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The History of the World Federation

Taken from the World Right-to-Die Newsletter issue no. 46, Januray 2005.

This is an excerpt of a speech by Sidney Rosoff, the first president of the World Federation about how the organization got its start.

In the year 1935, in Great Britain, a small group of advanced thinking individuals, recognizing that an individual needed some protection against negative advance of medical technology, founded the very first Euthanasia Society. That creative step was repeated in the United States three years later with the formation of the Euthanasia Society of American. As we understand the issue today, it really is an international one.

The impetus for the internationalization of the movement came in 1976 with a letter from Dr. Tenrei Ota, president of the Japan Euthanasia Society inviting all known organizations concerned with the right to die to attend an international conference in Tokyo.

The five countries who were ­represented — the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, the Philippines and the United States — met to discuss the state of the movement.

It was an historic invitation which culminated four years later in the formation of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies at Oxford in England.

I was privileged to be elected the first president of this new body and was instructed to draw up the organization’s first set of By-Laws, taking advantage of my experience as a lawyer familiar with the process.

That first meeting has been well documented. It culminated in the first Tokyo Declaration (1980):

“In recent years, we have become aware of the increasing concern to the individual over his right to die with dignity, or euthanasia. We believe in the right and freedom of all men. This brings us to affirm this right to die with dignity, which means in peace and without suffering.

“Death is unavoidable. But we 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 Declaration of a person’s wishes, or the “Living Will”, should be respected by all concerned as an expression of intrinsic human rights. Therefore, at least for the present, we request that this Declaration, or the “Living Will”, be made legally ­effective, and pursuant to this, efforts toward its legalization should be made.

“Through the Tokyo International Conference of Euthanasia, or Death with Dignity, the national movements of each country can achieve international cooperation, as well as solidarity. Let us promise ourselves to strive to achieve the above objectives, through the above objectives, through the establishment of a liaison center whose purpose will be an exchange of information, as well as the convening of periodically held international conferences.”

Just think! One man, Dr. Tenrei Ota, changed the history of this ­significant social movement, ­moving it form one of isolated national concern to an international one, thereby strengthening and broadening the impact of our insistence that ­individual end-of-life choices become a matter of individual choice, in every country, world-wide!