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Aussie TV Stations OK Euthanasia Ad

March 15, 1999

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ June Burns, after years of pain from bladder cancer, wants to die. Now she will have the chance to plead her right to a painless death in an ad on Australian TV.

Television stations today approved the broadcast of Burns’ commercial, throwing the debate open once more in the country that saw the world’s first law allowing euthanasia, but then barred it.

In the commercial, which Burns made with the support of a group seeking a referendum on mercy killings, the wife and mother of four looks directly into the camera and speaks of her wish for a dignified end to her pain.

``Soon I will be in such pain and distress that my life won’t be worth living,″ says Burns, 54.

``If I was a dog, by now the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) would be on to my husband for cruelty and would have me put down straight away.

``I don’t want to have to kill myself, but if nobody can help me, I’m going to have to,″ she says.

Tony Branigan, general manager of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, or FACTS, said it was an easy decision to approve the commercial, which will go on the air starting Wednesday.

``There wasn’t really a lot of deliberation _ it’s been put together with the requirements of the law and our code of practice in mind,″ Branigan said.

``We took the view that it’s not (encouraging suicide). Because of the form that it takes, what it’s encouraging is a change to the law.″

Burns, a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New South Wales since she watched her father die of bladder cancer, did not read a script for the ad and was not prompted, said the society’s president, Giles Yates.

The society hopes the commercial will prompt state referendum over the issue of voluntary euthanasia.

FACTS’ approval came as Health Minister Dr. Michael Wooldridge repeated the government’s rejection of voluntary euthanasia.

``Many would say we have some of the best palliative care in the world. Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean a government should sanction the killing of its citizens,″ he said.

In September 1996, the Northern Territory’s legislature became the first legislative body in the world to approve medically assisted euthanasia, but the federal Parliament revoked that law in March 1997.

Four terminally ill people died in the Northern Territory with medical assistance before the law was overturned.

Although illegal, euthanasia is practiced in the Netherlands, where it is not prosecuted if strict guidelines are followed. In Oregon, 15 people have ended their lives in doctor-assisted suicides under the only U.S. law allowing the practice, passed in November 1997.

Several attempts to reinstate euthanasia have gone nowhere in Australia. Euthanasia bills in three Australian states are at various stages, but are foundering without major party support.

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