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Australia outlaws using Internet to incite suicide

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People who use the Internet to incite others to commit suicide or teach them how to kill themselves face fines of up to A$550,000 ($430,000) under tough new laws passed in Australia on Friday.

Using the Internet to counsel or incite others to commit suicide or to promote and provide instruction on ways to do it has been outlawed but the new laws were not designed to stifle debate about euthanasia, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said.

"These offences are designed to protect the young and the vulnerable, those at greatest risk of suicide, from people who use the Internet with destructive intent to counsel or incite others to kill themselves," Ellison said in a statement. Individuals convicted of such offences face a fine of up to A$110,000, while corporations face a fine of up to A$550,000.

Use of the Internet to organize suicide pacts emerged as a grim problem for Japan last year, with dozens of Japanese killing themselves in Internet-linked group suicides.

Helping someone to commit suicide is illegal in Australia but there has been a long-simmering debate about euthanasia.

Dr Philip Nitschke shot to fame in 1997 when he helped four people die in the Northern Territory, where the practice was briefly legal before the national government stepped in to overturn local laws.

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