Right-to-die movement sees gains as world ages, but opponents active

June 13, 2012

(Euthanasia campaigner Dr. Philip Nitschke poses for the photographer with his 'suicide kit' after a Reuters Interview in London May 7, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)

Right-to-die activists hope more countries will allow assisted suicide or euthanasia in coming years as the world population ages, but opponents are determined to stop them, a dispute that flared ahead of competing conferences in Switzerland.

“We have seen over the last 20 years a general migration of positivity towards this being a just cause,” Ted Goodwin, the American president of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies, told a news conference in Zurich on Tuesday.

Goodwin was speaking as representatives of 55 right-to-die societies from around the world gathered for a three-day congress to mark the 30th anniversary of Exit, a Swiss group which provides lethal drugs to help the terminally ill die.

Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, if performed by a non-physician who has no direct interest in the death. Euthanasia, or “mercy killing”, is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon.

Goodwin said the election of Socialist Francois Hollande as French president could help the euthanasia cause in Europe. Hollande has said he favors euthanasia under strict conditions.

“If France falls into line, I believe Germany will also adopt it. That is a game changer in Europe,” he said, noting support for reform was also gaining traction in Australia and Massachusetts. “Things are happening slowly but surely.”

He said ageing societies meant that half of medical costs are now falling in the last three to six months of life on care that does not change the trajectory of a disease.

The number of Swiss residents who died by assisted suicide rose sevenfold between 1998 and 2009 to almost 300, statistics published for the first time showed in March.

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