Utah lawmaker pushes to criminalize assisted suicide

Published on January 08, 2018 at 08:32AM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah state lawmaker wants to specifically outlaw assisted suicide after a man was accused of helping a teenager kill herself and filming the act.

The case brought to light what State Rep. Michael McKell called potential flaws in state law. He’s sponsoring a bill that would amend the statute on manslaughter to include assisted suicide, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

The change would mean that a person could be convicted of a second-degree felony if prosecutors prove that person provided the means for someone to perform the act.

The crime would be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The Republican lawmaker said his proposed bill stemmed from the case of Tyerell Przybycien. Prosecutors filed a murder charge against Przybycien, but McKell worries authorities could be stymied in future cases without clear assisted-suicide laws.

“We need to make sure we empower prosecutors to have the tools necessary to seek justice in an appropriate way,” McKell said.

Przybycien, 18, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a dead body. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

Przybycien is accused of assisting in the 16-year-old girl’s suicide near Maple Lake in Spanish Fork Canyon. Prosecutors said Przybycien bought the rope, tied the noose and filmed the death on a cellphone.

Prosecutors have argued that the girl likely would not have killed herself without the assistance from Przybycien.

According to court documents, Przybycien’s attorneys have argued that the girl could have changed her mind at any time and ultimately made the decision herself.

If the McKell’s bill becomes law, it would not retroactively apply to Przybycien’s case.

Even if Utah law included a statute on assisted suicide, Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander said Przybycien probably would not have been charged differently.

Under the facts of the case, Grunander said prosecutors believe a murder charge is warranted. However, having language about assisted suicides on the books would provide prosecutors another tool to use when making charging decisions, he said.

McKell told The Associated Press the plan isn’t aimed at terminal ill people who want to end their lives on their own terms, though he acknowledged there could be some overlap.

As a “death with dignity” movement gained steam in the U.S., the Utah Legislature has considered allowing the terminally ill to end their own lives, though the idea hasn’t gotten significant traction.

McKell said he doesn’t take a stance on the death with dignity issue. His proposal now excludes people who obey patient do-not-resuscitate orders and he said he would be open to possible revisions.