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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 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;

Society of San Diego.

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 physicianassisted suicide with accompanying guidelines to prevent abuse. 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 l994. 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. Books:

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 External Links:


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