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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 14:39 GMT
New pro-euthanasia group name row
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty took her right-to-die challenge to Europe
Britain's leading euthanasia campaign group has changed its name to Dignity in Dying, sparking protests from experts in palliative care.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society hopes the name change will aid campaigning on all end of life medical treatment.

But the Association of Palliative Medicine accuses the organisation of trying to suggest dignity in terminal illness can only be won by euthanasia.

It has written to Trade and Industry Secretary to oppose the change.

When teaching about palliative care, the phrase 'dignity in dying' is used in terms of how a patient's quality of life can be improved
Letter to the Secretary of State

The letter, also signed by the Medical Ethics Alliance, urged Alan Johnson to reject the euthanasia charity's application for a new trademark based on the phrase.

It read: "Dignity in dying is a phrase in common parlance in many sections of the population, being used by patients worried about the care they will receive.

"Patients often ask whether they will have dignity in dying because they are frightened, feel abandoned, are worried they might be left incontinent, confused or in another state that will undermine their personal dignity.

"These patients are not asking for euthanasia or assisted suicide; they are asking for good care," the letter said.

"For the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to seek a monopoly of a common English phrase in order to invest it with a totally different meaning is dishonest and will create confusion," it added.

'Quality of life

The association's chairman John Wiles told the BBC: "What we are trying to do is get away from the suggestion that you can only achieve dignity in dying with euthanasia - that we totally refute."

He said the phrase 'dying with dignity' also meant getting good palliative care and that it should not just be the prerogative of euthanasia campaigners.

But a spokesman for Dignity in Dying rejected the concerns of palliative care groups saying they were not seeking "a monopoly of the English language".

The charity's chief executive Deborah Annets said: "We get so many calls from terminally ill people saying, 'please just let me die with dignity' and we are committed to making this a reality.

Diane Pretty

"Our new name reflects that 82% of the public support patient choice, they realise that dignity is a personal matter.

"The criticism of our new name comes from those who don't want terminally ill people to have any sort of choice at the end of life and believe patients should die as they are told to. This attitude is no longer acceptable."

Supporter of voluntary euthanasia, Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, accused palliative care experts of trying to appropriate the phrase themselves by stopping anyone else from using it.

He said that the case of Diane Pretty, the terminally ill woman from Luton, Bedfordshire, who took her fight for the right to die all the way to the European courts, showed many people understood how she felt her treatment was undignified.

'Fair society'

Mrs Pretty's case that the British courts were contravening her human rights by refusing to allow her husband to help her commit suicide was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2002.

She died weeks later at a hospice near her home.

Disability campaign group Radar said the VES' name change was an attempt to move away from negative connotations associated with the word euthanasia, before a Lords debate on a bill on assisted dying.

Its chief executive Kate Nash said before there was a right to die there must be a right to live as full and equal members of a fair society.

"Assisted dying legislation will not create autonomy until supported independent living is a real societal value and a reality for disabled people."

Woman fights for right to die
20 Aug 01 |  Health
Pretty 'refused aid-to-die offer'
11 May 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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