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Australia's euthanasia law on hold, sort of

Euthanasia

July 1, 1996
Web posted at: 8:25 p.m. EDT (0025 GMT)

From Correspondent John Raedler

DARWIN, Australia (CNN) -- A law legalizing voluntary euthanasia went into effect Monday for the northern territory of Australia, but doctors were immediately advised not to perform any assisted suicides. Opponents of the new law have promised to try them for murder if they succeed in getting the law overturned.

In fact, the courtroom and not a hospital was the focus on this first day of the law, as opponents sought to have it invalidated retroactively.

Dr. Wake

Some, including Dr. Chris Wake, oppose the new law because they believe doctors will use it to end patients' lives without their consent. "I personally don't feel there is such a thing as a right to die, because it undermines other peoples' right to live," Wake said.

Aboriginal leaders also oppose the law on the grounds that it breaks thousands of years of traditional aboriginal law. "We want to see our aboriginal people die naturally," said Mawunydjil Garawirrtja.

Even if their suit fails, opponents said there would be more legal challenges. "My personal belief is that we will not win here in the Supreme Court, but it's my strong belief that we will win in the High Court of Australia," Wake said.

Perron

The new law requires a patient to get a mental evaluation showing him to be of sound mind, and he must get a signature from the psychologist who examines him and two medical practitioners, who must certify that the patient is terminally ill and wants to die. There are two mandated waiting periods, one a week and one 48 hours, built into the process, before the patient can get a lethal injection.

The fight against the new law has upset the pro-euthanasia forces. "The tragic cost of this delay is to those unfortunate suffering individuals who want to exercise their rights but may die, miserably, in the meantime," said supporter Marshall Perron. The legal challenges to the law may drag out through the end of the year.

Legal and political challenges notwithstanding, for now, in Australia -- uniquely in the world -- terminally ill people can seek euthanasia, and if they meet the criteria and can find doctors willing to help them, doctors can legally carry it out.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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