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Euthanasia Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 16:55 GMT
The pro-choice view
The VES supported Dr David Moor's case
A personal view by Tamora Langley of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) was set up in 1935 by a group of doctors, lawyers and clergymen.

VES campaigns to make it legal for a competent adult, who is suffering unbearably from a terminal illness, to be allowed to request medical help to die at their own informed and persistent request - If that's what they want.

VES is a not-for-profit organisation campaigning strictly within the law, to change it.

All our funds come from our members - ordinary individuals who believe in Choice and Dignity at the end of life.

Good death

Everyone wants a good death, which is why opinion polls show 85% of the population support us.

Many people have seen friends and relatives die long drawn-out deaths and thought: "In their shoes I would like to have a choice about how and when I die."

VES encourages MPs to listen to their constituents' concerns over the choices which will be available to them at the end of their lives, and to support a change the law.

The doctor/patient relationship has changed a lot over the last 50 years, from 'doctor knows best' towards a more equal relationship with doctors giving patients the information they need in order to make their own informed decisions.

But when it comes to end-of-life decision making the relationship is far from equal: patients are still disempowered.

Wishes first

VES campaigns to put the wishes of terminally ill patients first.

A 'good death' is one which complements rather than clashes with our vision of ourselves.

Because we are all individuals, we must be allowed to make choices about what for each of us, is a good death.

This requires a two-way dialogue with our doctors, where our wishes about our own lives are respected.

Doctors must realise that where they are unable to cure, they must offer acceptable alternatives - alternatives which are acceptable to us.

The desire to have control over our lives is a fundamental part of our humanity.

In 2001 VES was nominated for the Liberty/Justice Human Rights Award, for our work in furthering the human rights of the terminally ill.

The problem with the current law is that it does not work, and vulnerable people are not protected.

Doctors help

Everyone knows that doctors help people to die even though it is against the law.

For example, in a recent survey 4% of UK doctors admitted to assisting in a patient's suicide, although the real figure is likely to be much higher.

Additionally doctors hasten patients' deaths and hide behind the doctrine of double effect.

Each year 'mercy killing' cases are brought to court but juries refuse to convict, or when they do judges only give suspended sentences.

Without legal safeguards there is little protection here for vulnerable people.

The last country which conducted a full enquiry into end-of-life decisions was Belgium. Belgium discovered it had five times the amount of non-voluntary euthanasia as the Netherlands, where assisted dying is strictly regulated.

The Belgian Senate has now voted to legalise voluntary euthanasia because it recognises regulation is the best way to protect the vulnerable.

In legal terms, the UK lags far behind the rest of Europe.

While most European countries distinguish 'murder' from cases where the person asks for assistance to die, the concept of 'homicide with consent' does not exist in English law.

In most of Europe, assisting in the suicide of a terminally ill adult is not a crime.

Terminally ill adults have the right to be treated as equals, and we should all be allowed to choose a good death.

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