In the wake of the arrests of four assisted suicide activists from the Final Exit Network, I believe an effort will be made to cast them as fringe characters within the movement.
Don’t believe it. One of the four is Ted Goodwin, who is the head of the FEN. Goodwin has been a stalwart in the movement for many years, to the point that in 2008 he was elected vice president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, the international umbrella organization to which most euthanasia/assisted suicide organizations belong. That means, unless he resigns in the meantime, he is next in line to be elevated to the chair of president in 2010. (Goodwin resigned as head of FEN. In an earlier version of this post, since corrected, I erroneously stated he resigned as VP of the WFRTDS.)
The World Federation of Right to Die Societies doesn’t advocate for restricting assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Its 2006 “Toronto Manifesto” states:
The World Federation of Right to Die Societies (an international non-governmental organization) is aware of the increasing concern to many individuals over their right to die with dignity. Believing in the rights and freedom of all persons, we affirm this right to die with dignity, meaning in peace and without suffering.
All competent adults–regardless of their nationalities, professions, religious beliefs, and ethical and political views–who are suffering unbearably from incurable illnesses should have the possibility of various choices at the end of their life. Death is unavoidable. We strongly believe that the manner and time of dying should be left to the decision of the individual, assuming such demands do not result in harm to society other than the sadness associated with death.
The voluntarily expressed will of individuals, once they are fully informed of their diagnosis, prognosis and available means of relief, should be respected by all concerned as an expression of intrinsic human rights.
What constitutes unbearable suffering is whatever the suicidal person decides is unbearable suffering–as Compassion and Choices stated in its Seven Principles–meaning in the context of the Manifesto, it could be just about anything from cancer, to disability, to mental illness, to an elderly person being tired of life.
Along similar lines, in 1998 the WFRDS issued the Zurich Declaration, signed by some medical professionals within the movement–including Philip Nitschke who in another context advocated that troubled teenagers be allowed access to suicide–again illustrating the nearly open ended license that is the end goal of the movement. From the declaration:
We believe that we have a major responsibility for ensuring that it becomes legally possible for all competent adults, suffering severe and enduring distress, to receive medical help to die, if this is their persistent, voluntary and rational request. We note that such medical assistance is already permitted in The Netherlands, Switzerland and Oregon, USA.
“Severe and enduring distress” is so loose and broad a definition you could drive a hearse through it.
Remember this: The soothing assurances that assisted suicide is merely a last resort choice for the terminally ill only when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering is demonstrably false. Goodwin’s beliefs in this regard are well known, and he never advocated for a terminal illness limitation. Most people on both sides of the issue knew what the FEN was doing and that their dark work was not limited to people who were dying. In other words: He wasn’t elected to high leadership in the international euthanasia movement by accident.