Close Window




ISSN 0742-535X JUNE 2002


In law and actions, an eventful half-year.

In the six months between last December and June, there were more significant events in the right-to-die field than ever in the movement's 22-year history.

Swiss parliamentarians threw out a move to quash its long-standing sanction of assisted suicide, and moreover, confirmed that the law should stand. (December)

The Netherlands law giving statutory consent to voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide came into force. (April) á Belgium followed the Dutch by passing a similar law (May)

Oregon used an American court beat off an attempt by the Bush Government to wipe out its five-year-old physician-assisted suicide law. (April)

A British court in a bedside hearing ruled that a severely disabled, but not dying woman -- Mrs. B - could have her life-supports cut off. She chose to die. (April)

Twenty-one people used civil disobedience tactics to support an elderly Australian woman dying of cancer, Nancy Crick, by being at her bedside as she took her life. It posed the question: can 21 people all be charged with assisted suicide. (May)

There were some disappointments, too.

Diane Pretty, dying of ALS (or motor neurone disease), wanted her husband to assist her suicide and fought right through the English court system for that. At every step she was denied, and made a last desperate attempt at the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, but lost there also. She died a few weeks later. In spite of her defeats, Diane attracted enormous public discussion through her bravery and determination.

The Oregon law is not yet clear of its enemies. On 24 May the U.S. Department of Justice filed an suit to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to overthrow the April decision which upheld the law. This case is destined for a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A physician-assisted suicide law similar to Oregon's passed through many stages in Hawaii's legislature, helped by the Governor's support, but failed at the last hurdle in the Senate by a vote of 14-11. Given such a narrow defeat, it is likely to be tried agin.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian lost an appeal against his sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Thomas Youk, anoher ALS victim, who asked Kevorkian to help him die by lethal injection. From his cell in Michigan, where he has been since l999, he intends to try other avenues of appeal.

(3 June 2002) DH

Return to top of page.

Close Window



On 11 December 2001, the [Swiss] National Council pronounced its decisions on two contradictory initiatives related to assisted death.

The Cavalli initiative proposed a relaxation of the legislation governing active euthanasia: the practice would in principle remain unlawful, but it would no longer be punishable when carried out under strictly-defined conditions, to put an end to medical situations for which there is no solution, upon the express request of the patient. This relaxation in the legislation would have made it possible to fulfil, with transparency and respect, the wishes of persons at the end of their lives who are no longer in a state to accomplish the act of self-deliverance on their own. This is what we could refer to as "exceptional euthanasia".

The Vallender initiative, on the contrary, aimed, without specifically saying so, to once again question the present possibility of practicing assisted suicide without an egotistical motive. It wanted, in effect, to prohibit this action for associations such as EXIT, and the doctors themselves, limiting it to persons "belonging to the victim's family circle" (sic), which is in fact a means of preventing the action, since a doctor's prescription is required in order to obtain the lethal substance.

Together with the group "A propos", EXIT ADMD conducted an intensive information campaign for parliamentary members, who all received arguments to encourage them to accept the first initiative and to reject the second.

At the vote, the Cavalli initiative met with opposition from the "ideologists" who advocate absolute protection of life, those who claim that palliative care is the answer to everything, and the "liberals" who do not want legislation. The result: 120 against and 56 for. On the other hand, the Vallender initiative was rejected just as markedly: 117 against and 58 for.

In fact, this double result is not a "nil-all draw", but represents a clear step forward for EXIT. "Exceptional" euthanasia was indeed refused, but a national debate has now been launched, and as such it has gained acceptance, which will means it can be openly pursued, and that we can try again at the time of the next legislature. The failure is but momentary.

On the other hand, the marked rejection of the Vallender initiative not only reaffirms that assisted suicide is not punishable, but it officially acknowledges for the first time the legitimacy of EXIT and its competence to act in this field. It is this decisive step which prompted our President to state that he is "three-quarters satisfied" in the article hereafter (Tribune de Gen�ve, 12.12.01).

Parliament recognises EXIT's activities

For Doctor JŽr™me Sobel, the President of the Association for Assisted Suicide EXIT for French-speaking Switzerland, the decisions taken by the National Council reinforce the work of his association.


- Are you disappointed by the National Council's decision?

- JŽr™me Sobel: Not at all. I am three-quarters satisfied. Although the National Council rejected the Cavalli initiative, which aimed to decriminalise direct active euthanasia, it also very clearly rejected the text from Dorle Vallender. This latter would have rendered impossible assisted suicide as practiced by EXIT. This is the first time that our activities have received such parliamentary support. The Swiss Academy for Medical Sciences will have to review its directives1. It cannot content itself with the statement that assisted suicide does not fall within the province of the doctor's field of activities. It is indeed an exceptional act, which must be left to the ethical evaluation of each doctor, but it does fall within the province of his competency. The medical faculties will be forced to address the subject.

- How, in your view, would the decriminalisation of active euthanasia have been a step forward?

- It is clear that active euthanasia lies first and foremost with the doctor, but not solely. The members of EXIT could have been authorised to practice it. It would have permitted an end to the pain of those who have always wanted to die with dignity but cannot do so by themselves. The Cavalli initiative would above all have provided clarification for a grey area. In Holland, since direct euthanasia has been accepted, indirect euthanasia is five times less frequent than it is elsewhere. This is the proof that the present situation is hypocritical.

- At the present time, what do EXIT members have to do to remain within the bounds of legality?

- Assisted suicide is by no means illegal. At the present time, one needs to produce a request from the patient, and demonstrate his/her hopeless medical condition. A suicide is viewed as a violent death which always gives rise to an investigation. The final act always takes place in the presence of a witness, to prove that the patient made the last gesture: that of opening his/her drip or swallowing the lethal solution.

Return to top of page.

Close Window


Turned away by the courts, Diane Pretty dies

By Michael Irwin, MD

In the last issue of this Newsletter, there was an account of terminally-ill Diane Pretty's legal efforts to obtain an assurance that her husband could help her to commit suicide without risking prosecution - mainly because she was physically unable, due to her advanced motor neurone disease, to end her life alone. Unfortunately, the British courts failed her, and so she appealed to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In mid-March, making her first trip overseas, Diane travelled by a special ambulance from her home near London to Strasbourg for her half-day appearance before this Court. Her lawyers focused on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 8 (the right to privacy, and to personal autonomy over one's own body), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

In the Strasbourg Court, the British Government legal team admitted for the first time that the Director of Public Prosecutions, in London, has discretion over whether or not to prosecute someone who assists Diane in ending her life. Interestingly, it was also stated that a ruling in favour of Diane would allow unregulated assisted dying in the UK, in comparison to the "very strict controls that the Netherlands has imposed". The seven judges who heard Diane's appeal also received a detailed report, written by Deborah Annetts, the Director of the British Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which, inter alia, described the legal position of other European countries regarding assisted suicide. In England (and Ireland), the law is the most repressive - the penalty being up to fourteen years imprisonment - while elsewhere, such as in Belgium, Finland, and Switzerland, assisting in the suicide of a terminally-ill adult is not a crime.


Normally, applicants to the European Court have to wait months, and sometimes years, for a result. However, because Diane was so ill, a verdict was delivered within six weeks, and in late April, the Court ruled that the refusal of the British courts to allow Diane's husband to help her to die did not contravene her human rights.

While the judges said "The Court could not but be sympathetic to the applicant's apprehension that without the possibility of ending her life she faced the prospect of a distressing death", they concluded that the fact that assisted suicide was a crime in England was not a breach of the European Convention.

However, in its 41-page statement, the Court admitted that the closest Diane's lawyers came to persuading the judges that she had some right on her side was when they argued that there was a breach of Article 8 of the Convention. The Court accepted that the very essence of the European Convention was respect for human dignity and human freedom.

And, it added that "in an era of growing medical sophistication combined with longer life expectancies, many people are concerned that they should not be forced to linger on in old age or in states of advanced physical or mental decrepitude which conflict with strongly held ideas of self and personal identity". For this reason, the seven judges were not prepared to exclude the possibility that preventing Diane from dying in what she considered to be an undignified and distressing way might interfere with her right to respect for private life. These views obviously require further examination by lawyers in the right-to-die movement.

Diane and her husband reluctantly accepted the European Court's decision. But, at a press conference on April 29th, they appealed to the public to sign a petition asking the British Parliament to consider a change in the law to allow physician-assisted dying - this petition can be signed by logging on to

However, on May 3, Diane went again into her local hospice, which had helped care for her throughout her illness, because of severe breathing difficulties, and eventually heavily sedated, she died there on May 11th.

The title of a front-page report in The Daily Telegraph (Britain's main Conservative daily newspaper) unfortunately said it all - "Diane Pretty dies in the way she always feared". How she would have so much preferred to have died at home at a moment of her choosing.

Diane Pretty was an extraordinary woman. Everyone who had the privilege of meeting her was struck by her humanity and bravery in the face of unbearable suffering. Her struggle for legalized physician-assisted dying in the UK lives on. Everyone can help to preserve her memory by signing the internet petition which is mentioned above

Return to top of page.

Close Window


2004 World Conference

The 15th conference of the World Federation of
Right to Die Societies will be held in Japan in 2004,
with the Japan Society for Dying with Dignity as the host


French conference

On January 25, "l'Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans la DignitŽ - ADMD" organized a seminar at the House of Parliament, Paris, under the sponsorship of its president, entitled "21st century: towards what end of life?". The speakers included prominent foreign and french personalities - Senator J Kohnstamm, president NVVE; Dr. J SOBEL, president EXIT-Suisse romande; and Jacqueline HERREMANS, president ADMD Belgique. Dr. KOUCHNER, the Health Minister, opened the seminar and gave an address pointing out the necessity of changing the law, after organizing debates on active aid-in-dying.


New Scottish group makes steady progress

Friends at the End, founded in October 2000, in Glasgow, Scotland, have made a good start. Their regular meetings with a prominent speaker are popular; a newsletter is distributed every four months; and there is a growing library of books and videos for loan or sale to members. Their first major project has been to check to see if the National Health Service Trusts in Scotland have in place agreed policies on Advance Directives and DNAR requests, as is now required by law, and they plan to publish the results, which at the moment are "patchy". In the last six months Friends at the End have provided a speaker for television programmes and two university debates, and a lecturer to a college. The membership is growing slowly and there are plans to attract more young people.

Return to top of page.

Close Window


President's Report

World Federation keeps on growing

By Richard MacDonald, MD

Reminiscing about the past two years as President of the World Federation of Right To Die Societies brings to mind several significant and satisfying milestones. I feel sure that the willing and cooperative members of the Board of Directors, to whom I give my sincere thanks for their contributions to the effective functioning of our Board, will agree with me that our organization has moved forward in various ways, some of which I wish to note in this column, my last as your President.

A most important innovation has been the hiring of a part time Executive Director, Stephen Jamison of the United States, being selected by Mary Gallnor, the immediate past President, and Libby Drake, Secretary, to fill that role. Stephen has capably created this post, made possible by generous donations from several of our member societies.

He has worked with me to create grant proposals that he submitted to many Foundations in the U.S. These efforts have begun to reap the hoped for results. At the present time the most significant grants have come from one of our member societies - The Hemlock Society USA.

However, before the end of 2002 other grants will be received from non-World Federation members, and these will augment the treasury so that we can accomplish our goals of reaching out to educate many different national and international audiences by presenting papers at conferences that deal with end of life care.


We are optimistic that Stephen's position can be maintained and, possibly, increased by further member societies support as well as with the portion of grant funding that can be utilized for administrative expenses. In 2001, by obtaining the status as an incorporated organization in the United States, with Past President Sidney Rosoff's professional help, we became able to compete with other organizations in seeking funding assistance for our educational efforts.

Having representatives of the World Federation attend and present papers at important conferences has already been accomplished, as reported by me in a prior Newsletter, when I described the excellent response we received from those attending a World Congress of Gerontology in Vancouver, Canada, this effort being supported by grants from both the national and Florida State Hemlock societies. Another innovation was my decision, fully supported by the Board of Directors, to have an interim Board meeting in the year between World Conference meetings. Held in Barcelona in October, 2001, with generous support from ADMD, our member society in Spain, we accomplished a great deal, both in organizational and planning activities. We feel it essential to continue interim Board meetings if the World Federation is to increase its visibility with many other non-governmental organizations.

Membership in the World Federation has increased over the past two years with new societies from Scotland, Denmark and India as well as the Exit-Australia organization indicating their wish to join us in working together to educate people around the world about the philosophy of having more control over end of life situations.

In society developments, there have been significant achievements. The NVVE and supporters both in The Netherlands and worldwide celebrated this year as legalization of the law to permit euthanasia and assisted dying occurred. In that country, surveys reveal over 90% approval of those with terminal illness being able to choose a hastened death.


In Belgium both houses of Parliament have recently approved a similar law, by a wide margin, so that country is the second nation to have legalized euthanasia. In Oregon the state, with support from many organizations, including those that belong to the World Federation, successfully protected the right of those near death to choose to ask for medication to end any prolonged time of dying. John Ashcroft, the United States Attorney General, had attempted to end the Dying With Dignity Law in Oregon by threatening physicians who followed the wishes of their patients.


In England, Diane Pretty lost her battle to have her husband protected from prosecution if he aided her in finding a peaceful, hastened death. This was an opportunity for both the government of the United Kingdom and for the European Union Court on Human Rights to make a clear statement that those near death should be treated more humanely. They failed. However the heavy media coverage gave a significant number of people the opportunity to become educated about the issues of end of life care.

In another media-covered case, a brave Australian, Nancy Crick, publicly declared her intention to challenge the law by ending her life as death nears. She had the support of World Federation member societies as well as some political figures in that country.

When we meet in Brussels we will therefore have much to discuss and remember. There is so much more to do as we start this 21st Century. Let us come together for the World Conference of delegates ready to contribute even more effort and more dedication to building on the progress of the past few years.

I will look forward to renewing friendships with many of you and to meeting representatives of new societies that have decided to join in our efforts to ensure that a peaceful dying process may be available to those of us who choose. My heartfelt thanks to many dedicated leaders and members of all World Federation societies who are working to achieve goals in countries around the world.

Return to top of page.

Close Window


Assisted Suicide Laws In The World

By Derek Humphry

Assisted suicide laws around the world are clear in some nations but unclear - if they exist at all - in others. Just because a country has not defined its criminal code on this specific action does not mean all assisters will go free. It is a complicated state of affairs.

For example, it is correct that Sweden has no law specifically proscribing assisted suicide. Instead the prosecutors might charge an assister with manslaughter - and do. In 1979 the Swedish right-to-die leader Berit Hedeby went to prison for a year for helping a man with MS to die.

Neighbouring Norway has criminal sanctions against assisted suicide by using the charge "accessory to murder". In cases where consent was given and the reasons compassionate, the courts pass lighter sentences. A recent law commission voted down de-criminalizing assisted suicide by a 5-2 vote.

A retired Norwegian physician, Christian Sandsdalen, was found guilty of wilful murder in 2000. He admitted giving an overdose of morphine to a woman chronically ill after 20 years with MS who begged for his help. It cost him his medical license but he was not sent to prison. He appealed the case right up to the Supreme Court and lost every time. Dr. Sandsdalen died a year ago at 82 and, curiously, his funeral was packed with Norway's dignitaries.

Finland has nothing in its criminal code about assisted suicide. Sometimes an assister will inform the law enforcement authorities him or herself of having aided someone in dying, and provided the action was justified, nothing more happens. Mostly it takes place among friends, who act discreetly. If Finnish doctors were known to practice assisted suicide or euthanasia, the situation might change, although there is no case history.

Germany has had no penalty for the action since 1751, although it rarely happens there due to the hangover taboo caused by Nazi mass murders, plus powerful, contemporary, church influences. Direct killing by euthanasia is a crime. In 2000 a German appeal court cleared a Swiss clergyman of assisted suicide because there was no such offence, but convicted him of bringing the drugs into the country. There was no imprisonment.

It has been reported that Denmark and France have permissive assisted suicide laws. They do not.

The only four places that today openly, legally, authorize assisted suicide of dying patients, are:

  1. Oregon (since l997);
  2. Switzerland (1941);
  3. Belgium (2002);
  4. Netherlands (as well as voluntary euthanasia, lawfully since April 2002, but permitted by the courts since l984).

Two doctors must be involved in Oregon, Belgium and the Netherlands, but that is not necessary in Switzerland, although at least one usually is. Belgium permits voluntary euthanasia, but both Oregon and Switzerland ban death by injection, and all have 'residents' only' rules.


Switzerland alone does not bar foreigners provided they are critically terminally ill and mentally competent. Recently the Swiss Academic of Medical Sciences removed its long-standing opposition to assisted suicide

Japan has medical voluntary euthanasia approved by a high court in l962 in the Yamagouchi case, but instances are extremely rare, seemingly because of complicated taboos on suicide, dying and death in that country. Similarly, Colombia's Constitutional Court in 1997 approved medical voluntary euthanasia but its parliament has never approved it. So the ruling stays in limbo until a doctor challenges it.

The Northern Territory of Australia had voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide for nine months until its opponents in the Federal Parliament repealed the law in l997. Only four people were able to use it. Other states are campaigning for similar reforms.

If you have information that adds to, or differs from, the above article, please email me. (June 2002)

Return to top of page.

Close Window



The World Federation of Right to Die Societies meets every two years. This year, 2002, the NVVE, ADMD-B, RWS and ADMD-L undertook the organisation.

The conference is divided in two main parts: on Thursday September 5 and Sunday September 8 the member organisations of the WFRtDS will meet and exchange their national experiences in support of each other.

This in order to achieve the overall objective of having a free choice around the end of life for everybody anywhere in the world who wishes to have one, within the structures and cultures of their residence.

On September 6 and 7, an International Conference for interested professionals is organised. Delegates of member societies are also welcome. With the Netherlands having a legalised possibility of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) - Belgium possibly as well by that time - the theme of this conference is logically chosen as 'Euthanasia and the Law.'

Since different countries use different definitions the subtitle is:

'All legal aspects of death on request'

The conference is of interest to many professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, members of the Council for the Prosecution and the courts, governmental and non-governmental policy makers, scientific staff and to anybody who is interested in issues around the end of life and free choice.

During the whole conference there will be an extensive program in the corridors with presentations by the societies, (art) exhibitions, a book market and showing of appropriate films and videos.

The entrance fee includes:

We look forward to meeting you in Brussels!

To register for this conference, email or write to

"Meeting Time"
Rue du College Saint Michel 11,
1150 Brussels, Belgium.


Return to top of page.

Close Window



From 6 to 40 new organizations

By Derek Humphry

The modern euthanasia movement began in l935 in England, three years later in the USA, and in the early l970s in Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden. It was not until l976 that people in these early groups began thinking that there ought to be some type of federation or council providing a worldwide link and information exchange.

The Japan Society for Dying with Dignity was formed in early l976 and immediately called an international conference for later in the year. Invitees were told: "The purpose of the international conference is to communicate with, and make friends with, euthanasia activities from around the world, and to provide an opportunity for the exchange of information and mutual understanding." That remains the concept today.

The Japanese Society was able to get sponsorship of the event from the Mainichi Newspaper Company.

Six right-to-die societies from four nations were represented at the l976 conference, along with half a dozen independent, mostly medical, observers. They agreed that future conferences should be held every two years in different parts of the world.

The second world euthanasia conference was mounted by Concern for Dying (today re- named Partnership in Caring) in l978 in San Francisco. It was a lavish affair, with several hundred in attendance, many excellent lectures and debates. But it did not deal with the future of the World Federation as such.

The year l980 saw the appearance of many new groups: DGHS in Germany, Hemlock in the USA, ADMD in France, VES in Scotland, and West Australia VES. And l982 saw another burst of activity with the start of ADMD in Belgium, Dying with Dignity in Canada, and two EXIT groups in Switzerland.

Before the l980 conference in Oxford, England, Sidney Rosoff, of the Society for the Right to Die, New York, and Derek Humphry, of the Hemlock Society, Los Angeles, decided it was time to formalize the World Federation and drew up a draft constitution. They presented it to the Oxford meeting. With amendments, it was passed.

This debate in Oxford showed that 20 or so societies then in existence had very different agendas. Some wanted to work for voluntary active euthanasia, some for assisted suicide, others for passive euthanasia only. *(See footnote) Therefore it was decided that the World Federation would not favor one policy over another.

Tim Saclier, of Australia, was elected the first president, with Minoo Masani, India, vice-president. The directors were Sidney D Rosoff, Gerald A Larue and Derek Humphry (USA), George Saba (Japan), and Adrienne Van Till (Netherlands). Humphry was given the job of starting a newsletter for the Federation.

A few months later Tim Saclier was obliged to resign for domestic reasons and Sidney Rosoff was elected president.

Future conferences were held in such scattered places as Bombay, Melbourne, Nice, and Bath. By the time it was conferring in the Netherlands, at Maastricht in l990 the congress represented 30 groups from 19 nations - a far cry from the original six groups from four countries.

As it prepares to meet in the 14th congress in Brussels in September, the World Federation represents 40 organizations in 23 different nations.



Return to top of page.

Close Window


Executive Director's Report

Getting the World Federation on its financial feet

Stephen Jamison

The most important news I can share with our member societies is that the work of creating proposals for foundation funding is beginning to pay off. Since the beginning of the year, we have received a total of $30,000 for three grants.

The first was a grant for $10,000 from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation in San Francisco for general support of the continued work of the World Federation. I have known their executive director, Tom Layton, for several years, and previously received a sizeable grant of my own to educate physicians on how to respond to patients' requests for assisted dying.

This prior involvement with the Gerbode Foundation was helpful, in that it established credentials. However, there was no guarantee that our proposal would automatically be looked upon favorably. This is especially because these are difficult economic times even for foundations, and the Gerbode Foundation is no different. Nevertheless, they continue to do their best to support right-to-die causes across the United States, and we are grateful that they have included us in their funding allocations.

A month later, we received word from the Hemlock Foundation that the Hemlock board of directors voted unanimously to fund two educational outreach proposals we submitted for a total of about $20,000. Although we had well-crafted proposals, we need to thank our president, Dr. Richard MacDonald, for his efforts on our behalf. Over the years, he has gained the respect of the Hemlock Society through his close association, and I cannot help but think this had a great deal to do with our obtaining these grants.

The first grant is for a pilot "Professional Education Outreach Program" that will help the World Federation bring a much needed international and multi-organizational perspective on death with dignity issues to attendees at a small number of selected professional association meetings. This builds upon our successful experience exhibiting jointly with the Hemlock Society at the World Gerontology Congress in Vancouver, where we had a visual display, provided written materials about all of our member societies and various death with dignity issues, were available to answer questions from attendees in the exhibit hall, and were one of the most visited booths at the conference.

\This grant will support our presence and educational efforts at a small number of similar conferences. It will help us purchase a display booth, which we can use at various conferences and community events, and will also pay travel costs and registration fees as well as well as a small portion of my own salary related to organizing and preparing for our attendance.

The second grant will fund a pilot "Public Education Outreach Program" that is being designed to bring an international and multi-organizational perspective on death with dignity issues to the public and health professionals at the local level. In this effort we would look forward to working with World Federation member society representatives to organize public presentations, panel discussions, and other events, using universities, colleges, and community organizations in the Northern California area as venues for public education.

We selected this area because there are several foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is readily accessible to both Dr. Richard MacDonald and myself, and also is an area with key representatives from both the Hemlock Society and the Compassion in Dying Federation. There also are several medical and legal professionals from whom to draw for panel discussions and other educational events.

We believe that a multi-organizational approach will be mutually beneficial to the World Federation and our member societies, and will bring greater responsiveness to these public events from the news media and greater attendance by the public. Further, it will help the public, professionals, and political leaders realize that ours in an international movement and that issues affecting the dying everywhere involve the most basic of human rights and are universal in nature. The importance of this pilot program cannot be stressed enough.


Ashcroft Rallies Right to Die Movement !

In the eight years that Jack Kevorkian was helping people die, the question of whether a physician should be allowed to provide help for a peaceful death became a household issue. Since Dr. Kevorkian was convicted and imprisoned for 10-25 years for second degree murder in 1998, the topic has become one of less importance because of the lack of a banner-carrier. \

An unlikely person has risen in the U.S. to rally around -- or, more exactly, to rally against. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a known religious conservative and involved in the 1990 Cruzan case when he was Attorney General of Missouri, has raised the question of whether a state should be allowed to have a law permitting a physician to use "controlled substances", i.e., those medications under government control, to help a dying patient achieve a peaceful death.

In November 2001 -- while the government was in the midst of rooting out terrorists, preventing future attacks, and countering the threat of anthrax and other bio-terrorist methods -- our Attorney General issued a decree against the Oregon law. His point was that using these drugs to assist in a death was not a legitimate medical purpose. Doctors doing this, even under the Oregon law, would lose their license to prescribe, if he had his way.

The Attorney General of Oregon fought this decree in the courts and won a ruling from the Federal District Court which rebuked Ashcroft and clearly stated that he had overstepped his bounds. The court pointed out that states were to decide on the legitimacy of a medical practice and that the Supreme Court, in its 1997 decision, ruled that this was a matter for each state to decide. Undaunted, Ashcroft announced that he would appeal the ruling.

Several right-to-die groups in this country have participated in the legal wranglings. The Hemlock Society USA has launched an offensive to mobilize the public's outrage at this intrusion into the way people choose to die.

Two advertisements in the New York Times featuring a terminally ill man -- and a press conference in Washington with that same man (who died naturally in January)-- were the beginning of the campaign. It will continue with a national public relations effort since polls show that 2 out of 3 Americans support the option of legal physician aid in dying.

We have watched the courageous efforts of Diane Pretty (UK) and Nancy Crick (Australia) to call attention to this issue and are heartened by the progress in Belgium. Hemlock is convinced that public sentiment can be mobilized here to achieve legal change and to defeat the efforts of John Ashcroft and his ilk.

Faye Girsh


Dr. Jerome Sobel is president of ADMD EXIT Swiss Romande

Dr. Richard MacDonald is medical director of the Hemlock Society and president of the World Federation until the biennial conference in Brussels in September

Olli Penttila of Finland is currently the treasurer of the World Federation.

After two terms, he is standing down at the next world conference

Derek Humphry is president of ERGO and has been editor of the World Right to Die Newsletter for most of the last two decades.

Dr.Michael Irwin is chair of the VES of England, and due to become world chairman at the Brussels conference.


Return to top of page.

Close Window