Just a week after Victoria’s controversial euthanasia laws came into force, doctors are being warned they could be breaking federal laws if they use the phone or the internet to discuss the scheme with patients.
Certified doctors are being told to have all discussions with patients face to face because of a 2005 federal law makes it a crime, punishable by a fine, to incite or counsel someone into suicide using a carriage service, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.
Ms Mikakos said she was not aware of anyone ever being charged with the law and said it would be “absurd” for a family member, doctor or journalist to be prosecuted.
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement his department’s discussions with Victorian officials confirmed in-person medical consultations would not spark a prosecution.
However, he put the onus back on the Victorian government for ensuring people comply with the federal law.
“Obviously the Victorian government bear responsibility for ensuring that its own new laws observe long-standing and well known commonwealth laws,” he said.
“Advice from Victorian officials is that, under their voluntary assisted dying laws, medical consultations would occur in person and would therefore not breach Commonwealth offences for inciting or instructing suicide online.”
The Victorian government will help doctors travel to regional Victoria to make sure there is no breach of the law.
Ms Mikakos said the issue did not come up during the parliamentary debate or during the 18-month implementation process, but she considered it “a negligible risk” of prosecutions happening.
By Wednesday, 175 doctors have been trained or are completing training to take part in the scheme.