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Suicide law campaigner takes own life

13th March 2012

A British-born doctor, who was a vocal supporter in his adopted home of Oregon for terminally ill patients who wished to end their own lives, has taken his own  under the law he campaigned for.

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Peter Goodwin, one of the first doctors in the northwestern US state to speak out publicly in favour of the Death with Dignity Act in the early 1990s, died on 11 March after being diagnosed with a rare and fatal brain disease.

Goodwin, who was 82, took lethal medication prescribed under the Act by his doctors, which gave him a peaceful death within 30 minutes.

His death was announced by the assisted dying group Compassion & Choices, which said in a statement that Goodwin had died surrounded by his four children and their spouses.

Spokesman Steve Hopcraft said Goodwin had had "a good death", and that the family had appreciated it.

However, his relatives were still in mourning, and not ready to give media interviews, he said.

Goodwin discovered in 2006 that he had corticobasal degeneration.

This rare disease can cause deterioration in balance, muscle control, speech and cognition.

He was given six months to live in January.

Goodwin had already spoken publicly about how he wanted to find the right time to die, but also said that he had a happy life with many friends.

The law states that doctors can prescribe medication that will hasten the death of a terminally ill patient.

The patient must be mentally competent to request the euthanasia and must take the medication unassisted by healthcare professionals.

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act has survived a challenge in the US Supreme Court, and has enabled 500 people to end their own lives so far.

Similar legislation operates in the neighbouring state of Washington, also in the Pacific Northwest.

Goodwin had lived in both states, as well as South Africa, and run a medical practice for around 50 years.

His influence is believed to have swayed the Oregon Medical Association in favour of supporting the Act, which it could potentially have blocked.

His campaigning work on behalf of terminally ill patients' right to die began 20 years ago after he was forced to deny such an opportunity to a terminally ill patient of his who was in severe pain with a spinal tumour.

Goodwin said at the time that his refusal to prescribe medication that would end the man's life had made him feel cowardly, and that the legislation of the time limited doctors' scope for acting with compassion.

Later, he served as medical director for Compassion & Choices. The group is continuing its work in support of "death with dignity" in other US states, including Massachusetts and Hawaii.

The group's president Barbara Coombs said Goodwin would be sorely missed, and that the state of Oregon, medicine and the world had lost a great leader.

 

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