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Remembering Lord Joel Joffe

This month, Compassion & Choices salutes a phenomenal advocate for end-of-life choice and a fearless icon of social justice across the globe, our friend Lord Joel Joffe, who died June 18 at age 85. He hailed from South Africa, and in the 1960s represented Nelson Mandela and eight others who were being persecuted for their attempts to upend apartheid, a system of institutionalized segregation and racism. Mandela and others would later write that Joffe “was a man of rare courage and real devotion to the cause of justice” after Joffe eventually helped them avoid the death penalty.  

Joffe spent much of his adult life following the trial in London, England, where he became a member of the House of Lords. In 2004, he authored a bill to authorize medical aid in dying (known as “assisted dying” in the U.K.) which he reintroduced multiple times. It ultimately failed to advance but spurred much debate and public support for the topic. He spent the rest of his years as an advocate for end-of-life options and care. In his words, “the principle underpinning this proposal to change the law is the human right of all individuals to decide for themselves how to lead their lives.”

For Joffe, medical aid in dying fit into his vision of a fair and just society, and it became his life’s work. Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee says of her longtime friend, “I will always believe there can be no surer test of the basic human decency of authorized medical aid in dying than that Lord Joel Joffe, champion of human rights, set his course toward this compassionate medical option.” He is survived by his wife, Vanetta Pretorius, and their three daughters, Lisa, Abigail and Deborah, and four grandchildren.