Keefer, family of suicide victim push for bill upping penalties on aiding suicide

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Jackie Bieber, the mother of Shawn  Shatto, who in May killed herself after receiving advice from an online forum. Surrounded by lawmakers and law officials, Bieber on Thursday advocated for a bill proposed by Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township.

A member of an online "pro choice" suicide forum messaged Jackie Bieber earlier this year asking if her daughter's suicide went smoothly. Now she's advocating for legislation that would ramp up penalties for such individuals.

State Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township, on Thursday introduced legislation that would provide for sentencing enhancements for individuals who cause or aid suicide if the victim is 18 years old or younger or has an intellectual disability.

Those criteria may have not applied to Shawn Shatto, Bieber's 25-year-old daughter who in May killed herself after receiving advice from an online forum. But at a Thursday news conference at the state Capitol, Bieber said she hopes this bill ignites conversation and awareness about online forums assisting people planning a suicide. 

"These website members are evil," Bieber said. "They are murderers who gain joy and satisfaction from the death of others. ... The people on the website took Shawn's hopes away. But we need to show people who need help that there is hope." 

More:Police probing 'pro-choice' suicide forum after Newberry Twp. woman's death

Under the state's Crimes Code, intentionally causing or aiding suicide is a second-degree felony if the individual intentionally aids or solicits the victim to commit suicide.

In other cases, the offense is considered a second-degree misdemeanor. Causing another person to commit suicide by force is criminal homicide. 

"These penalties are nowhere near harsh enough," Keefer said. "Our justice system must be given more tools to combat this evil, and we need to start with harsher sentencing.”

With the sentencing enhancements proposed under "Shawn's Law," causing or aiding suicide would likely lead to felony charges becoming more common as well as higher-level state incarceration, said Tim Barker of the York County District Attorney's Office. 

Bieber and Keefer on Thursday both urged the state to provide more aid for mental health services and do all it can to raise awareness both for suicide and for the individuals who encourage it.

The website that provided advice for Shatto to kill herself is under investigation by the Newberry Township police. The York Dispatch has chosen not to disclose its name.

On that forum, Shatto found a method to take her own life using an easily obtainable substance, said Chief Steven Lutz. The forum has since scrubbed all mentions of Shatto and added disclaimers to the site. 

If you feel suicidal, or know someone who might, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's toll-free hotline, 800-273-8255. Or visit the organization's website at for more information.

Contributions in Shatto's memory may be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.