I would bet that most people think that suicide is illegal in the United States, except in states like Oregon that have explicitly legalized physician-assisted suicide. If you get up on a bridge and are trying to commit suicide, you can be stopped. If someone comes upon you in private in the act of committing suicide, he's allowed to stop you. I would be astonished if anyone has ever been sued for, say, grabbing the gun out of the hand of a person about to commit suicide with it.
However, Wesley J. Smith pointed out to me long ago in comments on a post of his (I don't have the link but am going by memory) that suicide was decriminalized in the U.S. quite a while ago and is instead treated as a mental health matter. La Wik agrees with this and gives details.
As I understand it, it works roughly like this: If you try to commit suicide you are in many jurisdictions regarded prima facie as doing something that indicates mental instability, and this is why you can be stopped. Something along those lines. But it's a legal grey area, since it isn't technically illegal.
I hate to give people ideas, but why hasn't the Hemlock Society tried to get some sort of test case in which "Rationally Suicidal" Son civilly sues Dear Old Dad for tort and theft for grabbing RSS's helium thingy or pack of horded sleeping pills and making off with them?
Now it seems that the chickens may be coming home to roost. Whatever the rationale for decriminalizing suicide in the first place, the effect of it in Georgia seems to be that the State of Georgia cannot make a law against advertising assisted suicide. Oddly, according to this story, the judges held that Georgia lawmakers could have criminalized assisted suicide itself, and this might have given them some minimal purchase toward punishing advertisement for assisted suicide. More oddly still, as summarized, the court implied that they could punish advertisement for assisted suicide even in that case only if followed up by the act of actually assisting. Really? Try applying this to some other criminal activity. If I advertise hit-man services, can my advertisement be outlawed only if it's proven that I actually got customers from the advertisement and bumped somebody off? Seems implausible. But we'll set that aside for the moment. The core point here is that the Georgia Supremes said that the state lawmakers couldn't do anything to outlaw assisted suicide advertising under the current circumstances. In fact, according to the court, they are contravening the death-dealers' constitutional rights of free speech, unless they outlaw assisted suicide itself. Moreover, the judges worded part of their argument thus (emphasis added):
The State has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity is sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights.
Note that as this is worded, the "otherwise legal activity" is not assisted suicide but suicide. If the "otherwise legal activity" were assisted suicide, the "assist in" phrase would be redundant and confused. I suppose judges can say redundant and confused things, but this quote on its face appears to be saying that one reason Georgia lawmakers can't outlaw advertisement for assisted suicide is because suicide itself is legal in Georgia.
That the court then held out the option of outlawing assisted suicide is a little strange. After all, when we say that baking a chocolate cake is perfectly legal in America, we usually assume that that entails that no one can outlaw assisting in baking a chocolate cake. (The calorie Nazis haven't got that much power yet.) How can it be unconstitutional, on the grounds that suicide is legal, to outlaw advertising for assisted suicide but not be unconstitutional on the same grounds to outlaw assisting in suicide, especially if the assistance takes the form of sitting there and instructing the would-be suicide in how to put on the helium mask, which would be "speech"?
I suppose we pro-lifers should be pleased that outlawing assisted suicide itself hasn't been declared unconstitutional in Georgia and that Georgia retains that option and hopefully then can also do something to restrain the suicide tourism industry of Hemlock & Co. Georgia legislators should get on the stick and do just that.
But there is something convoluted and unconvincing about the court's reasoning as given. And it seems to me that the contortion arises in part from the legally ambiguous nature of suicide itself--not illegal, but you can outlaw helping people to do it. Not illegal, but you can stop people from doing it. Not illegal, but in some jurisdictions you can be involuntarily committed for trying to do it. The court seems to be blandly taking, up to a point, the naive understanding of "not illegal" to mean, "How can you possibly criminalize advertising assistance in this?" That they don't take the further step to, "How can you possibly criminalize assisting in this?" is something we may be grateful for, but the first step is disturbing.
I don't know how many pro-lifers know that suicide itself has been placed into this legally grey area long ago, but it may be time to reconsider any support we have given to that ambiguous situation, before the courts start applying the logic of "suicide is legal" more consistently.