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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas