CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A new bill was introduced in Australia’s parliament on Monday to lift a 25-year ban on doctor-assisted suicide in two territories.
Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory in 1995 became the first place in the world to legalize voluntary euthanasia. But the landmark law was overturned by the Australian Parliament two years later after four terminally ill people were legally assisted to die, leaving the Northern Territory one of the last areas in Australia where doctor-assisted suicide remains prohibited.
“For too long Australians living in the territories have been treated like second-class citizens,” government lawmaker Luke Gosling, who represents a Northern Territory electorate, told parliament.
He and fellow lawmaker Alicia Payne introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would allow the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory legislatures to legalize assisted dying.
The two territories do not have the same legal rights as the six states, which have each enacted euthanasia laws in recent years.
The Australian Parliament does not have the same constitutional power to strike down state laws as territorial laws. The two territories represent less than one million of Australia’s population of 26 million.
Payne, who represents a constituency in the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra and two villages, described his bill as urgent. She described the mercy killing of the terminally ill as “an incredibly important debate that we’re not allowed to have just because of where we live”.
Conservative government lawmaker Kevin Andrews introduced the bill in 1997 that barred the territories from legislating assisted suicide. A Conservative government was back in power in 2018 when a bill failed to overturn the ban. This bill missed two votes in the Senate. Previous attempts also failed in the Senate in 2008 and 2010.
Since then, Victoria became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in June 2019, and New South Wales in May this year became the latest state to pass its own euthanasia laws.
The centre-left federal Labor government, elected in May, announced that it would allow its lawmakers to vote on the bill according to their conscience rather than toeing a party line.
The opposition Conservative Liberal Party has also allowed conscience votes on previous euthanasia bills.
The Catholic Church is pressuring federal lawmakers to vote against the bill.