IN the Northern Territory, terminally ill patients can now officially ask doctors to help them die. The doctor must bebacked by a second doctor as well as a psychiatrist who should confirm that the person is not suffering from treatable depression. The patient is then required to wait seven days before signing the necessary papers and another 48 hours before life is terminated by a lethal drug.
The world's first euthanasia law, which recently came into effect in the vast wilderness of the Territory, has been heralded as a victory for doctors, but faces moral as well as legal obstacles from one-fourth of the inhabitants of the region, the aborigines. For them, there is no such experience as death, merely a continuation of life in another world. Says Reverend Djiniyinni Gondarra, who is opposing the law in the Territory's Supreme Court: "Death is not talked about in aboriginal customs and you cannot take someone else's life. When a person is passing from one life to another, the tribe gets together and sings and comforts the person—the singing encourages the life beyond."
Reverend Gondarra believes that cultural insensitivity is one reason for passing a law which is frightening the aborigines away from local health services. "The government is ignorant of our needs and the legislation has not taken account of those people who will suffer even more than the ones whose lives will be taken by euthanasia." The law is being opposed on the grounds that the Territory is not a state and is, therefore, bound by the federal government. But the Commonwealth will reserve its right to be heard only if the matter reaches the highest court in the country, the High Court.
The Northern Territory is known more for its vast cattle stations, some of which are bigger than entire countries, than...