©Wellcome Library, London

The Euthanasia Society was founded in 1935 to promote the right of individuals suffering incurable and intractably painful and distressing diseases to ‘choose a merciful death'. The 20th century secularisation of society helped create a philosophy in which minimisation of pain and suffering was considered a human right. Very few people in 1997 would have expressed the same sentiment as the French girl, Thérèse Martin (later canonised as St Thérèse of Lisieux), who died of tuberculosis 100 years previously. ‘God has deigned to make me pass through many types of trials ... I am truly happy to suffer'. Advocates of the decriminalisation of suicide argued that self-destruction was a legitimate escape from unnecessary and hopeless suffering. The modern case for euthanasia has proceeded along the same lines.

Reproduced with kind permission of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.