Precedent set with new law allowing mercy killing


PIONEERING euthanasia legislation introduced by the government of Australia's Northern Territory 10 months ago will come into effect on July 1st. This is believed to be the first time that a governing body has legalised euthanasia anywhere in the world.

The law permits people suffering terminal illness to opt for euthanasia with drugs. Education programmes required by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act had been completed and a date could now be firmly set, the Health Services Minister, Mr Fred Finch, said.

All doctors and nurses in the thinly populated territory would be invited to attend lectures on the requirements of the act, Mr Finch said. The territory would also begin a public education campaign that would include a euthanasia advice line and brochures explaining the workings of the act.

The Northern Territory is one of two self governing areas within the Australian federation, the other being the Australian Capital Territory. There are also six states.

The minister warned terminally ill people from other parts of Australia they should not rush to the territory to seek death.

"It is important that people interstate understand the strict conditions of the legislation and don't simply uproot themselves from their homes and families to travel to the territory with false expectations," Mr Finch said.

The legislation has been opposed by church, Right to Life and Aboriginal groups.

The new law requires that a terminally ill patient seeking to die must be evaluated by a psychiatrist. Euthanasia would be administered by a lethal overdose of drugs under medical supervision.

Immigration laws bar foreigners from going to the territory to end their lives. Australians from other states could go to the Northern Territory, however.

Doctors in the Netherlands may perform mercy killings within strict legal guidelines, but euthanasia is technically illegal.

In the US, Oregon voters approved a law allowing assisted suicide in 1995, but an injunction has blocked it.