On September 10, the commercial television regulator, Commercials Advice (CAD) withdrew approval for the screening of a pro-euthanasia ad by Exit International on September 12.
Exit International condemned the decision as an attack on free speech. According to its website, Exit International is ”a leading end-of-life choices (voluntary euthanasia/ assisted suicide) information and advocacy organisation”.
CAD lawyer Alison Lee said the ad breached commercial television’s code of practice concerning suicide, with “realistic depiction of methods of suicide, or promotion or encouragement of suicide”, Lee wrote to Exit International on September 10.
She said the ad meant euthanasia would be considered “a subset of suicide”.
In the ad, a man looking very ill says: “I didn't choose to starve to death because eating is like swallowing razor blades. I've made my final choice. I just need the government to listen.”
Exit International director Doctor Philip Nitschke said this was a far cry from encouraging or promoting suicide.
“This is a self-serving argument that effectively places a blanket ban on any mention of the important topic of voluntary euthanasia on commercial television”, he said.
“The ad is an expression of free speech and political communication. It directly addresses the government and calls for legislative action. To argue otherwise raises the question of whether CAD has an alternative agenda to censor important political debate on issues such as these.”
Exit International said it would submit a modified ad to CAD, drawing attention to the censorship of euthanasia advertising. The banned ad has also been submitted for approval in New Zealand and Canada.
The ad was to be followed by a roll-out of pro-euthanasia billboards, but this has also now hit legal problems.
Section 31C of the NSW Crimes Act says: “A person who aids or abets the suicide or attempted suicide of another person shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years.”
Billboards Australia has told Exit International legal opinion must be sought before the billboard campaign can go ahead.
The planned billboard read simply: “85% of Australians support Voluntary Euthanasia. Our Government Doesn’t.”
It provided a web address and phone number for Exit International.
The banned ad and billboard can be seen at www.exitinternational.net .