Coroner seeks suicide law review

Last updated 17:07 26/10/2012

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A Coroner recommends the Government urgently assess media guidelines on reporting of suicide and its effect on suicidal behaviours.

The call comes following a review conducted into the deaths of five Bay of Plenty teenagers from Kawerau, a small paper milling town, in a six month period.

All five young people, Jordan Leigh Gray, Kelly Haze Karekare, Te Horoto Araroa, Alex Junior Taku-Mahutaa and Tegan McGregor died in 2010 and 2011.

Coroner Wallace Bain, with the help of Dr Candy Cookson-Cox, an expert in the area of youth suicide, found that the deaths could not have been a “cluster” but noted the fact that with a small town there would have been some effect from the deaths, and that there was definitely a “cultural” element to them.

The Coroner also analysed the current law surrounding suicide, and found that the 2006 Coroner’s Act “significantly tightens” what can be published.

In particular, he highlighted with “real concern” a recent editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal which greatly criticised the calls for more openness.

“Sir Peter Gluckman’s views are referred to as leading to caution in the area of publication and the high risk of copy-cat suicides. Consultant Psychiatrist at the University of Auckland Dr Simon Hatcher is also quoted in the respect of concerns of media publication leading to copy-cat suicides,” he said.

Bain also comments on the call for more openness and the blistering rebuke by international experts who maintain that this is contrary to international best practice in suicide prevention.

He  expresses real concern at their claim that there may be increased risks of suicide in New Zealand and said that it is alarming that these experts are suggesting that more openness may in fact be facilitating more suicide.

He said the matter needed to be resolved urgently within New Zealand so that coroners, the media, and communities of New Zealand had clearer direction based on international best practice in suicide prevention as to publication and openness and the effects of suicidal behaviour.

Bain recommended the Government urgently put in place an evaluation aimed at assessing the extent of recent changes to media guidelines and its effect on suicidal behaviours.

“In this evaluation, an assessment to specifically address the risks of copy-cat suicide as a result of media coverage is vital.”

He further recommended that the Government give urgent consideration to aspects of the Coroners Act that relate to definition of the “manner in which a death occurred” and in particular that there be more clarity around the direction to Coroners that they cannot allow publication unless they determine it is “unlikely to be detrimental to public safety”.

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