Gutting ACC – Sewer-side Smith

Nick Smith jumped from the side of the sewer right to the bottom of it last week with his outrageously insensitive comment that if he were terminally ill he would commit suicide so his family could get the ACC entitlements that would follow.

That comment has been well covered elsewhere, and is not what this post is about.  This post is about Nick Smith also being down in the sewer issuing a misleading media release last week about National’s proposal to restrict ACC cover in instances of suicide.

Smith’s media release proposed “Reversing entitlements for wilfully self-inflicted injury and suicide”.

I have now had the chance to read the Bill he tried to introduce into Parliament under urgency last week before he realised he couldn’t get the numbers to get it through its First Reading. It is clear from the draft Bill that Smith intends to go much further in restricting entitlements than just reversing last year’s law change that permitted ACC to provide entitlements to the families of all suicide victims.

Before last year’s law change, ACC was permitted to pay entitlements to the family of a suicide victim only if the death was “the result of a mental injury”. That reflected the fact that many suicides are by people who are sufficiently mentally ill that they are incapable of forming a rational intent.  It also reflected the fact that many others who commit suicide would meet the ACC criteria for cover for treatment injury because their suicide is caused by the failure of the mental health system to provide them with adequate and appropriate treatment and care.

However, Smith’s draft Bill proposes to restrict entitlements in cases of suicide to circumstances when a person has ACC cover for mental injury.  That means a suicide victim’s family will receive entitlements only in the very narrow circumstances of the mental injury having been caused by sexual abuse, being consequent on a physical injury, or being caused by a traumatic event in their workplace.  The suicide victim will also need to have already gone through the process of having their claim for mental injury approved by ACC before their suicide for his or her family to get any entitlements.

It won’t matter if a suicide victim was incapable of forming a rational intent.  It won’t matter if the suicide was caused by an abject failure of mental health services to provide appropriate treatment.

It’s just not fair.

1 Comment Posted

  1. Another issue, frog, is that it is often very difficult to determine whether a death is suicide. Contrary to what some people may believe, very few people leave a suicide note.

    So if someone drives their car into a tree and dies, is it suicide or is it an accident? If someone takes a fatal overdose of prescription drugs, is it suicide or is it an accident?

    Coroners often return open verdicts, because there is insufficient evidence to make a determination on the balance of probabilities. So how is ACC meant to make such a determination?

    When I used to work as an ACC claimant advocate I dealt with several cases where ACC wrongly declined entitlements to the family of a person who had dies by arguing that the death was suicide – only to have their decision overturned at review or appeal.

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