Wife counselled to commit suicide
On Friday 2 October 2018 a Queensland Supreme Court jury found Graham Morant guilty on two charges: counselling his wife, Jenny Morant, to kill herself and thereby inducing her to do so; and aiding her suicide. It appears that Mr Morant professed a belief in an imminent rapture and the battle of Armageddon. He persuaded his wife to take out insurance policies worth $1.4 million with Morant as the sole beneficiary. He counselled her that she was not personally strong enough to handle the coming trials but that by killing herself she could help others in the church by providing him with the insurance money which he would use to purchase land for a safe refuge for the believers.
Putting aside the particular features of this case, it shows the importance of an absolute prohibition, with serious penalties, on counselling someone to kill themselves – putting into their minds that they would be better off dead and that to commit suicide would be a good, wise and even noble act.
California used to have such an absolute prohibition.
Until 5 September 2018 section 401 of its Penal Code provided that:
Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony.
Since 5 September 2018 this absolute prohibition has been eroded by an exception.
Section 401 now reads:
(a) Any person who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony.
(b) A person whose actions are compliant with the provisions of the End of Life Option Act (Part 1.85 (commencing with Section 443) of Division 1 of the Health and Safety Code) shall not be prosecuted under this section.
California’s End of Life Option Act facilitates the request and ingestion of lethal substances in order to commit suicide. It is available for anyone who is said to have “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months”.
Section 443.17 of the End of Life Option Act does provides that:
Knowingly coercing or exerting undue influence on an individual to request or ingest an aid-in-dying drug for the purpose of ending his or her life or to destroy a withdrawal or rescission of a request, or to administer an aid-in-dying drug to an individual without his or her knowledge or consent, is punishable as a felony.
There is a significant gap between “knowingly coercing or exerting undue influence” and deliberately advising, or encouraging a person to commit suicide.
This change to California’s Penal Code makes it lawful for a person to deliberately advise and encourage a person to request and/or subsequently to ingest a lethal substance in order to kill herself, provided only that the intensity or manner of the advising and encouragement falls just short of “knowingly coercing or exerting undue influence”.
An impatient heir – or beneficiary of a life insurance policy like Graham Morant - could almost certainly get away with repeatedly and persuasively suggesting that the person make a request for a lethal substance or later, having been supplied with the lethal substance, to take it.
Currently Victoria’s Crimes Act 1958 provides in section 6 (2) that:
Any person who incites any other person to commit suicide and that other person commits or attempts to commit suicide in consequence thereof; or aids or abets any other person in the commission of suicide or in an attempt to commit suicide shall be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum).
Section 79 of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 which is scheduled to come into effect on 19 June 2019, will bestow an absolute protection from criminal liability for anyone “who assists or facilitates request for or access to” a lethal substance to be used to kill themselves under that Act.
Sections 85 and 86 of the Act do make it an offence for a person by dishonesty or undue influence to induce another person to make a request for a lethal substance or to self-administer that lethal substance.
Just as in California, there is a significant gap that will open up in Victoria enabling a person to incite, encourage, advise, persuade or counsel another person to request a lethal substance or to self-administer that substance in order to commit suicide, provided such acts fall just short of “dishonesty or undue influence”.
Better off dead
All jurisdictions with a law facilitating suicide, including California and Victoria, are sending a message that some of their citizens would be better off dead and that suicide would be a good, wise, and even noble choice.
This necessarily opens the way for impatient heirs, life insurance beneficiaries and disaffected spouses or adult children to subtly and carefully plant such a message in the mind of the inconvenient spouse or parent.
Removing or restricting the protection given to all other citizens from being advised, encouraged or incited to commit suicide is a profound betrayal of those who are vulnerable due to age or illness.
The conviction of Graham Morant by the Supreme Court of Queensland of the offence of counselling his wife, Jenny Morant, to kill herself and thereby inducing her to do so, is a timely reminder to all of us that not all families are happy families and the criminal law is needed to protect us all.
Victoria should step back from the dangerous cliff that is looming ahead (on 19 June 2019) and return to a law that protects all Victorians equally from incitement to suicide.
If you or somebody you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue.com.au