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The Hemlock Society USA

Its past and its present

n 2009 in America, there existsthree independent

Hemlock Society groups - Hemlock Foundation of
Florida Inc., Hemlock of Illinois and the Hemlock
Society of San Diego.

All are former chapters of the Hemlock Society USA

which ceased to exist in 2003 after a merger with an
organization now called Compassion and Choices. With
Hemlock’s controversial disappearance, some amongst its
old leadership formed in 2004 the Final Exit Network to
continue its particular brand of work.

The original Hemlock was founded in l980 by Derek

Humphry in his garage in Santa Monica, California, when he
received a huge response to his memoir Jean’s Way, the
story of helping his terminally ill wife take her own life in
1975. Hemlock was the first such organization in America;
previous groups had campaigned only for the greater use of
the Living Will.

The name ‘Hemlock’ was selected in the light of the

suicide of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who had
to choose between sentences of death or exile; after debate
with colleague, and unable to bear the loneliness of exile,he
chose suicide by the hemlock plant. It was
Socrates’scareful consideration of his choices which
inspired the American organization.

Hemlock’s two-fold mission was to provide information

to dying persons who were currently consideringhastening
their ends, and to pass legislation permitting physician-
assisted suicide with accompanying guidelines to prevent

Hemlock’s national membership grew to 40,000 with

eighty chapters. It supported legislative efforts in
California, Washington, Michigan, and Maine without
success until Oregon’s Death With Dignity Actwas passed in

In l991 Derek Humphry wrote the book Final Exit: The

Practialitiesof Self-deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the
Dying. Dealing extensively and humanely with the familial,
psychological and legal problems of hastened death, it
became the gold standard handbook for the terminally and
hopelessly ill, competent adult. At first it could not find a
commercial publisher so Hemlock self-published it in
hardback. Within months it had shot to the top of the New
York Times bestseller list and remained there for 18 weeks.
It was one of the few self-published books ever to hit the
bestseller list, earning Hemlock over one million dollars net.

Random House took over the paperback Final Exit in

1992 and it has remained in print ever since, now in its third
edition. It has been translated into 12 languages, selling
close to two million copies worldwide.

The Hemlock chapters in Florida, Illinois and San Diego

continue their missions of helping people understand what
is involved in accelerating one’s end, and pushing for
legislation. These chapters cooperate with – but are not an
official part of – the national Final Exit Network which
provides informational guidance to people who wish to end
their suffering.

Online References:

Farewell to Hemlock: Killed by its name.



Dying Right: The Death With Dignity Movement. Daniel

Hillyard and John Dombrink. Routledge. 2001.

A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in America. Ian

Dowbiggin. OUP. 2003

The Enigma of Suicide. George Howe Colt. Summit Books.

Hemlock’s Cup: The Struggle for Death With Dignity. Donald
W. Cox. Prometheus Books. 1993.

Good Life, Good Death. Derek Humphry. Memoir. ISBN

978096828334 http://www.goodlifegooddeath.com/good-life-

External Links:







End 551 words 07/14/09

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