The mother of Conrad Roy III, a Mattapoisett teenager who took his own life at his girlfriend’s direction, spoke Wednesday in support of a newly filed bill that would make it a crime to coerce someone into committing suicide.
Roy died in July 2014 after his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, pressured him through text messages and phone calls to carry out his suicide. At a State House news conference, his mother, Lynn Roy, said she was honored to support the legislation, called “Conrad’s Law.”
“Before my son passed, I was excited about so much,” she said. Still, she had never said “I’m friggin’ excited” about anything until she learned the anti-suicide measure was moving forward.
“My heart is so full,” she said. “And I’m so proud of my son.”
In 2017, Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Roy’s death. Earlier this month, Carter’s lawyers petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the case. Her communications with Roy “did not constitute speech that was ‘an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute,’ ” the motion stated.
State Senator Barry Finegold and Representative Natalie Higgins, who are sponsoring the legislation, said Massachusetts is one of just 10 states without a law against suicide coercion. Finegold said that Conrad’s death, as well as that of Anna Aslanian, a 16-year-old Lowell High student who died by suicide in 2018 after years of being bullied, revealed a gap in Massachusetts law.
“We believe this law is a better way to address such scenarios than by using the charge of manslaughter, which can create a very slippery slope,” Finegold said. “We believe that this bill, and hopefully someday this law, will ultimately save lives.”
Northeastern University criminal law and justice professor Daniel Medwed, who helped draft the bill, said in a statement that his “concern from the outset of the Michelle Carter prosecution was that manslaughter is an ill-fitting suit draped over these types of cases in Massachusetts, and that a targeted, limited statute covering coerced suicide like the one we have drafted is more suitable.”
The bill would target those who coerce others into committing or attempting to commit suicide, with punishment of up to five years in prison. The bill specifies its provisions do not apply to physician-assisted suicide.
Finegold, a father of teenagers, says he shares many parents’ concerns about the growing epidemic of teen suicide.
“I see on a daily basis how influential young people can be on each other’s mental health,” he said. “This is especially true now that our children are moving through life with their cellphones basically attached to their bodies.”
From 2000 to 2017, the suicide rate rose by 47 percent among teens age 15 to 19 and 36 percent among those 20 to 24, according to a Harvard Medical School study.
“We need to make sure that everyone in our community knows that you cannot coerce someone into committing suicide,” Higgins said. “That you need to connect them with the resources, that you need to help them get the support that they need.”
Roy’s father, Conrad Roy Jr., said he hopes “this bill helps save some lives and just puts some more awareness out there about suicide and about bullying.” Lynn Roy said that “Conrad’s Law has nothing to do with seeking justice for my son.”
“This law has everything to do with preventing this from happening again to others who are struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation,” she said. “If this law is successful in saving one life, then all of this work will be clearly worth it.”