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Accepting assisted suicide as 'rational' endangers suicidal people - 26 May 2004

The assertion by a Supreme Court Justice that a case of assisted suicide was 'rational', 'soundly based' and justified as a 'last resort' puts suicidal people in danger. Suicidal people need help rather than a lethal cocktail, said spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, Mary Joseph.

Tasmanian Supreme Court Justice Peter Underwood made the comments today when giving John Godfrey a 12-month suspended sentence for assisting the suicide of his mother, Elizabeth Godfrey.

"Elizabeth Godfrey's case was a sad one of chronic illness and despair leading to her becoming suicidal. She had attempted suicide on two occasions before her death", Ms Joseph said.

"But her suicide was not a last resort. Doctors had recommended that she receive 24-hour care in a nursing home to address her symptoms.

"Mrs Godfrey was not terminally ill. It is not clear whether Mrs Godfrey was suffering from clinical depression. Chronic illness is commonly associated with clinical depression.

"Justice Underwood's suggestion that assisting a suicide can be rational and have some justification as an act of last resort undermines the protection of the law for vulnerable suicidal people. It says that sometimes people's lives are no longer of value and can rationally be extinguished with assistance a dangerous notion.

"Justice Underwood's comment that love and compassion motivated Mr Godfrey raises the question of whether other lethal crimes of passion can be excused.

"Mr Godfrey was under great stress as Mrs Godfrey's carer and he obviously needed more support. But a response based on compassion and love would have rejected Elizabeth Godfrey's suicidal demands and provided her with the option of the best possible palliative care. It would have insisted on telling her of the value and worth of her life not acquiesced to her suicidal despair."

Contact:    Mary Joseph, spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, telephone 02 6253 3100