Three organisations have grouped together and launched a legal challenge of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society's plans to trademark the phrase 'Dignity in Dying' – which they have adopted as their new name.
The VES announced their name change in January, and were greeted by 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.'
If the VES were granted the trademark they seek, 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. Palliative care specialists have expressed anger about the phrase, long associated with the hospice movement, being hijacked by the pro-euthanasia lobby.
The British Council of Disabled People were one of the groups spurred to launch the legal case, along with ALERT and the Christian Medical Fellowship. The groups 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 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'.
See the press release at: www.cmf.org.uk