Ex-MP's suicide plea fuels euthanasia row

Canberra - An Australian politician with Aids said yesterday he wants an assisted death, but the government is considering quashing the world's first euthanasia law which would allow it.

"I hope that I can hold out my arm ... one day and have a little needle which takes me off quietly and peacefully after I've said my farewells," Paul O'Grady, who retired from New South Wales' state parliament in January, said on television. "That's how I'd like to do it."

But the Prime Minister, John Howard, told federal government politicians that Canberra might use its constitutional power to quash a Northern Territory law that will legalise assisted suicides when it comes into effect on Monday.

Mr O'Grady, 35, became a national celebrity in 1990 when he freely discussed his homosexuality in the media. The publicity did no obvious harm to him or the Labor Party, and the influential left-wing member of the party was re- elected in 1995.

Although the euthanasia law comes into effect on Monday, doctors and churches have challenged it in the territory's Supreme Court.Even if the challenge fails, the law's seven-day "cooling-off" period on requests for assisted suicides means the first legal suicide cannot happen until at least a week later.

Mr Howard said the government would seek to have the case moved to the country's highest tribunal, the High Court. But the territory, unlike Australia's six states, is a constitutional subsidiary of the federal government, so Canberra can simply override its laws without resorting to a court.

Under the law, passed in February, doctors may administer lethal injections to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives. Opponents had argued that that the territory's capital, Darwin, would become Australia's death capital.

An opinion poll last year showed more than 70 per cent of Australians backed legal euthanasia, but doctors fighting the law say it has the support of only 20 per cent of the territory's 400 doctors.