Suicide – A mixture of legal concepts

As people live decades longer, and death processes slow from hours to years because of changes in the way we die, the subject of suicide comes up more and more in elder law practice.  In general, A person is justified in using force, but not deadly force, against another when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent the other from committing suicide or inflicting serious bodily injury to himself.  Texas Penal Code Section 9.34. This follows the general Judeo-Christian tradition that suicide is a sin.  Thus, many laws prohibit or discourage suicide.

But, Texas has numerous laws, outside of funding agencies to help prevent suicides, that deal with the topic and that can affect an elderly person who feels their time has come but their body is simply not cooperating with the departure plan.

Section 23 of the Texas Bill of Rights reads as follows:  No conviction shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture of estate, and the estates of those who destroy their own lives shall descend or vest as in case of natural death.  So, too, Section 201.061 of the Estates Code in Texas provides that the estate of a person who commits suicide descends or vests as if the person died a natural death.

The law forbids assisting another to commit suicide. Sec. 22.08 of the Penal Code entitled,  AIDING SUICIDE, provides: (a) A person commits an offense if, with intent to promote or assist the commission of suicide by another, he aids or attempts to aid the other to commit or attempt to commit suicide.  (b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor unless the actor’s conduct causes suicide or attempted suicide that results in serious bodily injury, in which event the offense is a state jail felony.

But, under the Health and Safety Code provisions on Advance Directives (Living Wills) Sec. 166.096: A person does not commit an offense under Section 22.08, Penal Code, by withholding cardiopulmonary resuscitation or certain other life-sustaining treatment designated by department rule from a person in accordance with this subchapter.

Interestingly, the fact that a suicide occurred in a residence must be disclosed by a Realtor.  Section 1101.556 of the Occupations Code. The real problem illustrated by these laws is that society just does not have a solid history of dealing with people who have lived well beyond the ability of their own bodies to sustain them unaided by technology and there is a huge industry with a vested interest in making sure that elderly people who need care live IN CARE as long as possible.  Since most people born after 1940 will pass away in a long term care facility or hospital, considering whether to plan for long term care, in light of the laws above, it is very unwise to just conclude that long term care won’t happen in your life.

This article is written by an attorney at Attorney Donald Wyatt, PC. Always consult an attorney before making any legal decisions. To make an appointment today for a free consultation, please click here to contact us.