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World Federation grows, some law successes

Luxembourg is at the crossroads of Europe, and its people are truly European, skilled in their ability to live together comfortably with their neighbours. Thus, it was an appropriate place for Right to Die-Europe, and the World Federation Board, to hold consecutive meetings at the end of October 2003.

If we calculate that the combined membership of all our 38 Member Societies around the world is about 500,000, we can reckon that at least half this number live in Europe. Also, half of the WF Board of Directors is presently European.

Much has happened in Europe this year in support of our objectives — such as the close 28 to 27 vote in the Luxembourg parliament in March, the latest official report from The Netherlands in May (still, no evidence of a “slippery slope”, a term so popular with our opponents), and the recommen dations in September from a major committee of the Council of Europe for European states to collect data on end-of-life decisions and to consider the decriminalization of euthanasia.

Our meetings in Luxembourg were most successful — especially thanks to the excellent organizing skills of Kitty Jager and Rob Jonquiere (from NVVE) and Marthy Putz (ADMD-Luxembourg). Ron Plummer will be reporting on the RtD-Europe sessions: I will restrict myself to WF Board matters.

With the unfortunate exception of Derek Humphry (who had to remain in Oregon due to illness in his family), all of the Directors on the Board were present in Luxembourg. In particular, it was a pleasure for us to welcome Juan Mendoza- Vega from Colombia to his first meeting of the Board.

Assisting ADMD-L

In addition to our discussions over two days, members of the Board were able to help the ADMD-L in various ways. For example, Jacqueline Herremans, Juan Mendoza and I, with Rob Jonquiere, participated in a press conference with Jean Huss, the vice-president of ADMD-L and a leading campaigner in the national parliament for decriminalizing euthanasia — this resulted in extensive coverage in the Luxembourg papers and on television. Then, the following day, Richard MacDonald and I, again with Rob Jonquiere, appeared before the Ethics Commission of the parliament to discuss possible legislation for living wills.

New World Federation website

The Board is especially grateful to the excellent support which NVVE (in particular, Guido Hulscher) has provided in the development of the new website, available now as With a great deal of useful up-to-date information, this should be most helpful to member societies. Also, individual Societies will soon be able to add their own information to this web site. NVVE will continue to have responsibility for the maintenance of the web site for at least one more year.

Board decisions

Some of the subjects discussed by the Board in Luxembourg, hich will be of interest to member societies, were the following:

  • At the public meetings of the 2004 Tokyo conference (when there will also be the 27th annual meeting of the Japan Society for Dying with Dignity), there will be a focus on the legislation of living wills. Every WF Member Society is being requested now to send copies of these documents to the JSDD.
  • Adequate time will be given during the four days (September 30 to October 3) in Tokyo for our Delegates meetings. At these sessions, in addition to the usual items, there will be motions, presented by the Board for approval, on increasing the maximum for the annual membership fees to US$1000 (which will only affect a few Member Societies), and on associate membership (for organizations active in related fields such as human rights and humanism), as well as a new by-law to allow for important emergency motions to be presented to the Delegates meetings.
  • There was final agreement that the 2006 biennial conference will be held (in September) in Toronto: and the possibility was raised that the 2008 WF conference might be in Colombia.
  • The draft of the 2003 annual global report — based mainly upon the replies, which 27 member societies had sent me in September — was approved. This appears on pages 4 – 6 of this Newsletter — it is hoped that each member society will distribute this extensively in its region, especially around the date of U.N. Human Rights Day, December 10th.
  • A new member society, the Death with Dignity National Center, located in Washington DC (USA), was given interim membership by the Board: formal approval will be requested at the delegates meeting in Tokyo.
  • Agreement was nearly reached on a short declaration or manifesto, in support of assisted dying, which can be signed by individuals everywhere: you will be hearing much more about this in the near future.
  • In September, the Council of Europe rejected our application for consultative status as a non-governmental organization, while, at the same time, encouraging the World Federation to “establish working relations with the appropriate services” of its organization (which we have already done). While it was disappointed by the initial decision, the Board agreed to re -apply for consultative status in two years (which is permitted by the CoE regulations).
  • The Board agreed on the recipients for the Saba Medal and the Marilyn Seguin Memorial Award in 2004 — but I cannot reveal these names until we meet in Tokyo!
  • Finally, the Board noted the importance of member societies campaigning for regional and national surveys on “medical decisions taken at the end of life (MDELs)”, with uniform terminology and common procedures, throughout the world, as these can be so important in leading to legislation on assisted dying.

Financial considerations

As I have noted above, the Board believes that the maximum for the annual membership fees should be raised to US$1000, and it will campaign for this when we meet in Tokyo. The present maximum of $250 has remained unchanged for many years. The new maximum level will only affect a few member societies, but the Board feels that this change will help to even out the burden of paying dues for each society in the World Federation (one percent of income, on which the calculation is made annually, is a relatively high figure for a small society compared to the effect on a much larger one).

Thanks to the efforts of Annelies Plaisant, our Treasurer, most of the 2003 membership fees (as well as some still arising from 2001 and 2002!) have been collected. But, even if everyone pays what they should, only a few thousand dollars are received annually. We need funds for essential expenses such as the Newsletter and the web site. Then, it is great when we can provide financial support for some smaller member societies to send representatives to the biennial conferences, or for printing leaflets about the World Federation.

In the foreground, Jerome Sobel (Exit, Geneva) is talking with C.Koehnen (ADMD-Luxembourg), with, in the Background Michael Irwin (world president) making a point to Jean Huss (vice president ADMD Lux.)