Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Suicide Wisperer: The Fate of Michelle Carter

All last week I read the articles online about the trial of Michelle Carter, the girl accused of coaxing her boyfriend Conrad Roy to commit suicide via text messages. When I first learned of this case, I was sickened. I could not believe that anyone could be so devoid of compassion, and morals.


Carter and Roy met while each of their families were vacationing in 2012. They were both in their early teens at the time. Both suffered from depression and anxiety, both had suicidal tendencies, and both were under the care of doctors. It was the darkest of Romeo and Juliet adaptations.

Roy communicated his thoughts about suicide, and had apparently had previous attempts. Ultimately he chose to go through with it. He drove his truck to a Kmart parking lot, rigged a hose to direct the exhaust to the cab, and succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carter urged him to go through with it via text messages, up to and including ordering him back into his vehicle when he got scared and had second thoughts. Then she listened to him die on her cell phone, and did nothing to help. The text transcripts in the case clearly show she was manipulating him, persuading him to go through with it.


At this point in time, there is no legal precedent for the case (if I'm using that term correctly). Michelle Carter was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. She faces up to 20 years in prison. But the thing that will have the prestigious law academies of the land debating for decades is that this kind of thing has never happened before, and that makes the case extremely controversial. How does one murder with words? The judge had to consider such factors as intent, proximity and of course, mental state.

If I were to shoot you,, and kill you, that's murder. If I were to threaten you with murder, regardless if I carry out my actions, that's a threat of violence, and is a also a crime. But If I simply tell you to kill yourself, persuade you, sell you on the lack of value of your life, should that carry a penalty?

What if I were to convince a child with developmental disabilities to steal? What if I were to say, urge a mother of a lost child to murder someone under suspicion that they are somehow involved.

Do you see what I'm getting at? It's called duress, and every person handles it differently. The reports all led me to believe that there was a modicum of duress involved. It became apparent to me that Roy believed Carter was trying to help him, as if this was some kind of merciful assisted suicide. Someone suffering from that kind of intense, profound mental illness could not possibly have been equipped to deal with that kind of manipulation, which begs the question:  Was Carter really trying to help or was she seeking the attention of others; the grieving widow theory.


Recently in another article I came up with a metaphor for the steps one would take to commit suicide, that it is akin to a dark room with one door you enter from, and one that leads to your death. But the more I thought about it, the more refined the metaphor became. Eventually I fell on my fondness for science fiction. I recalled a movie called Event Horizon. More of a horror movie, there is a scene in which one of the characters, (Justin) attempts suicide by flushing himself out of an airlock. He seems to be under some kind of a trance from a recent trauma. He enters the airlock, locks the inner door, then begins the sequence to open the outer door. Just after he has punched in the required code and the countdown begins, he comes to. He and the rest of the crew realize the crisis on their hands and clamor to save him.

The classic air lock disaster is a fundamental scene in many science fiction movies. Sometimes a character accidentally gets locked in the airlock, but through rational thoughts and actions, and a little help from his peers, he is able to prevent the outer door from opening; he is able to get out.

Applying the metaphor to suicide, the person suffering is not rational, not logical. There is a certain detachment that occurs when you reach that level of hopelessness. Your thoughts don't make sense. How could the lives of your loved ones possibly improve by killing yourself? How could your life possibly improve. The further you get to actually taking action, the more twisted and dark reality becomes, and your inner self rots to the core, like an all-consuming cancer. In this state, you are much more likely to breach the outer door of the airlock.

Conrad Roy was in the airlock. He was detached from reality, vulnerable. At one point he tried to back out; he tried to open the inner door and get out of the airlock. But Michelle Carter descended upon him like a predator. I believe she saw this as an opportunity to bring attention to herself. She used a dark logic, a twisted rationale to convince him that he was doing the right thing. Therein lies the crime.

Maybe not everyone agrees with me, but suicide is serious. When you have a friend who is going through that much pain, you have an obligation to help or get help. That of course is my opinion, but it falls under "love your neighbor," and a philanthropic sense to help those in need. I guess I always thought it was a basic human tenet. What does that say about our culture that someone could work so hard to convince someone to bring harm upon themselves?


The verdict is in. Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter last week, although I don't know how "involuntary" it was. Along with the sentence the judge hands down to her, she now faces her own sentence, the penance of her actions, and our courts face setting a new precedent for murder. Well done Ms. Carter, you got attention from all over the world and a dead boyfriend. Bravo. Will it ever end?