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In South African law, neither suicide nor attempted
suicide is viewed as a crime. When the conduct of an ‘instigator’ is related to
the death of the deceased, his actions may be viewed as criminal. Thus, when a
person instigates, assists or puts another person in the position to commit
suicide, he may be criminally liable for culpable homicide, or even murder. The
courts vary in their judgments, but it is commonly accepted that if a person’s
death is the cause of his own voluntary and independent actions, aiding and
abetting that person is not seen as an offense (S v Gordon). But where a
person’s actions are seen as reckless and the deceased death is occasioned by
the defendant’s conduct in that he had the necessary intention of putting the
deceased in the position of committing suicide, then he may be charged with
murder with extenuating circumstances (S v Hibbert)

It is accepted that in most cases in South Africa the
‘instigator’ aids the ‘victim’ to commit suicide, by not only being present
when the act is committed but also supplying the means – pills, weapons, etc. –
to commit the act. The question, which is the essence of this dissertation,
then arises – what happens when a person commits suicide not by his own
voluntary and independent actions, but rather because of the encouragement of
another – who is not present at the time and who does not supply any
instruments which are used to commit suicide.

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In the United States, in the case of Commonwealth v
Carter, this exact issue was raised. On the morning of 13 July. 2014
eighteen-year-old Conrad Roy was found dead in his pick-up truck, the cause of
death: suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning using a combustion engine. On 6 February
2015, Michelle Carter was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter,
after she, according to the police investigation, encouraged the victim to
commit suicide via text-message. This case was the first of its sort because
the defendant was indicted on the basis of words alone – the defendant wasn’t
physically present at the time of the victim’s suicide, neither did she provide
the instrument used for the suicide.

The purpose of this dissertation will be to categorize
the act of encouraging suicide, via text-message in South African law using
international sources, from especially the United States and the United Kingdom.

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