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NSW Witnessing a Suicide - Laws?

Discussion in 'Criminal Law Forum' started by ctried, 11 February 2015.

  1. ctried

    ctried Member

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    Hello,

    Can somebody please tell me what the law is regarding a situation where somebody might witness a suicide or obvious preparation for a suicide - specifically in terms of whether or not they have any obligation to interfere with the suicidal person's actions, whether or not they are obligated to actively attempt to discourage the person, or whether or not they are obligated to summon the authorities to interfere with the person's attempt?

    Also can you tell me if there are any legal obligations for a person to interfere with a suicidal person if that person tells them in no uncertain terms that they intend to commit suicide?

    For example, say I am walking down the street and I see someone either in the midst of a suicide attempt or performing actions that are unmistakably the preparations for a suicide attempt. Am I aloud to simply go about my business and leave the stranger to their own devices, or does the mere fact that I am aware of a suicide in progress, with the opportunity to interfere with it legally obligate me to do so?

    Another example: Say I am on the phone or in an internet chat room with someone whom I know and whose location I can identify. This person tells me "I am going to kill myself now" and I believe they are sincere. Am I obligated to inform the authorities immediately about the statement so they can stop the suicidal person, or am I aloud to leave the matter be?

    I apologize for the vaguery of my examples but I know that posts on the internet that go into detail about suicide are prone to being censored, so rather then risk having my question removed, I'll simply be vague.
     
  2. Sophea

    Sophea Well-Known Member

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    Hi ctried,

    Most Australian states have criminal laws which make it an offence to aid, abet or incite a suicide. They also allow a person to use reasonable force in order to prevent a suicide. Also since the law making suicide an offence has been abolished in most places, you cannot be prosecuted for conspiring to commit a crime or failing to inform authorities re: planned commission of a crime.

    People in situations of authority such as parents, doctors and other health care professionals may have a higher duty to prevent a suicide when they encounter it in progress or preparation, however I don't know of any specific laws that are in place in this respect.
     
  3. John R

    John R Well-Known Member

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    Interesting question @ctried
    I agree with @Sophea in my understanding that:
    1. it is only an offence in NSW under Part 3, Division 5 (specifically, section 31C) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) to aid or abet the suicide of another person (in its simplest form, "aid and abet" means to "assist");
    2. any action to prevent another person from committing suicide is more of an ethical and moral issue than a legal issue. SuicideLine has some good information on what to do in an emergency and Lifeline has comprehensive information on Preventing Suicide that you may review.
    Hope this helps.
     
  4. ctried

    ctried Member

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    Thank you both. :)
    That actually addresses a couple of related questions I've been wondering about since starting this thread:

    1. Is a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or other healthcare worker obligated to have a patient committed to an asylum (or whatever their called these days) if they are very confidant that the patient has an immediate intent to commit suicide, even if there are no other mental health concerns that would justify confinement?
    2. Is an intention to commit suicide, by itself, enough justification to involuntarily commit someone?

    Hmm... The confusing thing about these pages is that they instruct the reader to do what they can (without putting themselves at risk) to prevent a suicide, without explicitly stating whether this duty to prevent the suicide is imposed by the law or simply by the ethics of the organization hosting the webpage. My guess would be, as you suggest, that it's the latter.

    Perhaps I should clarify, incase anyone is concerned: I started this thread for academic reasons, not in relation to any actual situation I find myself in.
     

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