First Legal Suicide under Australia's New Law

The Christian Century, November 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

First Legal Suicide under Australia's New Law


The worlds first legal death by voluntary euthanasia signals "a shameful day for Australia," according to the Roman Catholic, archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy, who was among many church leaders around the world to condemn the act. "This first case of legal euthanasia in the world is an act of reckless disregard for the convictions of people around the globe," Cardinal Clancy said. Australias Northern Territory passed legislation earlier this year legalizing "merey killing."

Clancy was speaking on September 25, the day, news of the death was made public. On September 22, Bob Dent, aged 66, died in the presence of his wife, Judy, and his doctor, Philip Nitschke, a well-known euthanasia crusader, after Dent pressed a key on a computer that administered a lethal dose of drugs. Dent had gone to Australia's Northern Territory as a Church of England missionary in 1959, but after he became disillusioned with church politics he left the church for secular employment. He converted to Buddhism soon after he was diagnosed with cancer five years ago.

A bill before the federal parliament in Canberra may yet quash the new legislation. The territory is not a fullfledged state within Australia's federal system of government, and the federal parliament has the power to overrule its laws. The euthanasia legislation also faces a hearing in Australia's High Court.

Keith Rayner, the primate of Australia's Anglican Church and archbishop of Melbourne, said that what was now an act of choice would turn into "subtle pressure" to end life, so that people could avoid being a burden on family and friends. …

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