Television personality Andrew Denton has criticised MPs Kevin Andrews and Tony Burke for their role in scuttling voluntary euthanasia laws in Australia, decrying "subterranean forces" preventing reforms to help the sick and dying.
In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, Denton said he was seeking "to light a fire" on the issue because Catholic MPs responsible for overturning controversial 1990s Northern Territory assisted dying laws continued to block any national change in Parliament.
Denton called for a new set of carefully written laws which could only be used by sufferers of terminal illnesses and which gave doctors protection if they followed strict criteria for assisting patients to die.
Doctors and nurses who are personally opposed to euthanasia, including for religious or moral reasons, would not be required to assist their patients to die.
"That is what a law for assisted dying would look like. Not a licence the bump off granny," he said.
"I want to emphasise that what I am proposing is a law to make legal a practice that already is happening in Australia... without regulation, without support, without transparency or accountability and, from the evidence received, sometimes without consent."
He said the so-called Andrews Bill from 1996, which overturned Northern Territory laws and prevented territories from legislating for euthanasia, came as the result of a bipartisan co-operation between former minister Kevin Andrews and Mr Burke, now Labor's environment spokesman.
"The joint operation was led on the Liberal side by a young Kevin Andrews, a leading member of the conservative lions dubbed 'the God Squad', who worked in tandem with rising Labor star Tony Burke," Denton said.
"Only 25 and not in federal Parliament, Tony was an ambitious young foot soldier.
"They were supported by a group of conservative politicians from both parties. Their campaign was also given significant extra parliamentary support from two wealthy and well-connected Catholic businessmen."
Denton said he believed religious views were supreme in consideration of how Australians "live, love and die".
Mr Andrews was contacted for comment.
Mr Burke dismissed the criticism.
"Pretending my faith determines my political views hits a pretty clear wall when you consider my support for marriage equality," he said.
"The claim past debates were driven solely by religion doesn't explain why many atheists and people such as Lindsay Tanner and Barry Jones held the same view as me."
A new euthanasia campaign group, Go Gentle Australia, will lobby politicians in Canberra to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
Denton said overseas laws, including in Europe, the United States and Canada, all show legal systems with safeguards and protections could be effective without risk to the patient.
"The most frequent dog whistle used by opponents of assisted dying, [is] the insinuation the most vulnerable in our society would be coerced to die under these laws because they have become a burden," he said.
"There is no credible evidence to support this overseas. Rather, there is widely accepted publicly available peer-reviewed evidence to not accept it."
He said veteran euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke was a hero to many Australians but had "been a huge problem in this debate".
"For many people he symbolises the debate and I think there has been a zealousness and sometimes a lack of willingness to listen from him that I think has put people off," Denton said.
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