Culture of Life
Woman Seeks ‘Right to Die’ in Australia
BY Jim Cosgrove
March 28 - April 3, 1999 Issue | Posted 3/28/99 at 1:00 PM
SYDNEY—Australia's simmering euthanasia debate is set to be reignited this week when a terminally ill cancer patient features in a television commercial threatening suicide and pleading for the right to die.
Mother-of-four June Burns, 59, says if no one helps her to die, she will kill herself.
“I don't want to have to kill myself, but if nobody can help me, I'm going to have to,” the newspaperSydney Sun-Herald said. Burns, who is suffering from bladder cancer, says she takes 20 pills a day, including three doses of morphine, but the pain remains.
The advertisements were made for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New South Wales. Australia has been at the forefront of the campaign to legalize assisted suicide and in 1997 an Australian man became the world's first to die by legally sanctioned euthanasia.
Under the Northern Territory legislation, two doctors had to confirm that a patient was terminally ill and suffering unbearable pain before life could be ended. A psychiatrist had to confirm that the patient was not suffering a treatable clinical depression.
Three people took advantage of the pro-assisted suicide law before it was defeated in a conscience vote by Australia's upper house senate in March last year after fierce condemnation from the Vatican, politicians, local church leaders and prominent Aboriginals.
The Catholic Church said Burns was being exploited for political gain. “Facing death is a very traumatic business. What people need at the time they are facing that trauma is support and encouragement,” said Brian Lucas, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Sydney.
“They need the privacy of their loved ones around them. They don't need to be exploited by organizations who are looking for a political agenda.”
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