Australian Federal Court rules that assisted suicide is suicide under the criminal code

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Natassia Chrysanthos reported for the Sydney Morning Herald on November 30, 2023 that Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham ruled that:

voluntary assisted dying was considered suicide under the code, which means doctors could be charged under laws that prohibit using a carriage service – such as telehealth, email or phone calls – to incite or provide information about suicide.

The landmark decision means that doctors who approve assisted via telehealth or by any other carriage service can be charged under the federal law for inciting or providing information about suicide.

Chrysanthos reported that Nick Carr, a Melbourne doctor who brought the case to the federal court argued that

the term suicide should not apply to voluntary assisted dying because the latter involved a legal right to intentionally take one’s life that was regulated by law.

The court disagreed and ruled that

suicide, as used in the criminal code, applied to ending a person’s life under state voluntary assisted dying laws – meaning that doctors who consulted patients about euthanasia over the phone, email or telehealth were breaking the law, even if those actions had been authorised under state legislation.

Chrysanthos reported that a Victoria government spokesperson and the Queensland Attorney-General stated their intention of changing the law. Federal Independent MP, Kate Cheney announced that she will be introducing a Private Members bill to amend Australia’s suicide Act.

Australia’s Suicide Act was amended to prevent suicide information sharing via a carriage service in order to stop Philip Nitschke from providing information and suicide advice.

Australia’s federal court made the correct decision. Whether someone is counselling assisted suicide or suicide for other reasons, the act is the same.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.