By Hilary White

DARWIN, Northern Territory, Australia, April 21, 2008 ( – Support is growing in Australia for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. At the same time, pressure is mounting to restore the right of the Northern Territory to legislate on euthanasia.

The leader of Australia’s Green party, Robert Brown, introduced a private member’s bill in February to reinstate a previous law allowing euthanasia for “terminally ill” patients. He told ABC Radio that there is growing support across the country in favour of the “right of the terminally ill to die”.

“What my legislation is doing primarily is to remove the block that came in during the Howard government…to prevent the people from the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory legislating in this area,” Senator Brown told ABC radio.

In 1995, the Northern Territory passed the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act that legalized euthanasia. It was nullified in 1997 by the federal Parliament under Prime Minister John Howard. The Act allowed terminally ill patients to commit medically assisted suicide.

Federal legislation was later passed to remove the legal ability of the Northern Territory to legislate on euthanasia. Earlier this month, a representative of the Chief Minister’s office, Tim Joyce, told the Senate committee that the government would welcome the ability to legislate on euthanasia again, but is unsure if it would allow the previous law to be reinstated.

The Australian Christian Lobby told the Senate committee that the Territory Parliament was too “immature’’ to be allowed to pass laws over euthanasia because it lacks an upper house.

Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest and a law professor at the Australian Catholic University, said that legalizing euthanasia would undermine efforts to improve health in remote indigenous communities. Brennan was supported by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) who warned that some indigenous people would refuse medical treatment out of a fear that they would be killed if the legislation is reinstated.

The AMA’s president Dr. Rosanna Capolingua called any move that hinders indigenous people seeking medical treatment “disastrous”.

“I have had some feedback in the past that in fact euthanasia legislation makes Indigenous people very wary from accessing services that are then provided by non-Indigenous doctors,” she said.

The Labour Party, led by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, took power in Australia in December 2007, and the party is now in power in every parliament in the country and has pledged not to intervene in state or territory legislation.

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