Areas where Exit can be of most help to the media:
Exit can assist the media by providing expert analysis of relevant areas in law, ethics and medicine, particularly "right-to-die" issues. Travel costs for interviews and standard fees may be applicable. Commissioned articles can be negotiated.
Areas where Exit is less able to help:
One of Exit's main functions is research - we have a relatively small membership. we are rarely able to put the media into contact with members of the public (whether those who wish to commit suicide or others). Please note that persons seeking to end their lives publicly often contact the media before informing Exit of their intentions.
All enquiries to: Chris Docker (Director), M.Phil (Law and Ethics in Medicine).
Archived press releases contain information that is still frequently sought after - please check them below. See also our homepage and site map for further help. Useful statistics (public surveys etc) can be found on our stats page.
PRESS RELEASE 21 Nov 1996 Prof S McLean Study: Sometimes a Small Victory
Major new academic study concludes that arguments in favour of physician assisted suicide outweigh those against
Medics supporting a change in the law outnumber those against
Public would prefer doctors to take the final action at the patient's request, but doctors favour the patient taking the final action
New surveys support a change in the law - a Bill proposed
Cautious Bill with extensive safeguards
Chris Docker of the Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society said: "This is the first time the subject has been examined in such depth in the UK. We are very heartened by the results. It provides politicians with the ammunition they need to approach such issues responsibly, and reach a compassionate response when all palliative options have been exhausted."
Glasgow University: Glasgow University's Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine today released the results of its year-long intensive study into the pros and cons of the physician-assisted suicide debate. The Report, called Sometimes a Small Victory, which is over 200 pages long, includes a thorough examination of the relevant legal, medical and ethical dilemmas, together with two surveys that reveal current feelings of the public at large and also within the medical profession.
Concluding that people wish to see the issues debated and many would welcome legal change, the report includes a draft Bill which the researchers call a "legislative template" for moving forward.
Highlights: The Report disagrees with the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, and says: "...the arguments against legislation are not of sufficient weight to tip the scales against the arguments in favour, but they must be accorded consideration in the drafting of any legislation which would produce change. This is no easy task, but one which must be undertaken."
Surveys: When asked preferred methods, 42% preferred voluntary euthanasia and 28% assisted suicide (22% had no preference). In a separate, postal survey of UK medical practitioners and pharmacists, 54% were in favour of a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide to take place in specific circumstances, with only 36% against. 60% of the 1000 practitioners who responded had treated a patient who was considering suicide, 12% personally knew another health professional who had assisted a patient to kill themselves and 4% had themselves provided the means (such as drugs or information about lethal acts) to assist a patient to kill themselves.
One interesting finding of the second study was that most medical practitioners found physician-assisted suicide preferable to voluntary euthanasia (43% in comparison to 19%), especially in view of the findings in the first study which showed the public's preference for voluntary euthanasia.
There was little by way of differences in the percentages of hospital physicians, medical GPs, surgeons or psychiatrists favouring a change in the law - approximately 48% were in favour. This was in stark contrast to the percentage of pharmacists in favour (72%) and anaesthetists (56%). Pharmacists were twice as likely as medical GPs to endorse the view that "if a patient has decided to end their own life then doctors should be allowed in law to assist."
Definitions: Assisted suicide: this is where the person who wants to die takes their own life with the help of a doctor who provides the means of death: i.e., a prescription for drugs. It is the action of the person himself or herself which leads to their own death, at the time and place of their choice. Voluntary euthanasia: this is where the person decides they want to die and is helped to die by someone such as a doctor or other medical staff, friends or family. It is the actions of the other person that lead to death.
SOMETIMES A SMALL VICTORY S. McLean, A. Britton"
Death is sometimes a small victory" - Chinese proverb
by Sheila A.M. McLean & Alison Britton
(Sheila McLean is International Bar Association Professor of Law & Ethics in Medicine and Director of the Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine; Alison Britton is a Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow)
Sometimes a Small Victory is published by the Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow University.
Copies are available from VESS at £9.99, including
UK postage. (Overseas: £15 GB Pounds inc. air mail, Sterling currency
PRESS RELEASE BRITISH SOCIAL ATTITUDES the 13th report 1996-97 Edition
The latest findings of this authoritative annual survey of public attitudes are published today. Produced by Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR), Britain's largest social research institute, each year's book takes an independent and impartial look at Britain's changing social values, based on solid evidence from an annual national population survey.
Chapters in this latest report cover: the media's portrayal of sex; family values; illegal drugs; national identity; euthanasia; tax and spending; the flexible labour market; national divisions; Northern Ireland.
BRITISH SOCIAL ATTITUDES: the 13th report contains a wide range of findings from the annual survey series carried out by Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR), Britain's leading social survey institute. Conducted annually since 1983, each survey comprises over 3,500 interviews with a representative sample of people in England, Scotland and Wales. It is funded by charitable and government sources and is widely regarded as the source of independent and impartial information and commentary about Britain's changing social values over the years.
BRITISH SOCIAL ATTITUDES: the 13th report is published by Dartmouth Publishing Company on Thursday, November 21st 1996. It is edited by Roger Jowell, John Curtice, Alison Park, Lindsay Brook and Katarina Thomson of SCPR.
Chapter 8 Matters of life and death: attitudes to euthanasia by David Donnison and Caroline Bryson
A fate worse than death Very few people in Britain are at either ends of the debate over euthanasia, asserting either a person's right to die at will or a prohibition against being able to opt for death regardless of the circumstances. The vast majority fall somewhere in between, supporting euthanasia in certain qualified circumstances. An overwhelming 82%, for instance, would support a law allowing doctors to end the life of someone with 'a painful incurable disease', up from 75% who took this view about ten years ago. At the other extreme, only 12% think euthanasia should be allowed by law for someone who is 'simply tired of living and wishes to die'. A bare majority (51%) would legalise euthanasia for a person 'who is not in much pain nor in danger of death, but becomes permanently and completely dependant on relatives for all their needs'.
Does support vary with age? Young people are less likely than older people to be religious, a factor strongly associated with views on euthanasia. But, after taking differences in 'churchgoing' into account, the effect of age on attitudes towards euthanasia disappears. So while older people are, on the whole, less pro-euthanasia than the young, the data certainly do not suggest that this is because they are closer to the age at which matters of life and death begin to come more sharply into focus. Either way, overall support for euthanasia is likely to continue increasing over time as younger, less religious, cohorts replace their older, more religious counterparts in the population at large.
Living wills Only 2% of the public have made living wills (which say what doctors should do if one is incapable of making decisions for oneself), but a further 12% of people say they have considered making one. More important, perhaps, nearly three in four people believe that doctors should be allowed to honour living wills and to end a person's life in the circumstances they have laid out.
For further information about the report and review copies, please contact Roger Jowell, Alison Park, Lindsay Brook or Katarina Thomson at SCPR on (0171) 250 1866. John Curtice can be reached on (0141) 552 4400 (extension 4004). Outside office hours, Roger Jowell can be contacted on (0171) 284 4213, John Curtice on (0141) 337 6579, Alison Park on (0171) 272 8475, Lindsay Brook on (0171) 254 6308, Katarina Thomson on (0181) 691 1554).
BRITISH SOCIAL ATTITUDES: the 13th report is published by Dartmouth on Thursday, November 21st 1996. Price: £25.0.
Scots law yesterday, in the historic ruling from Lord Cameron, which
allowed PVS patient Janet Johnstone to have a feeding tube removed so that
she could die in peace, took a step forward from its English counterpart.
Sheila McLean, international Bar Association Professor of Law & Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow summed it up thus:
"Coupled with the earlier statement from the Lord Advocate, that, as a matter of policy, he would not prosecute doctors who remove nasogastric feeding from patients in this condition if they have obtained the authority of the Court of Session, doctors in Scotland can now be reassured that their actions will attract neither civil nor criminal liability - assuming court authorisation has been granted. In this, they are more fortunate than their counterparts in England and Wales for whom the question of criminal liability is less clear."
The Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society welcomed the decision. Said Executive Secretary Chris Docker: "This must be an immense relief for the family. SOciety needs to look at the whole range of decisions at the end of life so that morals can catch up with medicine. 50 years ago we would not have had such dilemmas; today, it is harder to know when enough is enough. We also welcome the fact that tighter guidelines are being drawn up for the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. No-one wants plugs pulled when there is any chance of any reasonable quality of life: we have to know beyond all reasonable doubt."
Although welcoming the attention given to living wills (advance directives)
by the Patients' Association and the BMA, The Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia
Society was cautious in its response.
Said Executive Secretary, Chris Docker:
Living Wills are an attempt to look at a tiny part of the problem of death and dying in isolation from the real question of whether death is ever preferable to life. Although there are advantages to making a living will, there are many pitfalls, and we are not confident that the BMA and Patients' Association's remit has adequately examined them. While it is admirable that some attempts to give guidance on these tricky questions are being made, there is still too great a tendency by most organisations to view the question of living wills, that are essentially about personal moral choices, as if they could be neatly wrapped up in medical and legal thinking.
The experience of other countries, notable the USA and Denmark, has shown that much (seemingly) good theory on living wills has resulted in little net benefit to the patient. If we really want to respect patient autonomy we have to find a way that will work in practice, not just a neat idea that everyone thinks should work. Our organisation has long experience and a track record of research in this area yet we feel much more work still needs to be done.
The BMA and the Patients' Association have recently released a Guide
for patients who wish to make "living wills" or "advance
directives". These documents are to indicate refusal of treatment
in advance of incompetence. They cannot request treatment that would not
otherwise be offered and they cannot request active euthanasia.
Evidence shows that living wills reassure many people that they will not be "overtreated" or "kept alive as vegetables". In some cases, such as persistent vegetative state, such fears are perhaps well-founded and a living will would make the job of doctors and the courts a lot easier.
Unfortunately, most people don't make living wills. Of those who do, most are ignored, even though they are supported by common law.
Responsible guidance on such documents can only be to the good, but society needs to take a much deeper look at the problems of death and dying in the modern world, and the problems of communication between doctor and patient. Shallow reliance on living wills is like looking through the keyhole, without sufficiently broad vision to find answers to the wide range of problems, and without even a reliable key to unlock the door.
The Living Will and Values History Project encourages the use of living wills, but emphasises the crucial nature of dialogue with the doctor - without which such documents may be rendered almost valueless. We strongly encourage the use of non-medicalised forms such as "values histories". There is a strong trend to treat what is essentially a question of personal values and personal ethics as if it were a medical matter; this is unfortunate, but well designed living wills that emphasize patients' values and interests could be very useful, especially if given greater weight in law (as proposed in the English Law Commission's recent bill, for instance).
People planning to make living wills should find out as much as they can - such information-gathering could well include whatever advice the Patients' Association can offer.
The Living Will & Values History Project supplies packs, at a nominal charge to cover costs, which include the latest living will document, a values history statement, stickers, wallets and other accessories, as well as guidance for patients, lawyers and doctors. The documents are the result of wide academic research over several years and have been warmly welcomed in the field of medical law and ethics.
The Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society is pleased to announce its
new Internet Web Site.
The site will provide resource ionformation for all projects relating to voluntary euthanasia, living wills, refusal of medical treatment etc; as well as access to current news on these topics, both Scottish and worldwide.
The main access point is:
This provides links to the various areas of interest
(For further information
Contact Chris Docker, Executive Secretary, Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society
17 Hart Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RN
18 Jan 1996
On Tuesday, the Lord Chancellor announced that the Government has rejected,
in its present form, the Bill by the law Commission on Mental Incapacity
that deals with Living Wills. He has said the Government will issue a consultation
The Living Will and Values History Project would welcome a bill to clarify the position of living wills but believes such a bill needs to be more than mere window dressing. The Law Commission's proposals are admirable in many ways but fail to take into account extensive evidence that shows living wills are only signed by a few people and that most of those documents are ignored by health care staff when the time comes. Studies also show that proxies are unable to make decisions as the patients would have wished and no allowance is made for this in the Law Commissions proposals.
Legislation that is ineffective will give people false reassurance. Consultation which merely asks for a cross section of opinions stands to fall from inattention to empirical research.
Greater steps need to be taken to ensure effective communication between doctors, patients and proxies. One measure that would assist the process would be encouragement of "values histories" - advance statements that are more personal and far less medicalised than the majority of living wills. There is no longer the in depth understanding of the patient as a person that the traditional "family doctor" had time to develop. Mechanisms must be implemented to ensure vital personal preferences are known and respected.
Note to editors: 1.The Living Will and Values History Project was set up in response to the alarming growth and proliferation of living will documents that bore little correlation to academic and empirical data on their usefulness or effectiveness. It collates, analyses and applies research in this area and acts as an adviser and resource base, as well as publishing its own document. It works on a non-profit basis.2. The Project has just opened its own site on the Internet, providing on-line information and some examples of documents. URL: http://www.citynet.co.uk/users/vess/lwvh.html
Why has the Society started its own website?
We began using the web to get fast news ourselves on voluntary euthanasia issues, particularly from the American site DeathNET. The Internet provides much faster updates than any other medium, including television, and wider coverage. We decided to maintain our own site firstly to provide a similar presence with an emphasis on Scottish and UK current right to dieaffairs - such as the Janet Johnston case in the Court of Session Edinburgh just now, or the bill by the Law Commission covering living wills and currently before Parliament; we also want to attract new members - particular from the younger age-group - who will help to further the debate. We receive dozens of student enquiries a month - many from schoolchildren who find that euthanasia is now part of their humanities course, and from university students in areas such as medical law. Many of these students have access to the Internet, and the site allows us to provide them with a great amount of information at hardly any cost. We have a strong research and liaison base, and feel the way forward is not solely through campaigning with the traditional methods of a pressure group.
Do you give out details of how to commit suicide on the Internet? That material is already there, but not from us. We do publish material on how to die with dignity - it is the reason we originally came into being (in 1980) - but we believe such information should not be generally available to the public. There are tragic cases of emotionally distraught people committing suicide after reading popular manuals from the library - we will have no part in this, though people will find it before they find us if that's what they're looking for: our information pages provide internet links to the Samaritans, together with the warning that information broadcast and published by irresponsible individuals is frequently unreliable.
Before anyone can apply for our booklet, they must provide documentary evidence that they have been a member of a right to die organistaion for a minimum of three months: it doesn't have to be ours - the booklet is produced on a non-profit basis. There are other restrictions, and we only issue it in accordance with clear ethical and legal guidelines. In some countries they are even more strict: in Germany, where they have sold over 10,000 copies in translation, the waiting period is 12 months.
In a country where no-one can ask a doctor to legally perform euthanasia if everything else is hopeless, having such information gives hundreds of individuals a sense of security about the the period before death. Most people who purchase the booklet will never use it, but it is like having the key to the door marked Exit.
(For further information
Contact Chris Docker, Executive Secretary, Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society
17 Hart Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RN
The Times produced a cartoon of a computer with "Game Over" and the heading "Deathly Hush Falls on the Internet" the Liverpool Daily Post reported "End Gets Nearer on the Internet" a great number of local and national papers reported our presence with phrases such as "Death on the Internet", "The Dying Internet" and "Scottish Group Spreads Euthanasia on the Internet".
Executive Secretary Chris Docker said: "This is the fastest response the Society has ever seen on such a scale. Within three hours of circulating a press release on Bank Holiday Boxing Day we had achieved four media interviews. Death on the 'Net is obviously of interest to a lot of people."
Exit was formerly known as The Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland or
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland (VESS).
It is an independent organisation and not connected with the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (London) or other "right to die" groups.