Pro-life supporters will monitor the situation in Australia where the world’s first voluntary euthanasia law has survived its latest legal challenge.
In a July 24 decision, the Northern Territory Supreme Court struck down a legal challenge led by doctors and aboriginal people.
The world’s first assisted suicide law came into effect July 1 in the Australian province of the Northern Territories. It allows doctors to provide a fatal injection to terminally ill patients if it is established the patient is of sound mind and clearly wishes to end his or her life.
Introduced in May, 1995, the law features a seven-day waiting period before a final decision is made. It also includes a second waiting period of 48 hours prior to a fatal injunction.
Despite its coming into effect in July, the law is not expected to lead immediately to a flood of assisted suicide requests.
Doctors would have faced murder charges for helping patients end their lives of legal challenges to the new law had proven successful. Authorities expect the challenges to continue throughout 1996.
According to the Reuters News Service, a coalition of doctors, church leaders and aboriginal leaders issued a Supreme Court challenge of the new law, saying it violated the national constitution and was an abuse of territorial powers.
A spokesperson for the coalition said the law undermines the inalienable right to life.
“Underlying the law lies a fundamental right, principle, value or doctrine that there is sanctity of life,” said David Jackson, a lawyer representing the anti-euthanasia coalition.
His views were supported by some Australian Members of Parliament who are considering a bill to have the law overturned retroactively.
Australian doctors, even those supportive of euthanasia, have been slow to commit themselves to the new law. They are concerned about possible criminal charges if the law is overturned.
An Australian taxi driver who suffers from stomach cancer is pressing to the first to take advantage of the new law. He will require the signatures of two physicians and a psychologist before proceeding with his euthanasia application.
Opponents of the law say it opens the door to legalized murder and will seriously weaken Australia’s attitude toward the sanctity of life.
These views were echoed by Aboriginal leader Mawunytjil who said the law is sinister and violates centuries of Aboriginal law.
Meanwhile, doctors in Australia are unlikely to take advantage of the new law until all the legal challenges have been settled. If the law survives all court tests, pro-lifers fear an ever-widening application in Australian society.