Parliament Member Presses For Constitutional Showdown Over Assisted
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 6, 2006
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA--A state parliament member has deliberately broken a federal law in an attempt to revive the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide in the country.
Sandra Kanck, a member of South Australia's parliament, gave a one-hour parliamentary speech last week in which she described different ways for a person to commit suicide.
Kanck said she was counting on the fact that the written transcript of her presentation would now become public record and would be posted electronically on the state parliament's website.
Under Australia's Suicide Material Related Offence Act, which went into effect January 6, telephones, websites, text messaging and chat rooms cannot be used to "counsel or incite suicide", or promote or provide instructions on suicide methods. Breaking the law can be met with a maximum penalty of $110,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.
Kanck, whose statement is likely protected by parliamentary rules, said later she hoped to challenge the federal law as unconstitutional.
The law was enacted in response to the work of Dr. Philip Nitschke, and other pro-euthanasia campaigners, that had been using the website of his organization, Exit International, to instruct people on how to kill themselves. Once the law was passed, Nitschke moved operations of the website to New Zealand, where assisting in a suicide is illegal, but using electronic means to tell people how to kill themselves is not yet a crime.
The Sunday Mail reported that Nitschke visited Kanck a few weeks ago to discuss the issue. He reportedly flew to Adelaide last week to witness her giving the statement.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said it was irresponsible for Kanck to encourage suicide of any kind. South Australian Premier Mike Rann called her actions "silly".
Earlier this year, Kanck sparked controversy when she declared that the illegal party drug ecstasy was not dangerous.
Many disability rights groups around the world have opposed measures to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, or so called "mercy killing". They argue that making it legal would reinforce the common belief that the lives of people with certain disabilities are "not worth living" and that they would be "better off dead than disabled".
Nitschke advised in the May 22, 2002 suicide of Australian euthanasia crusader Nancy Crick, 69. An autopsy later revealed that she did not have terminal cancer as she had reported in her Internet "suicide diary".