or anything else like that is involved.
    – NMZSFan
    Sep 30 '20 at 11:42

Most states have a low barring the distribution of counterfeit drugs, which this would appear to violate. For example, the Colorado Imitation and Counterfeit Controlled Substances Act, codified at Sections 18-18-419 to 18-18-424, Colorado Revised Statutes, makes it a minor drug felony (class 4) to distribute an imitation controlled substance which is "a substance that is not the controlled substance that it is purported to be but which, by appearance, including color, shape, size, and markings, by representations made, and by consideration of all relevant factors as set forth in section 18-18-421, would lead a reasonable person to believe that the substance is the controlled substance that it is purported to be." It already contains a placebo exception for medical professionals stating that it "shall not apply to practitioners licensed, registered, or otherwise authorized under the laws of this state to possess, administer, dispense, or distribute a controlled substance, if the distribution, possession, dispensing, or administering of the imitation controlled substance is done in the lawful course of his professional practice."

But there is an argument that the intended purposes of the use of the counterfeit rather than the real thing was to prevent a suicide, and that doing so had that effect, which might excuse the crime. The fact that B initiated the conversation by asking A and might have successfully obtained the drug if he asked someone else makes this defense particularly plausible. People who fail to commit suicide do not statistically just try again by another method, suicide is an impulsive action that if prevented is not nearly as likely to recur if someone fails to do so by one particular method.

Colorado expressly allows the use of physical force to prevent a suicide. "A person acting under a reasonable belief that another person is about to commit suicide or to inflict serious bodily injury upon himself may use reasonable and appropriate physical force upon that person to the extent that it is reasonably necessary to thwart the result." Section 18-1-703(1)(d), Colorado Revised Statutes. This isn't actually a use for physical force, but it informs the application of the "choice of evils" defense, codified at Section 18-1-702, Colorado Revised Statutes in Colorado, which provides (with nuances not reproduced here) that:

conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when it is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no conduct of the actor, and which is of sufficient gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding the injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue.

It isn't obviously immoral either (for the same reasons), although one could make a case that the "victim" could bring the tort of outrageous conduct a.k.a. intentional infliction of emotional distress, against the person causing it, although again, the question would be what were the damages and was it justified. The tort remedy is a better fit as it is often used in cases of "pranks" calculated to cause extreme emotional distress as this one apparently was. The intent of the "victim" to commit suicide might also constitute "unclean hands" barring a tort recovery in this situation in tort law if asserted by person A.


RCW 9A.36.060 makes it a crime in Washington to knowingly aid a suicide attempt. It is not required that the attempt succeed or be likely to cause death. The crime is not defIned in terms of intent.

  • 4
    But ... that shouldn't count as an aid, does it? Sep 29 '20 at 20:24
  • The law doesn't say whether the action has to be likely to achieve the end. So it depends on what the jurors think constitutes "aid"
    – user6726
    Sep 30 '20 at 0:25
  • 3
    @user6726 this makes it sound like giving someone a water pistol could be charged as knowingly aiding a suicide if someone indicates that they want to shoot themselves. I don't think this would get as far as a jury trial. But I am not sure why. A good answer would explain it better. I have to downvote.
    – grovkin
    Sep 30 '20 at 8:49
  • @user6726 having thought about it, this should fail on evidentiary hearing. There is no evidence here that the actions of the accused could result in a suicide of the "victim." Your argument is only valid if the actions could be, but would be unlikely to be, the direct cause of a successful suicide attempt. But there is no evidence that these actions could be the direct cause of a suicide even with a low probability.
    – grovkin
    Oct 1 '20 at 12:22
  • Moreover, asking the jurors to interpret the meaning of "aid" would amount to asking the jury to interpret the law rather than decide on facts.
    – grovkin
    Oct 1 '20 at 12:37

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