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London Conference: Care of the Dying

Editor   |   April 01, 1998

AMA Official Featured

Compassionate Care of the Dying was the thrust of a major international seminar in London, England, March 13-14. The idea was first conceived last fall while teaching two major seminars in the Philippines. There had just been a U.S. Supreme Court decision denying a federal constitutional right to assisted suicide. With it had come invaluable information and research in the 46 different amicus briefs presented before that court. Particularly valuable, and yet largely unaware of by the public, were the two briefs submitted by the American Medical Association which had 51 major co-sponsors.

The Northern Territory in Australia had turned back euthanasia, but the state of Oregon was going to vote on it. In addition, legislation was being considered in England and we were aware of the continuing deteriorating situation in Holland. It was time for a major international meeting on euthanasia.

It was discussed and decided that the conference should be one that would not just attract a large audience of interested people but also hone in on what we saw as the answer to the euthanasia arguments – that answer being compassionate care of the dying. Thus was born the idea for this seminar.

Dr. Willke, as president of the International Right to Life Federation, partnered with the British Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child under the leadership of Mr. John Smeaton and Mrs. Phyllis Bowman. They run an excellent national pro-life organization. Next to the well-organized USA, it is the most effective national organization in the world. Their London office is well staffed with competent and busy people and quite capable of putting on a successful event.

The idea continued to develop over the next six months and came to effective fruition on the above dates.

Partially stimulated by the above events, and the knowledge of the upcoming seminar, Dr. Willke buried himself deeply in further research and history of the euthanasia movement. This resulted in the publication in early February of his book, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Past & Present, a copy of which was given to each of the 400-and-some registered attendees at the seminar.

These were full and fulfilling days. Dr. John Fleming, a preeminent bio-ethicist, came from Australia to fully acquaint us, not merely with their situation, but to also share his wisdom on this issue. Dr. Krijn Haasnoot, head of the Dutch Doctors for Life, gave us the latest news from Holland. Mrs. Gayle Atteberry reported in from Oregon in her usual effervescent style, bringing details that were new to the audience. Dr. Richard Doerflinger from the U.S. Catholic Conference spoke well on public opinion. A number of speakers from the United Kingdom brought the audience up to date on their situation and analyzed issues such as pain management and end-of-life patient care. Perhaps the most noted speaker was Dr. Nancy Dickey, President-elect of the American Medical Association. She very eloquently underlined the strong anti-euthanasia position of the AMA which has considerable influence and prestige in America. Dr. Willke gave a cogent overview of euthanasia. On the second day, he shared with attendees the treasure that is contained in the amicus briefs before our U.S. Supreme Court as well as details of their decision.

All of the talks were oriented toward the theme of the conference. Contrast was made between the almost 400 hospices in Great Britain compared with only 5 in Holland. Holland has little need for them, as they have a more expeditious way of caring for people who are “problems” …they kill them. As a result, there has been no incentive in Holland for doctors to develop expertise in compassionate care of the dying – a lesson that all other nations would do well to learn.

Representatives came to the conference from the various chapters of the British SPUC. In addition, leaders of ethics, medicine, clergy, nursing, hospice care, etc., were well represented, as well as leaders from other nations. Comments afterwards have been very positive. We hope that the old and vulnerable in Britain and elsewhere will rest a bit more securely because of this major international effort.

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