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True meaning of the word 'dignity'

From John Wiles, chair, Association of Palliative Medicine; Jane Campbell, Not Dead Yet UK; Dr Anthony Cole, chair Medical Ethics Alliance; Jared O'Mara, development officer, British Council of Disabled People; Dr Rob George, consultant in palliative medicine and senior lecturer bioethics and philosophy of medicine

Open letter to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

We understand that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society is about to change its name to 'Dignity in Dying' and has applied for a number of trademarks based on variations of the slogan 'Dignity in Dying' which will give it a monopoly on the use of the phrase.

We wish to protest in the strongest possible terms about this.

'Dignity in Dying' is a phrase in common parlance in many sections of the population, being used by patients worried about the care they will receive.

Patients often ask whether they will have dignity in dying because they are frightened, feel abandoned, are worried they might be left incontinent, confused or in another state that will undermine their personal dignity. These patients are not asking for euthanasia or assisted suicide ­ they are asking for good care.

When teaching about palliative care, the phrase 'dignity in dying' is used in terms of how a patient's quality of life can be improved in terminal illness. Palliative care teachers (ie specialist doctors, nurses etc) use this term commonly.

At least five charities already exist that care for disabled, terminally ill or otherwise marginalised people and which have the word 'dignity' in their names. Their work could be seriously compromised by the VES's proposed name change.

True dignity in dying means being helped to face death with courage and dignity, assisted by the best possible palliative care, so all the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the patient are properly met at every stage.

For the VES 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.

We urge you therefore to reject these applications.

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