A new bill aimed at overturning a 25-year ban on physician-assisted suicide in two territories was introduced in Australia’s Parliament on Monday.
Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory became the first place in the world to legalize voluntary euthanasia in 1995. But the landmark law was overturned by Australia’s parliament two years later after four terminally ill patients were legally helped to die, and the Northern Territory was one of the last parts of Australia to remain banned on physician-assisted suicide.
“For too long Australians living in the Territories have been treated as second-class citizens,” Government MP Luke Gosling, who represents an electorate from the Northern Territory, told Parliament.
He and his colleague Alicia Payne introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would allow the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory legislatures to legalize euthanasia.
The two territories do not have the same legal rights as the six states that have each passed euthanasia laws in recent years.
The Australian Parliament does not have the same constitutional power to overrule state laws as it does territorial laws. The two territories make up less than 1 million of Australia’s population of 26 million people.
Payne, who represents an electorate in Australia’s Capital Territory, which includes Canberra and two villages, called her bill urgent. She described the mercy killing of the terminally ill as an “incredibly important debate that we are not allowed to have just because we are alive.”
Conservative government lawmaker Kevin Andrews introduced the bill in 1997 that barred territories from enacting assisted suicide laws. In 2018, a Conservative government was back in power when a bill failed to lift the ban. The bill lost two votes in the Senate. Earlier attempts in 2008 and 2010 also failed in the Senate.
Since then, Victoria became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in June 2019, and New South Wales became the last state to pass its own euthanasia laws in May of that year.
The centre-left Labor Party federal government elected in May has announced it will allow its lawmakers to vote on the bill at their conscience rather than adopting a party line.
The opposition conservative Liberal Party has also allowed conscientious votes on past euthanasia laws.
The Catholic Church is working to get federal lawmakers to vote against the law.