Former pro-euthanasia group leader to be expelled

Mon 5 Jul 2004

THE former chairman of Britain’s leading pro-euthanasia group is to face expulsion from the society after admitting he has advised terminally-ill patients how to take their own lives, it emerged yesterday.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) feels its credibility and its commitment to working within the law are being undermined by the actions of Dr Michael Irwin.

Members of the VES board will vote on a motion to expel Dr Irwin from the society, to which he has belonged for more than 30 years. A spokesman, Mark Slattery, confirmed that the motion will be proposed by the chief executive, Deborah Annetts, and the chairman, Richard Belton.

Dr Irwin, a former family doctor, resigned as the society’s chairman in December after admitting that he had travelled to the Isle of Man with the intention of helping a friend who was suffering from prostate cancer to commit suicide. Dr Irwin was arrested by police but not charged. Last week, he told a newspaper he had advised at least five terminally-ill people on travelling to the Swiss euthanasia clinic, Dignitas.

Mr Slattery said: "The society agrees with Dr Irwin that the law is desperately in need of reform, but we campaign for change within the law, otherwise our credibility is undermined.

"Dr Irwin seems to be indicating an unwillingness to play as part of the team and is pursuing his own agenda."

The VES hopes a national debate on euthanasia law will be triggered this week when a House of Lords select committee begins considering Lord Joffe’s private member’s bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill.

It will be the first time in a decade that the issues have been examined in such detail by a parliamentary committee, said Mr Slattery.

The committee will be chaired by the former Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Ms Annetts said: "Lord Joffe’s bill makes this an important year with an historic opportunity to change the law so that mentally-competent, terminally-ill people can ask for medical assistance to die, if that is what they want."

She added: "Everyone at the VES is focussed on Lord Joffe’s bill."



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