Case Note: Health Care Complaints Commission V Godwin [2022] NSWCATOD 17
Case Note: Health Care Complaints Commission V Godwin [2022] NSWCATOD 17

This article highlights the 11 February 2022 decision in Health Care Complaints Commission V Godwin [2022] NSWCATOD 17, in which a general practitioner, Dr Godwin was reprimanded and his registration suspended for 6 months by the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (‘Tribunal’) in February 2022.

The facts

In 2014 the practitioner’s partner (‘A’) was terminally ill with breast cancer.  On 22 July 2014 she took her own life.  Four years later the practitioner was convicted of aiding and abetting A’s suicide and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, which he served by way of an intensive corrections order.

On the basis of the conviction, the Health Care Complaints Commission (‘HCCC’) commenced investigation into the practitioner’s role in the suicide, and his care and treatment of his partner.  The investigation revealed the practitioner had helped A to suicide, and had given false information to the police regarding the extent of his involvement.  The HCCC applied to the Tribunal for disciplinary orders.

Over the course of A’s illness, the practitioner had provided care and treatment to her which included providing Schedule 8 medications and prescriptions. This was contrary to the Medical Practitioners Code of Conduct, which stipulates against treating persons in a close personal relationship.  The practitioner also kept deficient medical records.

The HCCC argued that the circumstances of the offence and the misleading of police constituted professional misconduct, either alone or in combination with the provision of treatment to his partner, and the deficient record-keeping.

Based on the agreed statement of facts in the criminal proceedings, it was established that the practitioner had only assisted A because on the evening she chose to end her life, the preparations she had made were not adequate for her to complete her suicide on her own. The practitioner had to become actively involved in her suicide, despite the intention that he would be absent when she performed the act. It was not premeditated for the practitioner to help A to end her life: she had decided to end it herself because she was in unbearable pain.

The Tribunal was critical of the practitioner prescribing Schedule 8 Medications while in a close personal relationship, contrary to the Code of Conduct, and without systematic assessment. By itself this was not misconduct, because the treatment given was not inappropriate and the practitioner was trying to avoid the inconvenience of asking others to provide prescriptions.  There were mitigating circumstances to persuade the Tribunal that this conduct of itself was not sufficiently serious to justify suspension or cancellation.

The Tribunal noted the tragic circumstances, as well as the wishes of the patient and her family. Irrespective of these factors, because the practitioner was convicted of a serious criminal offence and had lied to the police to protect himself, the Tribunal decided the appropriate order was to reprimand the practitioner and suspend his registration for 6 months in order to maintain the reputation of, and the broader community’s confidence in the medical profession.


The HCCC did not allege that the circumstances of the offence rendered the practitioner unfit in the public interest to practice medicine.  The practitioner admitted that committing the offence and giving various people false information (by not immediately confessing his involvement) was improper and unethical conduct in the practice of medicine. The Tribunal considered that helping his partner commit suicide, and deliberately giving false information to police to avoid prosecution was unethical conduct of a most serious kind.

It was relevant that the magistrate in the criminal proceedings had found the practitioner did no more than what patient A had earnestly wished for, and the practitioner was not motivated by self‑interest or greed.  He acted against his interests in assisting his partner to commit suicide, in circumstances where she thought she could do it without his assistance. 

Nevertheless, the Magistrate had a view that there was a strong need for denunciation for general deterrence of such behaviour, and the Tribunal took the same view.

The recent passage of assisted dying legislation in NSW will hopefully avoid this type of tragic situation in the future.

Please see our recent article for more information: The Legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying in New South Wales – An Overview.

Comparison with another recent case

This matter may be contrasted to the matter of Pridgeon v Medical Council of New South Wales [2022] NSWCA 60, in which the practitioner was suspended after being charged (but not convicted) with breaking the law. The suspension was reversed on appeal because the alleged criminal acts were not done in the practice of medicine. See our recent article for more information: Case Note: Pridgeon v Medical Council of New South Wales [2022] NSWCA 60.

 In Health Care Complaints Commission V Godwin [2022] NSWCATOD 17, the practitioner had acted in the practice of medicine and was involved in his partner’s treatment.

Further, Pritchard’s case concerned the application of the emergency powers under section 150 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW) (‘National Law’). In Godwin’s case the HCCC made its investigation under s. 144 of the National Law, which allows a complaint to be made against a medical practitioner who has been convicted of an offence. 

If you have a query relating to any of the information in this article, or would like to discuss a matter of your own, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Zara Officer, Partner within Holman Webb’s Health, Aged Care and Life Sciences Group today.

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