By Hilary White

  CANBERRA, May 2, 2008 ( – The recently elected Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has made a familiar argument over euthanasia, saying that he is personally opposed to it, but that MPs should have a free vote.

  Rudd told a radio interviewer that he was “concerned about the way in which these things can drift over time”.

  Rudd said, “Particularly in the attitude taken by older people themselves, or people with terminal illnesses, who then conclude that they are being an increasing burden to their families and then conclude that it’s in other people’s interests, not their own best interests, to seek euthanasia.”

  Anti-euthanasia campaigners also argue that legalized euthanasia or physician assisted suicide creates a medical and social atmosphere in which pressure can be put on vulnerable patients and elderly to end their lives out of fear of pain or loss of dignity.

  Two states in Australia are considering legalizing euthanasia for terminally ill patients. Senator Robert Brown, leader of the Green party in the Northern Territory, is introducing a private members’ bill in the Federal Parliament that would reinstate the 1995 Rights of the Terminally Ill Act overturned by federal law in 1996. At the same time, in the state of Victoria, Liberal MP Ken Smith has agreed to introduce a Bill to allow physician-assisted suicide, a move supported by the Green party.

  The federal government is considering dropping a prohibition that makes it impossible for the Northern Territory to pass legislation on euthanasia.

  Rudd supported the decision by John Howard’s government to make the change in federal law. He told Macquarie Radio Network he had personal experience that led to his opposition to euthanasia.

“I say that as someone who has … been in family circumstances where you’ve seen people very near and dear to you, in the case of myself, my mother, who died of cancer.”

“It’s not pretty to watch,” he said.

  But he insisted that the issue is one for a conscience vote: “All these life matters, including euthanasia, have historically been the subject of a conscience vote on the part of our government’s members.”

  Read related coverage:

  Australian State and Territorial Governments to Introduce Euthanasia Bills this Year