On this day in history : 30th October 1981 – Secretary to the pro-euthanasia group ‘EXIT’, Nicholas Reed, is jailed for two and a half years on three counts of aiding and abetting suicide….

He was also found guilty of a further count of conspiracy to aid and abet…. His co-accused, Mark Lyons, who provided the pills and alcohol to those wishing to end their lives, received a two year suspended sentence…. Judge, Mr. Justice Lawson, stated that on account of his age (70) a suspended sentence be appropriate as Lyons had already served 325 days in prison whilst awaiting trial….

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Voluntary Euthanasia Society poster – Image credit : The Wellcome Collection Cc BY-SA 4.0

‘EXIT’ : ‘The Society for the Right to Die with Dignity’ started in 1935 as the ‘Voluntary Euthanasia Society’…. It had been a relatively quiet, low-key organisation, conscious of staying on the right side of the law…. The name change to ‘EXIT’ was made to give more of an impact…. When Nicholas Reed, a dynamic young man in his early thirties, became Secretary of the group he transformed it….enabling it to give a loud, aggressive and controversial voice for the incurably ill and disabled…. He courted the media, held seminars, gave talks and interviews on radio and television…. He increased the membership of the London based group five fold; by the early 1980s it had more than 10,000 members…. The group’s activities spawned similar groups in many other countries, including the United States….

In 1979 EXIT had decided to publish a booklet entitled ‘Guide to Self-Deliverance’ – in which various methods of suicide were described…. The booklet was outlawed and so distribution was suspended in 1983…. Reed had already come to the attention of the police in 1980 when a raid on EXIT’s offices resulted in documents being seized and Reed being questioned…. However, it was after the death of a female multiple sclerosis sufferer that a case was finally brought…. A routine post mortem had revealed that she had taken barbiturates with alcohol…. Two women who had been at her house the day before she died told the inquest Mark Lyons had visited whilst they were there…. Police searched the flat where Lyons lived and found thousands of pills and tablets…. They also discovered diaries, full of appointments with people who wanted to end their lives…. Nicholas Reed denied he knew what Lyons was up to….saying he thought the appointments were for ‘comfort’ visits to those in need….

According to the prosecution, in one particular case Lyons had drugged a woman into an unconscious state and then tried to speed up the process of death by placing a polythene bag over her head…. The attempt was unsuccessful…. The prosecution also accused Lyons of gaining pleasure from his actions….

Reed for his part, refused to talk to the Press…. After an appeal his sentence was reduced to 18 months…. The Society changed its name to ‘VES’ – ‘Voluntary Euthanasia Society’….and later, in 2006, it became ‘Dignity in Dying’…. Holland was the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002…. Of course, it continues to be a controversial subject here in the UK….

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Dignity in Dying via Flickr
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Dignity in Dying logo CC BY SA 3.0

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