William F. Melchert-Dinkel, 47, of Faribault, Minn., is charged with two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly posing in online chat rooms as a female nurse and encouraging suicidal people to end their lives. The case raises thorny issues, says the New York Times. Many states have laws barring assisting suicide, but rarely have cases involved people not in the same room or the sharing of only words. The case also brings up questions about the limits of speech on the Internet: How culpable is someone who shares thoughts with people who say they are already considering suicide?
Melchert-Dinkel told investigators that his interest in “death and suicide could be considered an obsession,” court documents say, and that he sought the “thrill of the chase.” While the charges stem from two deaths – one in Britain in 2005 and one in Canada in 2008 – Melchert-Dinkel, a licensed practical nurse, told investigators that he had most likely encouraged dozens of people to kill themselves, court documents said. He said he could not be sure how many had succeeded. Groups that work to prevent suicide note a trend in the use of suicide discussion rooms online. A charity in Britain that works to stop young people from killing themselves says it has tracked 39 cases in that country alone where young people committed suicide after visits to “pro-suicide” chat rooms.