Canberra kills off the world's first right-to-die legislation

The world's first law allowing voluntary euthanasia was itself put to death last night, less than a year after its birth, when the Australian Senate voted to overturn the historic legislation.

The decision in the capital Canberra brought anger in the Northern Territory, Australia's most remote region, where the euthanasia law began operating last July after the territory's parliament narrowly passed the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. "We're seething with outrage," said Shane Stone, the territory's chief minister, whose administration presides over an area the size of Europe with less than 1 per cent of Australia's population.

The world's first law allowing doctors to end the lives of terminally ill people at their request has aroused a storm of controversy since it came into force. Four people have died under the law: Bob Dent, Janet Mills, Max Bell and a patient whose identity has remained private. All had terminal cancer.

Although opinion polls indicate that more than two-thirds of Australians support voluntary euthanasia, the House of Representatives in Canberra used its powers late last year to override the territory's law. It passed a bill sponsored by Kevin Andrews, a backbench MP from the ruling Liberal Party, nullifying the law. After a passionate debate over the past week, the Senate, the upper house of federal parliament, last night endorsed the Andrews' bill on a conscience vote by 38 votes to 33.

In the heat of the controversy, the moral, legal and medical issues surrounding euthanasia became obscured by arguments about states' rights. Mr Stone had voted against the euthanasia bill last year in Darwin, the territory's capital, but later lobbied federal MPs in Canberra, the national capital, not to overturn the law.

"I don't accept the principle of euthanasia ..." he said. "But the issue now has gone beyond that to one of taking away the devolved powers of legislatures to pass the laws they want."

The federal parliament's vote consigns the euthanasia law to history, and ends the hopes of more terminally ill people who were said to be planning travelling to Darwin to use it. All four people who did die under the law were patients of Philip Nitschke, a Darwin doctor known as "Doctor Death" over his outspoken campaign in support of the law.

As the Senate last week began debating the Andrews' bill, a fifth patient, a British-born former nurse, 56, suffering from a rare cancer of the intestine, sent an emotional plea to Canberra calling on MPs to let the territory's law stand.

The woman, whose identity Dr Nitschke kept confidential, has lived in the territory for 15 years and has worked as a nurse among Aboriginal communities. In a letter to MPs, the woman said: "The prospect of recurrent bowel obstruction, with the associated pain and indignity, is almost too much for me to contemplate. I plead with you, do not support the [federal] bill or at least call a referendum. Please listen to those of us who are terminally ill, and too sick and weak to argue.

"I do not want to end my life prematurely because of the timing of this vote. I will die soon, but please let me, and those other terminally ill people in my position, decide when."

Anti-euthanasia groups have waged a strong campaign in Canberra in the nine months since the territory's law started operating. Led by the Catholic church, the right-to-life movement and the Australian Medical Association, and arguing that no law should sanction the taking of human life, the anti-euthanasia lobby put strong pressure on federal MPs to intervene.

Unlike Australia's six states, whose laws cannot be overturned constitutionally by the federal parliament, the Northern Territory is one of two federal territories whose powers of self-government derive ultimately from Canberra. The federal parliament can overturn a territory law by amending the self- government act, as it did last night with the Euthanasia Laws Bill.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified and unquali...

PE TEACHER, FULL TIME SUPPLY VACANCY, FOLKESTONE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

Private Client Lawyer

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: Private Cl...

Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week