Retired doctor, courageous euthanasia campaigner, and Patron of Humanists UK
Dr Michael Irwin was medical director of the United Nations in New York before he retired, and is a long-time campaigner for voluntary euthanasia. He has helped several of his terminally ill patients to die by offering fatal quantities of drugs to ease their suffering.
Dr Irwin was chair of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (now Dignity in Dying), but resigned when its board did not support him following his arrest and caution in 2005, after his attempt to assist the death of his friend Patrick Kneen. The same case led to his being found guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council. Although 74 and retired, Dr Irwin fought the case to highlight his campaign for assisted dying. “ Whatever happens today,” he said during the hearing, “I assure you I will continue to campaign to see a change in the law to legalise doctor-assisted suicide.” He has talked of the “twinning arrangements” doctors make with each other to avoid painful deaths and says: “If physicians are willing to help each other at the end of life, surely they are guilty of applying double standards if they do not extend that privilege to their terminally ill patients or close friends.”
He continues to be a vigorous and controversial advocate of volutary euthanasia and assisted suicide, hitting the headlines once again in July 2009 when he challenged the police to arrest him after disclosing that he had paid for another man to end his life at a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland (see story inThe Times and BHA comment).Since 2005, he has travelled with four terminally-ill, or severly disabled, individuals to Switzerland to witness their doctor-assisted suicide in that country (where this final medical procedure is legal).
He is a member of the National Secular Society and sponsors the annual Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year”.
Since 2009, he has been the coodinator of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS) – which campaigns to change the law in the UK so that very elderly, mentally competent people, who are suffering from various health problems, are legally allowed to recieve a doctors assistance to die.
Guardian leader (4/10/05) ” In praise of … Dr Michael Irwin ”