Andrew Denton has accused two prominent politicians of being part of a "subterranean" Catholic network behind a campaign to block assisted suicide laws being introduced in Australia.
The former Enough Rope host told the National Press Club on Wednesday that Former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews and Labor's Tony Burke were part of a joint operation to repeal the Northern Territory's 1996 assisted suicide law.
"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 Bourke, only 25 and not in Federal Parliament, Tony was an ambitious young foot soldier," Denton said.
"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."
In September of 1996 Kevin Andrews authored the Euthanasia Laws Bill to overturn the NT's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.
Denton said the forces that were behind the effective repeal of the law were still "in play," while the anti-assisted suicide network "kept is profile so low as to be almost subterranean".
"On the questions that are most fundamental to how we live, love and die, religious belief trumps everything. This is the theocracy hidden inside our democracy," he said.
"Second, is that what Kevin Andrews and Tony Bourke engineered was an outright denial of the will of the people of the NT as expressed through their elected representatives."
Denton, who is the director of Go Gentle campaign for assisted dying, told the National Press Club he was publishing the book Damage Done in part as a as a rebuke to politicians who he said had been "derelict in their duties" over the past two decades.
There have been 28 attempts in various state parliaments to introduce assisted dying laws, while not one had reached the point where the details could be properly debated, he said.
"By failing to properly examine the claim that no safeguard can be devised to protect the vulnerable, our politicians have failed instead to protect the people they represent," he said.
Citing examples in the U.S. and Europe, Denton said a carefully written assisted suicide law would not be "a licence the bump off granny," but it would make legal a practice that already is happening in Australia without regulation, support, transparency or accountability.
"A carefully written law you can access only if you have an extreme medical condition from which you are dying and which protects doctors from performance-enhancing drugs should they if strict criteria," he said.
"How extraordinary is this, to live in a society where it is legally and ethically acceptable for a dying patient to endure a slow, torturous to death by dehydration and starvation or to end their life violently and alone, yet it is legally and ethically unaccepted for that same dying patient to choose a quick and painless end to their suffering?"