Second Australian exercises right to die

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The Independent Online
The world's first law allowing voluntary euthanasia came under renewed political pressure yesterday when it was revealed that Janet Mills, a 52-year-old from South Australia, had killed herself last week, the second person to do so under the legislation in the last four months.

"Peace at last," were Mrs Mills's last words to her husband who sat by her bedside in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, as she administered a lethal injection to herself using a computerised "death machine".

Also in attendance was Philip Nitschke, the controversial Darwin general practitioner known as "Doctor Death" after the machine he invented that allowed Mrs Mills to choose her moment of death by pressing a button that administered the injection.

Dr Nitschke announced yesterday that Mrs Mills had died last Thursday, but that he had kept her death secret until now in deference to her family's wishes for their grief to remain private.

Mrs Mills, who was suffering from cancer, travelled from her home to Darwin to take advantage of the territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act which allows people with incurable conditions to die when they wish after receiving consent from three specialist doctors, including a psychiatrist who must certify they were not clinically depressed when they made their request.

After getting the necessary signatures, Mrs Mills became the second terminally ill person to use the law successfully since the Northern Territory parliament passed it by a narrow margin last July. The first was Robert Dent, a father with incurable cancer, who induced a lethal injection to his body from another of Dr Nitschke's machines in September.

But within minutes of yesterday's news about Mrs Mills, a national debate re-ignited around Australia about the moral, legal and political status of the territory's law. The Australian Medical Association strongly opposes it, and has isolated Dr Nitschke.

The federal parliament in Canberra, which has power to override territory legislation, is in the process of doing just that to the euthanasia law. The House of Representatives, the lower house of federal parliament, voted by 88 votes to 35 last month to overturn it, with MPs voting according to their consciences.

The federal Bill must now go to the Senate, the upper house, where its passage may be more stormy. Traditionally, the Senate is a chamber that represents states' rights. Australia's six state governments have condemned Canberra's bid to stifle the euthanasia law, seeing it as an unwarranted interference in the regional governments' powers to conduct their own affairs.

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