Alex Schadenberg (left) executive director of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Henk Reitsma (right) from the Nethlands who spoke about the changes in Dutch society since euthanasia was legalized are two of the speakers at the very successful two day euthanasia symposium in Vancouver.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s third annual International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide was held in Vancouver, June 3-4 and organizer Alex Schadenberg called it an “incredible success” that “exceeded expectations.”


The conference was entitled “Celebrating our successes; preparing for new challenges,” and to that end Schadenberg, executive director of the EPC, brought together speakers from Australia, Canada, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States that have been dealing with the euthanasia issue in their corners of the globe, bringing unique perspectives and insights from euthanasia battles around the world.

Schadenberg spoke about a wide number of studies published in the past year, with a focus on the Netherlands, discussing the depression felt by those who were about to die. He noted that a large number of euthanized patients had not indicated they wished to die. He also spoke about the eugenic nature of euthanasia laws.

Mark and Laree Pickup spoke about their shared experience of Mark’s multiple sclerosis. He has now been disabled for 30 years and states that at the beginning he would gladly have died had it been an option; Laree admitted that she had considered divorcing her husband. Mark asked for people to value humans simply because they are human, not for their contributions or abilities.

Dr. Margaret Cottle of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition spoke about the role of doctors in euthanasia. She compared the ethics of the medical profession to an old growth forest, with millennia of history of refusing to kill patients being destroyed in only a few years.

Henk Reitsma from the Netherlands spoke about the changes in Dutch society since euthanasia was legalized, such as the dramatically lowered age of death, and the high rate of death early in life. He also spoke about how common euthanasia by dehydration and overdose has become because less paperwork is required, indicated that laws meant to protect patients are being routinely ignored.

Joe Comartin, NDP co-chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, spoke about the work of the committee. He believes that if the care provided to the ill and dying were improved, the demand for euthanasia would decrease.

Lawyer and EPC legal counsel Hugh Scher explained the importance of recent court cases, as they are designed to strike down the current laws banning euthanasia.

Rhonda Wiebe with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and Krista Flint from Inclusive Humanity spoke about how to change the debate to focus on living with disabilities, and the importance of personal stories.

Nick Goiran and Paul Russell both spoke about the recent defeat of an Australian pro-euthanasia bill and Senator Helen Polley spoke about the history of euthanasia law in Australia.

Harry van Bommel spoke about the founding principles of the hospice movement. Linda Couture, director of Vivre dans la Dignité in Quebec, commented about building a strong opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide in Quebec where polls show more support for changing the law than in other parts of Canada. Bradley Williams, the leader of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide spoke about the importance of grassroots opposition to euthanasia. Nancy Elliot, a former three-term representative from New Hampshire, spoke about the importance of maintaining a focused message when fighting euthanasia. Rita Marker, the leader of the Patients Rights Council, rehearsed the history of euthanasia in America, while Gordon Macdonald and Peter Saunders from Care not Killing provided a history of euthanasia in the United Kingdom and Europe.

There was also a leaders meeting before the conference, attended by about 30 activists, lawyers, and politicians from around the world. Schadenberg told The Interim that one of the great challenges identified by participants was to “reference the issue” of euthanasia “in a way that resonates with the average person.”

The International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, of which Schadenberg is also executive director, elected new board members, which he says will lead the organization into a direction better able to meet the challenge of preventing the spread of legal euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.