A new bill was introduced to the Australian Parliament on Monday to lift a 25-year ban on physician-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 patients were legally helped to die, leaving the Northern Territory one of the last parts of Australia where physician-assisted suicide remains banned.
“For too long Australians living in the territories have been treated as second-class citizens,” Government MP Luke Gosling, who represents the 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 enacted euthanasia laws in recent years.
The Australian Parliament does not have the same constitutional power to override state laws as it does territory laws. The two territories account for less than 1 million of Australia’s population of 26 million.
Payne, who represents an electorate in the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra and two towns, described his bill as urgent. He 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 to ban territories from making laws about assisted suicide. A Conservative government returned to power in 2018 when a bill failed to overturn the ban.
That bill fell two votes short 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 federal government of the center-left Labor Party, which was elected in May, has announced that it will allow its lawmakers to vote on the bill according to their consciences 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.