Group to offer professional aid for suicides

June 13, 1993|By New York Times News Service

SEATTLE -- A number of right-to-die advocates here have created what is apparently the nation's first organization intended to provide professionals who will help terminally ill people kill themselves.

It is unclear whether the organization's efforts violate the laws of Washington state, where the "promoting" of suicide has been illegal for almost two decades.

The new group, Compassion in Dying, maintains that terminally ill people who are in great pain should have a right to what the organizers call a "humane death": suicide with the assistance of medical volunteers.

So it has opened a modest office downtown to provide help to such people from Washington state who choose to end their lives by taking lethal doses of morphine or other drugs. The group's executive director, the Rev. Ralph Mero, a Unitarian, said the office would be staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses and members of the clergy who would offer "counseling, emotional support and their time to be present at the time of death, so people don't have to die alone."

Compassion in Dying announced the opening of the office at a news conference May 19, and already, Mr. Mero said, about a dozen severely ill people have called to ask for help in killing themselves.

Unlike Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist who has assisted in 15 suicides in Michigan in the last three years, the new group has decided not to make clients' identities public. This means that although all suicides will take place at the clients' homes, the group will not disclose the planned time or exact location of any. Mr. Mero said there had been no suicides yet.

The new organization distances itself from Dr. Kevorkian's efforts in other ways as well. First, it will not provide the means of death. Instead, the client must obtain the drugs that will kill him from his own physician or, if that doctor refuses, from another doctor who is not affiliated with the group. In addition, the organization will require a finding by at least two doctors, one of them independent of the group, that the client has only six months or less to live, is in pain and is mentally competent.

"It won't be illegal," Mr. Mero said of all this activity, "until a judge and jury says it's illegal."

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