By Michael Cook
Such is the stigma surrounding suicide that advocates of “voluntary assisted dying” [VAD] insist vehemently that it is by no means suicide.
For instance, Go Gentle Australia, a leading lobby group for VAD, explains in its website’s FAQ that:
“People seeking voluntary assisted dying are not suicidal; they don’t want to die but are dying of a terminal illness and simply want to control how and when it happens and how much they need to suffer at the end. Australian laws expressly state that voluntary assisted dying is not suicide.”
In Australia, this is more than a quibble over words. In 2005 the Federal government amended the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. It introduced two sections which criminalized counselling or instructing people about suicide over “carriage services”, which included communication over telephones and the internet.
It had good reason to do so. Access to the internet was growing and young people were being bullied or coaxed into killing themselves in internet chatrooms. Introducing the bill at the time, the Attorney-General explained that “internet chat room discussions have led to a person attempting suicide, and sometimes successfully. This research points to evidence that vulnerable individuals were compelled so strongly by others to take their own lives that they felt to back out or seek help would involve losing face.”
Chatrooms in Japan were particularly gruesome. In 2003, NBC News reported that strangers were organizing suicide pacts over the internet. In one shocking case, four young men, all strangers, met to gas themselves in a car overlooking Mount Fuji.
Furthermore, Dr. Philip Nitschke, an Australian assisted suicide promoter and facilitator, began providing information about suicide techniques over the internet. At the time, the changes were even dubbed “the Nitschke amendment”.
The dangers have, if anything, increased.
Earlier this year a Canadian man, Kenneth Law, was arrested after a newspaper investigation disclosed that he had allegedly mailed more than 1,200 suicide kits to people who contacted him on now-defunct websites with names like “Imtime Cuisine” and “Escape Mode”. He has been linked to more than 120 deaths across the globe.
However, now that all of Australia’s states have legalized VAD, the Federal criminal code has become, in the words of advocates, a barrier to access, because it equates VAD with suicide. People in rural areas who want to access VAD may not be able to find a cooperative doctor. For other medical consultations, they would be able to speak over the phone with a specialist.
But for VAD, such a consultation would be a crime. It purportedly causes “delay and hardship for patients” who want to die..
Editor’s note. This appeared at MercatorNet and is reposted with permission.