Senate votes to overturn pioneering bill on euthanasia

 

AUSTRALIA'S pioneering legislation to permit euthanasia was overturned by a conscience vote of the Senate last night after just four terminally ill patients used its controversial provisions.

An anti euthanasia private member's bill was passed after a lengthy debate in the upper house of the bicameral parliament on whether two people who had satisfied the right to die legislation would still be allowed to use it.

Supporters from both sides of the debate held candle lit vigils into the night outside Parliament House in Canberra. The bill has been condemned by church, political and Aboriginal leaders.

In the end, the Senate vote was relatively close - 38 to 33. The vote in the House of Representatives, the lower house of federal parliament, where the bill put forward by Liberal [conservative] Party backbencher, Mr Kevin Andrews, of Victoria, was passed by a much larger 85 to 35 votes last December.

The Northern Territory had only enacted the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act last year after long debate. It was proposed by a former chief minister whose mother had died in pain after a long illness. The Andrews bill called on the federal government to make unusual use of its constitutional powers over the outback territory to quash the legislation.

Dr Robert Marr, from the Coalition for Voluntary Euthanasia, said 75 per cent of Australians supported the Northern Territory's bill and would ignore its passing.

"As a doctor, I know euthanasia goes on every day in our hospitals for compassionate reasons. I believe what the euthanasia debate was about was giving patients a right to legally request and receive medical assistance to end their suffering and I think patients today want that right."

The doctor who helped the four die under the world's first euthanasia, law burned a copy of the bill outside the Senate. "The Senate of Australia betrayed the terminally ill in Australia," said Dr Philip Nitschke. "They've especially betrayed the two people who are dying [of natural causes] in the Territory tonight."

He said the euthanasia battle would go on as the legislation had been shown to be viable.