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Australia drops assisted-suicide law

Australian lawmakers struck down the only law in the world allowing doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, voting instead to try to improve pain-management for the dying.

Four people already have killed themselves under the law since it took effect in the Northern Territory in July, and at least two other terminally ill people there were planning to take advantage of it.

Federal senators today rejected an appeal by the doctor of the two dying patients, voting 38-33 to overturn the territorial law.

"The Senate of Australia betrayed the terminally ill, especially the two people who are dying in the territory tonight," Dr. Philip Nitschke said afterward.

The Senate vote sends the anti-euthanasia bill to the governor-general, who is expected to sign it into law. Senators tacked on an amendment that calls for more funding for pain treatment to ease the suffering of the dying.

Australia's national Parliament has the constitutional right to strike down territorial and state legislation. The euthanasia legislation had applied only in the Northern Territory.

It had allowed the terminally ill to obtain medical assistance for their suicide if they had clearance from three doctors, including a psychiatrist.

Advocates for Australia's indigenous people had been some of the strongest opponents of the legalization of euthanasia, saying confusion over the law could make Aborigines reluctant to seek medical care. Euthanasia opponents prayed outside Parliament while senators voted.