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Brussels conference also a celebration

Before going to Brussels, my Berlitz guidebook told me that the people of this city “resolved long ago to have a good time, come what may, and their stoic enjoyment of life is very contagious “. And, with over a hundred different Belgian beers available, it was certainly a great place and occasion, last September, to celebrate the fact that Belgium had legalized (by a final vote of 86 to 51) physician-assisted dying in May 2002.

The 14th World Conference was a great success. Delegates came from twenty-one countries — so much information was exchanged, important contacts were initiated and also renewed, and much encouragement for the future was generated. The national slogan of Belgium is “L’ union fait la force” (Unity is strength) — all of us who were in Brussels gained a great deal from our various personal associations and from the more formal sessions.

In the delegates’ meetings, the activities and financial records of the past two years were reviewed, a new member society (Friends at the End — FATE — in Scotland) joined, the Executive Director’s fund-raising efforts in the United States were welcomed (this central office is now self-financing), and a new Board — for the next two years — was elected.

The European member societies, in a separate meeting, agreed to streamline their organizational structure. They considered the consequences of “euthanasia tourism” — one major disadvantage being that the pressure on national governments to legalize in favour of physician-assisted dying is lessened if the possibility for euthanasia should exist in a neighbouring country.

And, this group approved a project (initially for two years, to be financed by the World Federation, the European Division and some individual member societies)for a research assistant to keep a regular watch on what is happening in the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the European Parliament on right-to-die issues.

Alongside these delegates’ meetings, there were a variety of excellent presentations ranging from an update on what is happening in Oregon to the human rights saga of Diane Pretty, and from the Hemlock Society ‘s Caring Friends program to the showing of a powerful, emotional film on an elderly man’s suicide (produced recently by the Humanistic Broadcasting Union in The Netherlands).

The main social event for delegates was a dinner in the splendid Grand Hall of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, at which the George Saba medal was presented to the Board and Membership of the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Vrijwillige Euthanasie in recognition of the major role this member society has played “in ensuring that the citizens of The Netherlands have the legalized choice of a dignified and peaceful death, and so have made an outstanding contribution to the worldwide Right to Die Movement”.

The central theme of the two-day public congress was “Euthanasia and the Law”. This took place on September 6th and 7th,while the delegates’ meetings were held on September 5th and 8th — like a good sandwich, the public congress was a tasteful filling. In his introductory remarks in the programme, NVVE’s Rob Jonquiere noted that, “in different sessions all legal aspects of death on request, and all other influencing factors in this process of legalization will be presented and discussed, with only one philosophy: how can experiences around the world be used to realise a legally sound free choice in (dignified)end-of-life decisions for everybody anywhere in the world”.

At various times during these four days, the new Board met — on three occasions starting at 8 am in an alcove of the lobby of one of the hotels where we stayed! The 2002–2004 Board is rather unique as half of its elected members are physicians — also, half come from Europe.

In planning our activities for the next two years, we agreed that these should focus on making the World Federation an even more responsible voice for physician-assisted dying and thus help the development and work of member societies. Among the present preliminary list of projects,we will seek consultative status with the United Nations and the Council of Europe,have a universal manifesto (for individuals around the world to sign),issue a world status report on physician-assisted dying annually (starting on Human Rights Day,December 10th 2003),and appoint Honorary Presidents (or Patrons).One practical decision we took was to decide that, in future, candidates standing for election to the Board would be required to introduce themselves briefly during the first session of the delegates’ meeting (or provide a proxy if they cannot be present)and then for the voting to occur much later at the end of that day.

The organization of our four days in Brussels was the responsibility of three member societies — NVVE,ADMD-B and ADMD-L.All of us who had the privilege to be at this biennial conference last September owe them a great deal.I know it is somewhat dangerous to select two indi- viduals who did so much to make this event so successful, but,with apologies to all the others involved, I must say a special “thank you” to Jacqueline Herremans and Rob Jonquiere. Jacqueline’s contacts in her hometown — from the speakers to the caterers — were numerous and most impressive. And Rob, coping with many organizational stresses, was unflappable.

Finally, on behalf of all of us, I must thank Richard MacDonald,my predecessor as President. As I said at the closing ceremony in Brussels, he is a “very hard act to follow”. Richard has been a most effective President during the past two years (while, at the same time, being so actively involved in Hemlock’s Caring Friends program — such a discreet, well-run operation — who is also a very successful communicator.)He has helped me greatly to become his successor and, fortunately, he automatically continues on the Board as the Past President and so can still give me good advice.

I regard it as a very great honor to be the President of the World Federation for the next two years. It was noted in Brussels that the combined membership of all our member societies is well over half a million! — that is a very impressive number for any international non-governmental organization. I am a very informal person (as I hope my VES colleagues in England can confirm) and I would like anyone, who wishes to contact me on any aspect of our global right-to-die movement, to do so via my e-mail address.

Dr. Michael Irwin, of England, is the incoming president of the World Federation for 2002–2004.

His organization in London is the VES.

Grant for Pilot Program

We are pleased to announce that the World Federation has received a grant of $5,000 from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund of San Francisco.The money will be used to support a pilot educational outreach program aimed at increasing public awareness of the work of the Federation. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Haas Fund for this grant.

Special Fundraising Drive

During the next two to three years,it is hoped that up to twenty-one individuals,foundations or trusts will each be willing to make donations of at least $1000 — thus, joining a “21 Club” — to supplement the funds the World Federation requires for such general activities as the newsletter, travel subsidies for certain individuals to the 2004 Tokyo conference, WF representation at selected international conferences, the WF share of the joint research project with the European Division and certain European member societies, as well as general administrative expenses.