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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Euthanasia Upheld In Australian State

CANBERRA -- Australia's Northern Territory state passed a law allowing voluntary euthanasia Thursday, making it only the third place in the world to sanction the right to die.

The move by the sparsely populated territory's 25-member parliament outraged Australia's right-to-life activists, but Australia's Attorney General Michael Lavarch called it a brave move other Australian states might copy.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill was passed by 15 votes to 10 early Thursday morning after a 14-hour debate and after its sponsor, Chief Minister Marshall Perron, resigned to smooth its passage.

The law allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with help from a doctor after being diagnosed as terminally ill by two doctors, and after a cooling-off period.

The Northern Territory's law is the first in the world passed by a parliament.

Voluntary euthanasia is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but authorities have issued guidelines under which prosecutions will not be mounted. In Oregon in the United States, a referendum-created law is on hold pending legal challenge.

Perron, whose mother died an agonizing death last year, told reporters the bill's passage was the highlight of his career and he hoped other Australian states would follow suit.

He said it would take many months before regulations and procedures would be in place to allow euthanasia, however.

"You'll have to be a person in a very dire medical state to be eligible," he said. "That doesn't worry me because we were looking to assist those people to whom modern palliative care is of little value."

Perron, who also watched a close political colleague die of cancer in 1989, said he resigned to allow his Conservative Party's members a completely free-conscience vote.

The passage of the law sparked a national debate as legislators in other states considered whether to follow the example of the Northern Territory, a mainly tropical region with an area of 1.35 million square kilometers and a population of 180,000.

Lavarch, who has no powers over such matters, said other states might now look at adopting voluntary euthanasia.

"It's a brave move by the Northern Territory parliament ... it may lead to further developments in the Australian Capital Territory [Canberra] and other Australian states," Lavarch told reporters in Canberra.

Pro-life activists said the passage of the law was one of the most tragic days in Australian history.

"I was absolutely appalled at the breathtaking carelessness with which they did this," Right to Life Australia spokeswoman Margaret Tighe told reporters.

"But believe you me, they won't win patient-killing as easily in other parts of Australia as they have done up here," she added.

Catholic and Islamic groups said the law set a dangerous precedent while the Australian Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the law devalued human life.

But groups representing those caring for people with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome called the new law humane and compassionate.