Good Life, Good Death
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q1. What do the terms used in this FAQ mean?
A. 'Voluntary Euthanasia' (VE) means death by lethal injection; 'Physician-assisted Suicide' (PAS) means death by oral ingestion of prescribed lethal drugs. (It is PAS only which Oregon, Washington and Montana have legalized.) Passive euthanasia means the disconnection of life-supports systems from a hopelessly ill patient.
Q2. When and where did the modern voluntary euthanasia movement start?
A. In 1935 in Britain, in 1938 in the U.S., and in 1980 in Canada. The British and North America groups were very small and insignificant for the next two decades. Derek Humphry is credited with kick-starting the modern euthanasia movement in America in 1980 when he started the Hemlock Society.
Q3. When did the movement start to become bigger and more vocal?
A. After the hugely-publicized Karen Ann Quinlan `right to die' case in New Jersey in 1976 revealed to the public the extent of modern medical technology to extend life indefinitely in a persistent vegetative state. In 1980 Derek Humphry founded the Hemlock Society to campaign for law reform on assisted dying, and give factual advice on how to end life peacefully and non-violently.
Q4. How many people support voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill?
A. Opinion polls show average support of 70 percent in the USA, 74 percent in Canada, and 80 percent in Britain. When actually voting in official ballot measures, the support has been 46 percent in California (1992), 51 percent in Oregon (1994), 60 percent in Oregon (1997), and 59 percent in Washington State (2008).
Q5. How many physicians support assisted dying?
A. Numerous opinion polls indicate that half the medical profession would like to see it made law. It also appears that about 15 percent of physicians already practice it on justifiable occasions. The leadership of the professional medical group, the American Medical Association, remains adamantly opposed.
Q6. Where does the main opposition to voluntary euthanasia come from?
A. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Also churches on the religious right.
Q7. Which churches officially support the principle of assisted dying for the terminally ill?
A. The United Church of Christ (Congregational), the Unitarian Church, and the Methodist Church on the West coast of America. It appears that the congregations of most churches are divided on the issue.
Q8. How many copies of Derek Humphry's 1991 book, 'FINAL EXIT: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying' have been sold?
A. About 750,000 in the USA and Canada and approximately 500,000 in other major world languages. It consistently sells roughly 1,000 copies a month in North America. In 2010 a revised, 3rd edition was published by Delta paperbacks, New York. Both the updated paperback and updated eBook versions are available via the ERGO Bookstore. The paperback is also obtainable in good bookstores worldwide or from Amazon.com.
Q9. Is the Final Exit book banned in any country?
A. Final Exit is banned in France. Attempts to ban the book in Australia and New Zealand failed. In Britain, publishers fearing the law do not publish it, but the imported book is freely sold through the book trade there.
Q10. Where has assisted dying been made lawful in the world recently?
A. In November 1994 the citizens of the state of Oregon voted for Ballot Measure 16 which permits physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for the terminally ill under limited conditions. Despite opponents' attempts to block it in the courts, and a 1997 ballot initiative attempting to repeal the law, "The Death with Dignity Act" has withstood all challenges and became effective in October 1997. Voters in Washington state approved a similar PAS law in 2008. Montana’s Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that PAS did not infringe its constitution.
Q11. What about the Netherlands, which is famous for its liberal attitudes? And the Belgians?
A. Voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide were permitted by the Dutch for some 20 years before it was actually made legal, under strict guidelines, by the Dutch Parliament in 2002. Later the same year the Belgian Parliament approved a similar law. For a complete round-up of the world's laws go to www.assistedsuicide.org
Q12. What is the legal position in other countries
A. Voluntary euthanasia is lawful in Japan (but apparently rarely practiced because of taboos). PAS has been lawful in Switzerland since 1940. In 2003 Luxembourg approved a law similar to the Dutch and Belgian versions passed in 2002. Colombia also permits euthanasia on a limited basis.
Q13. How much private assisted dying goes on now in America?
A. Nobody really knows because, with assisted suicide a crime, incidents are almost always kept secret to avoid possible prosecution, although this is extremely rare. Derek Humphry estimates that there are probably several thousand cases in the USA each year.
Q14. Are suicide and attempted suicide crimes?
A. They used to be in Europe. The punishment for suicide was to deprive the family of any inheritance, and imprisonment for attempting suicide. But not any longer, anywhere. It is the `assistance in suicide' which remains the crime (except as noted above) which ERGO and other groups would like to see decriminalized for the terminally and hopelessly ill, provided that a willing physician carries it out under supervision and with accepted guidelines.
Q15. What is the Final Exit Network?
A. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2004 by people who were unhappy at the disappearance of the Hemlock Society (1980-2003). Volunteers from the FinalExit Network are willing -- after checks -- to sit with terminal persons as they chose to end their lives because of suffering. The Network does not concern itself with politics, leaving that to experienced groups like the Death With Dignity National Center and Compassion and Choices.
Q16. Is the Final Exit Network in legal trouble?
A. Yes. Eight volunteers in cases in Arizona (2007) and Georgia (2008) have been charged with assisting suicides under state law. Six pleaded not guilty; two pleaded guilty due to their age and poor health. Each state is having difficulty proceeding with the cases due to slender evidence and ambiguous laws. As at August 2010 both court cases were postponed indefinitely.
Q17. Have there been any court cases involving the Final Exit Network?A. Eight volunteers in cases in Arizona (2007) and Georgia (2008) have been charged with assisting suicides under state laws. Six pleaded not guilty; two pleaded guilty due to their age and poor health. The Georgia cases collapsed entirely when the state Supreme Court ruled that the law forbidding assisted suicide was unconstitutional. In the Arizona case, the Network's medical director, Larry Egbert, was acquitted. The other three defendants pleaded guilty to minor charges and given probation. A 2007 case in Minnesota resulted in a $30,000 fine for the Network. Appeals pending in 2018. For details go to www.finalexitnetwork.org
Q18. How can I help to support choice in dying?
A. Running a non-profit organization with worldwide visibility like ERGO requires funding and support from people like you. Find out how you can help to further the cause of choice in dying.