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Opening Arguments

Her son's keeper?

This is a strange case:

An Indiana woman whose 16-year-old son committed suicide in July is accused of driving him to take his own life because he lived in constant fear her drug addiction would lead her to a fatal overdose, court documents state.

Sabrina A. Howard, 40, of Muncie, was arrested Monday on preliminary charges of causing suicide and neglect in the death of her son, who died of an overdose of prescription medication. She has not yet been formally charged but was being held without bond Tuesday at the Delaware County Jail.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Howard found her son, Charles, unresponsive on a couch in their home on July 10. He died the next day, and his death was ruled a suicide attributed to high levels of prescription medications.

Relatives told police that Howard was a morphine addict and her son "was in great duress" from confronting her over her addiction and his fear that she might overdose, the affidavit says. Charles Howard threatened to kill himself in January, the affidavit states, but Howard told officers she ignored medical advice to sign him into a treatment center because he "didn't want to go."

Doesn't this arrest go just a tad too far in holding one person accountable for another's actions? We can all think of examples in which a plausible case can be made to hold someone at least partially responsible for another's suicide. Assisting in a suicide is one example. Bullying someone into suicide is another. But personal behavior that scares someone else? How far down that road do we want to go?

The case was brought under what the news stories all call a "little used" 1976 law criminalizing "causing suicide, which as written applies to "a person who intentionally causes another human being, by force, duress, or deception, to commit suicide." Did her obbvious callous disregard for her son amount to intent? Seems like a tough case to make. No wonder the law is "little used."