Leyonhjelm's assisted suicide bill narrowly defeated in Senate
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Leyonhjelm's assisted suicide bill narrowly defeated in Senate

A private member's bill that would have cleared the way for assisted suicide to be legalised across Australia has been defeated.

The bill, introduced by Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm, was defeated by 36 to 34 votes after two days of impassioned debate in the Senate.

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It was knocked down after Liberal senator Anne Ruston and Nationals senator Steve Martin were persuaded to vote against the bill, after initially leaning in favour of it.

“I cannot in good conscience offer my support to this bill which will provide the territories the ability to legislate in the area of voluntary euthanasia, certainly without ensuring that appropriate safeguards were in place,” Senator Martin told the Senate on Wednesday.

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Politicians from both sides of politics rose to share divergent views, with many in support of the bill emphasising the rights of Australians who live in the territories to make their own laws.

The bill proposed to overturn a federal law that removed the rights of the ACT and Northern Territory to legislate on euthanasia, enacted in 1997 after the NT government briefly legalised assisted dying.

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Labor senator Pat Dodson, opposing the bill, argued that "paving the way for euthanasia and assisted suicide" would leave Indigenous Australians "even more vulnerable, when our focus should be on working collectively to create laws that help prolong life and restore their right to enjoy a healthy life".

Senator Leyonhjelm said he was disappointed at the bill's defeat, vowing to continue fighting for "the rights of all Australians to decide how and when to end their lives".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has come under intense pressure from conservatives to ensure the bill would not get a vote in the lower house.

It remains a live issue despite the defeat of Senator Leyonhjelm's bill, with ACT Federal Labor MPs Andrew Leigh and Luke Gosling, who have opposing views on voluntary euthanasia, drafting their own private member's bill to allow the territories to make their own laws on the matter.

Television host Andrew Denton had pledged to lobby Mr Turnbull to secure a lower house vote if Senator Leyonhjelm's bill passed in the Senate.

Former AMA president Brian Owler, Denton's co-director of advocacy group Go Gentle Australia, said support for the legalisation of assisted suicide consistently polled at higher than 80 per cent, outstripping the level of community support for same-sex marriage.

"This is one of those issues where, unfortunately, a number of parliaments around the country seem to be out of step with community expectations," he said.

Dr Owler said he was confident, after contributing to the laws passed in Victoria last year, that safeguards could adequately protect vulnerable people from misuse of assisted suicide.

Senator Leyonhjelm said it had been “deeply frustrating" to hear fellow senators argue against his bill "in the misguided belief it would somehow impact negatively on the provision of first-class palliative care for the terminally ill".

"All Australians, no matter where they live, have the right to decide for themselves when it comes to end of life treatment," he said on Wednesday night.

“It makes no sense that people living in the state of Victoria now have some control over the
manner in which they chose to die in the face of intolerable suffering, yet other Australians are
denied even having the chance to vote on such a critical issue.”

Dana is a federal politics reporter, covering health and industrial relations. Previously, she was a reporter for The Australian.