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Killing the language softly: UK’s Society for Old Age Rational Suicide changes its name

by Siobhan Ryan, The Argus, 13 October 2016

Ms Ryan interviews Dr Michael Irwin, the patron of a UK group which has just changed its name from Society for Old Age Rational Suicide to My Death My Decision.

Why the name change?

We discovered that some potential members disliked the word “suicide” – even if “rational” was placed before it. Also, we felt it advisable to consider including all adults and not only those who are elderly – although I expect that a great majority of future members will be over 60.

These name changes are common for organisations promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide. For example, the United States organisation Compassion & Choices was formerly the Hemlock Society. The UK Voluntary Euthanasia Society changed its name to Death With Dignity in 2005.

What else does Dr Irwin think?

What about a person suffering from depression, constant migraines or a long-term condition like asthma?

Legalised doctor-assisted dying should be limited for those suffering from physical medical conditions. Severe asthma is a serious medical condition. If a competent adult is suffering unbearably from this – for a very long period of time – then that individual might have to consider doctor-assisted suicide – it would have to be a joint decision between the patient and the doctor.


The 85-year-old, who is nicknamed Dr Death because of his outspoken views on the right to die, said: “My Death My Decision campaigns to change UK law so that all competent adults – who are suffering unbearably from an incurable illness – should be able legally to receive medical help to die.

“Most of us are living longer than in previous years – and, so many people like myself are concerned now that we should not be forced to linger on into old age, or into states of advanced physical or mental decrepitude which conflict with our strongly held ideas of being in control.”

To be clear: Dr Irwin is not concerned with physical pain. “Advanced physical or mental decrepitude” describes his fear of being disabled, and his wish to maintain a privileged position of “being in control”.

As John Kelly of Not Dead Yet explained in his testimony against a bill to legalise assisted suicide in Washington DC:

This isn’t a public health bill, it’s a death before disability bill.

Words matter supremely in this issue, because they can help or hinder our thinking. As George Orwell warned in 1946: “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

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