What is the Law on Using Poison to Endanger Life or Inflict Grievous Bodily Harm?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

When a child has been diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability, as a parent, coping becomes an ongoing process.

Understandably, every person copes in different ways. For some parents, learning that their child has a long-term illness is devastating, bringing about feelings of guilt and sadness. For others, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by anxiety, while frustration and confusion are also common outlets.

However, in addressing a child’s medical condition along with the best way to move forward, taking action by attempting to kill that child is far from the best way to cope or face the situation.

Last month, one such case made its way into headlines after a Perth woman allegedly tried to kill her chronically ill baby by putting bleach in her one-year-old son’s feeding tube.

Brooke Evelyn Lucas was eventually charged with trying to kill or endanger her child. The alleged conduct is also a form of failure of parent to care for child which is a crime in NSW carrying heavy penalties.

Ms Lucas’s son, William, was born with Pierre Robin sequence – a congenital condition that can affect a child’s ability to breathe and feed, and which requires 24-hour care.

 

Ms Lucas’s Family Set Up GoFundMe Page for William

Given the nature of William’s condition, about four months ago, Ms Lucas’s family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical costs and the around-the-clock care.

The family were seeking $10,000 and more than $2,000 was raised.

According to the fundraising page, William was born 14 weeks premature with various health problems, and as a result had spent much of his life so far in hospital.

It was also noted that Ms Lucas lived an hour away from the hospital – a journey that was costing her over $100 a week in petrol and parking fees.

Ms Lucas said her son would need specialist equipment, urging that any help would be greatly appreciated.

“William has daily challenges which lead him to hospital most times,” she explained in a Facebook post.

Her hope was to bring William home from hospital for his first birthday.

 

Ms Lucas Attempts to Poison Son by Feeding Him Bleach

According to police, Ms Lucas attempted to poison her son only days after celebrating his discharge from Perth Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve last year where he was being treated for bronchitis.

Ms Lucas referred to it as a “Christmas miracle” when William was allowed to come home on December 24, posting on Facebook, “William has been discharged from PCH and will be spending his first Christmas at home.”

“I am in tears after he was so sick Friday and Saturday that he needed to be admitted to hospital,” she wrote.

However, on December 29, William was back in hospital after Ms Lucas put a powerful cleaning chemical bleach into his feeding tube.

According to reports, doctors managed to treat the critically ill baby before there was any serious damage to his body.

Meanwhile, the boy’s family confirmed he was starting to recover and would be released into their care.

 

Ms Lucas Faces Perth Magistrate’s Court

On 12 January 2019, the 26-year-old mother appeared in the Perth’s magistrate court after being charged by Child Abuse Squad detectives, visibly distressed and unable to speak.

Ms Lucas was charged with unlawful intent to kill or endanger human life.

She was remanded to the secure Frankland psychiatric facility at Graylands Hospital for treatment for her mental health.

During her hearing, she was shaking, rocked back and forth in her chair and cried at times. It appeared that Ms Lucas did not have any supporters in court.

Meanwhile, she received a barrage of abusive comments on Facebook after the news of her attempt to kill her son broke.

 

World Health Organisation: Poisoning as a Form of Child Physical Abuse

The World Health Organisation advises that poisoning a child is considered a form of child physical abuse.

In fact, it defines child physical abuse as:

“The intentional use of physical force against a child that results in – or has a high likelihood of resulting – harm for the child’s health, survival, development or dignity. This includes hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning and suffocating. Much physical violence against children in the home is inflicted with the object of punishing.”

Parents more likely to abuse their children in these ways tend to have low self-esteem, poor control over their impulses, mental health problems and generally display antisocial behaviour. They also tend to be uninformed and hold unrealistic expectations about child development.

For the child, there is evidence that the immediate effects of abuse can be catastrophic, resulting in mental retardation, brain damage or death.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, there seems to be a higher than expected number of premature babies among the victims of physical abuse.

There is also a higher than expected frequency of mental retardation predating the abuse, while physical handicap and infant temperament may also play a role.

What is the Criminal Offence of Using Poison to Endanger Life or Inflict Grievous Bodily Harm in NSW?

In NSW, it is a crime for a person to administer or cause the other person to take any poison, intoxicating substance or other destructive or noxious thing if it inflicts grievous bodily harm or endangers the other person’s life- in circumstances the offender either intended to injure, or realised the possibility of injuring the other person, but did it anyway (section 39 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)).

This offence carries a maximum penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment.

The criminal law definition of ‘grievous bodily harm’ includes serious or permanent disfiguring of the victim, defined under section 4 Crimes Act. Grievous bodily harm can be inflicted in various ways, including broken bones. The law distinguishes between recklessly and intentionally causing grievous bodily harm or wounding in NSW.

There is also the less serious version of this type of offence under section 41 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), carrying up to 5-years imprisonment to anyone who administers or causes another person to take any poison (intoxicating substance or other destructive or noxious thing) with the intention to either injure or cause distress or pain to the other person.

Contact our team if you have any questions relating to this. We have criminal lawyers in Parramatta, Newcastle, Wollongong, Penrith and other areas throughout NSW.

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