Saturday, April 23, 2005

What was the Schiavo circus all about

Commentary, by Derek Humphry

Should we worry?

At the populist height of the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, involving the disconnection of her life-support equipment after 14 years to allow her to die, I was asked to speak on March 28, 2005, to an audience in New York City at the 92nd St Y Club (A long-established Jewish community center). When booked months earlier, I had intended to speak about voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide, but the audience of some 60 were only interested in the implications of the Schiavo case, which was deluging the screen and print media that week. What did it mean for them now? How would it affect their end of life? This was what I improvised for the inflamed subject of that day:

Were I some sort of trained philosopher or ethicist, perhaps I could provide you with a pat paragraph about what is the essence of our cause, and my purpose of speaking to you today.

The print media, the television channels, the air waves currently are choked with loose language ranging from ‘brutal murder’ to ‘death with dignity’ and it is hard to know what to make of what is going on. The Florida case is worrying and unsettling to the average person.

Perhaps this definition will help adjust our attitudes: “The right to choose to die in a manner and at a time of one’s own choosing is the ultimate civil liberty. Because of the astonishing advances in medical technology it behooves all thinking individuals to decide in advance of death to document their wishes. Also to make known their desire for – or rejection of – a rational suicide in order to escape pointless, protracted suffering.”

Were it in my power, I would mandate that all persons attaining the age of eighteen be obliged to sign an advance care declaration. To be fair, it could be the reverse of what I would sign, requesting all known life-support equipment.

Advance Directives are popularly known as ‘Living Wills’ and they’ve been around in America since l978 when California introduced the first one. New York has a ‘health care proxy’ and that is most useful. In spite of the Schiavo rumpus, Florida has some of the best end-of-life laws.

We must take the uncertainty out of this issue once and for all so that the health care professionals – particularly hospice – know exactly where they stand. You also want to know where you stand.


People who want endless treatment and equipment to keep them alive will soon run society into trouble. Do we want banks of people in clinics on respirators and feeding tubes, in effect keeping dead people barely alive? Ventilating corpses?

Hospitals will be overwhelmed and the costs of health care – already steep – will bankrupt the nation. Physicians and nurses will revolt at having to provide futile care when others not terminal might be saved. Freedom of choice has its breaking point, physically, emotionally, and financially.

Of the two and a half million Americans who die every year in the natural cycle of life and death, thousands finally pass on through the ‘pulling of a plug’ because their inevitable end has come. Often the patient knows nothing about this. It is the family – hopefully backed by documents – who liase with the doctors to achieve a commonsense, negotiated death.

The Terri Schiavo case may seem important because of the huge attention it has received in the media, the courts, and the US Congress. But it is really an aberration. The media
turned a family quarrel into a major conflict because such fights are good for ratings and sales. Anti-choice politicians and religious zealots saw a swift opportunity to boost their selfish causes.

But not only have the states of America already decided on this, but so has the US Supreme Court. There is a right to die by the disconnection of life support, the court ruled in the Cruzan case, provided there is clear and convincing evidence of such a wish. Sadly (but it is hard to criticize her), Terri Schiavo at age 26 when struck down did not have an advance directive. She could not easily be released from her persistent vegetative state.

Fortunately, the courts in America stood firm behind the spouse’s right to decide for his wife despite a lengthy volley of ‘judge bashing’. In the end, the constitution worked, the courts stood firm, and Terry Schiavo was allowed her peaceful exit.

----------------------- DEREK HUMPHRY 4.23.05

The writer is the author of the bestselling book ‘Final Exit’, founder of the original Hemlock Society in l980, and today president of the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization, based in Oregon, USA.
Web site:

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Assisted suicide, easy death

A friend in need is a friend indeed, as this story of what happened in Connecticut shows, but beware of the consequences:-

A man accused of helping his friend commit suicide will not be going to prison. Instead, he will be going on probation.

Huntington Williams, aged 79, knew John Welles for about 20 years. Welles battled prostate cancer and decided he wanted to commit suicide in June last year by shooting himself.

Mr. Williams is accused of assisting in the suicide by telling him where to aim the gun and cleaning the gun. A Litchfield [CT] judge granted him accelerated rehabilitation, which means he will not go to jail.

Friends, family, and people all over the country have been extremely supportive. In Connecticut, assisted suicide is a felony and carries the charge of manslaughter.

The attorney for Mr. Williams and the prosecutor came to an agreement on what kind of punishment Williams should get and the judge agreed. Williams will be on probation for one year.

[The moral of this story is not to assist a suicide, however justifable, with a violent means, such as a gun or a knife. Safer to use lethal medications or inert gas and a plastic bag. See my book 'Final Exit' for further information. Derek Humphry]

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Euthanasia books in Spanish


Right-to-die books in Spanish

ERGO has available for sale the following two books in Spanish, published by Tusquets, in Barcelona:

“EL ULTIMO RECURSO” by Derek Humphry

Cuestiones practicas sobre autoliberation y suicidio asistido para moribundus.

This book is the Spanish version of the bestselling “Final Exit”

Paperback. 264 pages

$20 US (includes shipping) from ERGO.


“EL DERECHO A MORIR” By Derek Humphry Y Ann Wickett

Comprender La Eutanasia.

Paperback. 434 pages.

This is the Spanish version of the classic book on euthanasia history,

“The Right To Die: Understanding Euthanasia”

$20 US from ERGO (includes shipping)


These two books are on sale in bookstores throughout the Spanish-speaking world. But they are hard to find in the USA.

Perhaps your local library has a Spanish language section and you might like to present them with copies of these two books?

Send check or money order in US funds to

ERGO, 24829 Norris Lane, Junction City, OR 97448, USA.


Derek Humphry, Oregon. <>