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Voluntary Euthanasia Society under pressure from legal challenge from British Council of Disabled People and Others

Published: 17th March 2006

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) found themselves under renewed pressure last night as medical organisations and disability charities launched a legal challenge to their new name: 'Dignity in Dying'.

The groups, which include ALERT and the Christian Medical Fellowship as well as the British Council of Disabled People, oppose VES attempts to monopolise the phrase such that only pro-euthanasia campaigners would be able to use it. The challenge was brought under the Trademarks Act, which states that 'A trade mark shall not be registered if it is contrary to public policy or accepted morals, or of such nature to deceive the public'.

The legal challenge is the latest in a series of blows to the VES which began with a protest in January by palliative care specialists, angered that the phrase 'dignity in dying', long associated with the hospice movement, had been hijacked by the pro-euthanasia lobby. Earlier this week the VES were placed under more pressure when they suffered a heavy defeat in a vote of medics and lawyers at a high profile euthanasia debate filmed by the BBC documentary Panorama and scheduled to be broadcast in a few weeks time.

Last night legal experts formally launched a legal challenge against the VES after widespread outrage greeted the news that if the VES were granted the trademark they sought, it would give 'Dignity in Dying' the exclusive right to use that name in connection with fundraising, political lobbying, legal documents, leaflets, newsletters, seminars, talks, education and research. The British Council of Disabled People were one of the groups spurred to launch the legal case as it became clear that previous comments by a VES spokesperson that they were “not seeking a monopoly of the English language' were themselves a distortion of the truth.

When the VES launched their new name in January the move drew sharp criticism from doctors, journalists and disability rights campaigners, who dubbed it a cynical attempt to make the pro-euthanasia group more media-friendly and politically acceptable. A Daily Telegraph editorial entitled 'Euthanasia's Euphemism' concluded 'it is hard to shake off the suspicion that euthanasiasts are shy of spelling out what they are really about, viz killing people.'

The breadth of recent criticism seems to have been motivated by the concern that were the VES to be granted the trademark rights to 'Dignity in Dying', it would become illegal to use the phrase in the way many terminally ill people currently use it – to express their desire for better care and a better quality of life, not a desire for euthanasia or assisted suicide. In a letter sent to the Trade and Industry secretary Alan Johnson on 20 January, the Association of Palliative Medicine wrote 'For the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to seek a monopoly of a common English phrase in order to invest it with a totally different meaning is dishonest and will create confusion'.

The legal challenge comes on the back of a long week for Deborah Annets, chief executive of VES, who was left with food for thought after Tuesday's Panorama euthanasia debate when the VES lost a vote on the issue of legalizing assisted suicide by a sizeable 250 to 50. It was a seriously disabled wheel-chair bound lady, Gill Gerhardi, who summed the debate up by saying that “what we want and need is not dignity in dying, but dignity in living”.

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

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