The South Australian coroner has called for a public debate about the "isolated" circumstances in which some older terminally ill Australians are ending their lives.
Mark Johns called the situation "desperately sad" after learning from the ABC of a letter in which an elderly man requested that depression not be recorded as a factor in his death.
"I have seen a number of instances where an elderly person makes a decision to end their life and the characteristics of these situations to me are loneliness, isolation, solitude," he said.
"By necessity these people have to be alone when they carry the act to end their own life because of the law that we all live under."
The coroner said he was not advocating for voluntary euthanasia laws and said that was neither his role nor the court's.
"But I do think the public should be aware of what's occurring and that should inform a public discussion," he said.
The letter was written by 94-year-old Bob Brown, who later ended his life at home alone.
His friend, Frances Coombe, said the pair had been friends for more than 60 years and she had come to visit him almost every day.
She said he was a respected and published conservationist, and was nicknamed "Brownie" to avoid confusion with the Tasmanian Greens politician Bob Brown.
Notified with a front door post-it note
Earlier this month, a simple yellow post-it note on Mr Brown's front door warned Ms Coombe that her visit would not be like her others.
"It said 'Prepare yourself for an unpleasant sight'," Ms Coombe recalled.
"So I knew then what my friend Brownie had actually done."
Mr Brown served in both the Australian and the British navies during the war, and was also a generous philanthropist.
"He was like an uncle to me," Ms Coombe said.
He was also a long-time committed member of the SA Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
Macular degeneration was robbing Mr Brown of his eyesight, and he was concerned about losing his independence and accidentally walking in front of a car.
Ms Coombe said he was part of a wider phenomenon.
"The absence of euthanasia laws means people are acting earlier than they would otherwise, just to make sure they can go with dignity," she said.
"It's shameful that Brownie was put in that position."
Mr Brown's other great fear was that his death would be characterised as a suicide, driven by depression.
He took the step of leaving a letter to the coroner, which Ms Coombe ensured reached Mr Johns' office.
According to Ms Coombe, her friend argued that he was not depressed, but rational.
"He said he enjoyed his life and his friends," she said.
"He said he would like it to be recorded as rational self-administered euthanasia."
State coroners asked to investigate elderly suicide
The Northern Territory Government passed legislation that effectively legalised euthanasia under the leadership of former chief minister Marshall Perron in 1995.
It was overturned by the federal Parliament in 1997.
Last year Mr Perron wrote to all the state coroners asking them to make findings about whether the lack of voluntary euthanasia laws caused older people to pre-emptively end their lives sooner than they would have otherwise.
Mr Johns was the only coroner to respond.
He agreed that there was an under-reported phenomena of older terminally ill people ending their lives, but rejected holding inquests to prove pre-emptive decisions
"That is a very difficult inquiry to embark on and one where it's difficult to establish any objective evidence of that," Mr Johns said.
"I think ultimately it would turn into a political exercise rather than a judicial one."
Sunrise news break – February 7