Derek Humphry, Ep. 8

Founding the Hemlock Society, Derek Humphry Ep. 8


Derek Humpry is an author and principal founder of the Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices). Derek shares his poignant story about helping his wife, who was terminally ill, end her life and how he founded the Hemlock Society.

Derek’s website: FinalExit.org

Transcript

Dr. Bob: Welcome to A Life and Death Conversation with Dr. Bob Uslander. I’m very excited to introduce you to today’s guest, who is a gentleman who I recently had the pleasure of meeting and listening to during a presentation at a conference. And I just knew when I met and heard him speak that he is somebody who you needed to hear from. I could go on for quite a long time listing his achievements and his accolades in this introduction, but I don’t want to take too much of our valuable time away from the conversation, so I will just give a little glimpse of the instruction to Mr. Derek Humphry, who is the founder of the Hemlock Society of the USA, past president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, and Derek has been an incredibly strong proponent of people having the ability to determine how and when they their lives will end when they are struggling.

He’s been very active through his entire life in this regard and is in large part responsible for the movement through in this country that is certainly effective here on the West Coast, in California, in Oregon, in Washington that has allowed people to have a peaceful end of life. And I owe him gratitude because he has allowed me to delve into a part of my career that has really been incredibly gratifying, and he’s brought great relief to many, many people around the world. So, Derek, I just want to introduce you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’ve done. So welcome.

Derek Humphry: Well, hello. Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s been a worthwhile journey. I founded the Hemlock Society in 1980 when I lived in Santa Monica and developed it from there. And it was, I didn’t do it in any obviously pioneering way thought, but it proved to be the start of the right-to-choose-to-die movement in America as we grew and grew and fought off our critics and published little books and held conferences, the right-to-choose-to-die movement swelled and improved across America ever since 1980.

Dr. Bob: So let me ask, how did this all start? I know, and I heard the story, but I’d like people to hear where this movement originated and how it started for you.

Derek Humphry: Yes. I was living in London. I was a reporter on the London Sunday Times. And I had a good marriage, a wife, and three sons, and we were getting along fine. And it’s great fun bringing up three sons. But suddenly in 1973 my wife, Jean, said that she had a lump in her breast. We rushed her to the hospital, and various testing and so forth. And they had to perform a radical mastectomy, much to her shock and all of our shock. She recovered from that as best she could, but we have further testing of her lymph nodes and blood count and all the rest of it.

And it showed that she had cancer deep in her system. It was too late. But we fought, and she fought, took all medical help available, kept her spirits up looking after the family and so forth. She kept it only in a close circle of friends or family did she say that she had cancer. But in about a year it turned to bone cancer, very painful, very difficult to be moving at all except with heavy pain medications.

And then after nearly two years, it was really serious, and she nearly died. She was in the hospital in Oxford, England, getting the best treatment that was available back in 1975, and she recovered from one bout, and the doctor thought she wouldn’t come out of that. But she did, and she had a fighting spirit. Then came my epiphany. She sat up in bed feeling pretty well in the hospital bed, and I was visiting her. And she said, “Derek, I want you to do something for me.” I said, “What’s that?”

She said, “I’ve had enough of this pain and unconsciousness. It’s getting near the end. I want to die at home. I don’t want …” She took hospitals pretty well, but she was in the cancer ward, and she’d seen too many people die with the families rushing in in the middle of the night to say their goodbyes and a lot of pain and tears. She said, “I want to die at home. I also want to end my life at the point when I feel the quality of my life is gone and that there’s no more hope and no more chance of living. And I want you to help me.”

There wasn’t a right-to-die movement in America or Britain to speak of. There were little token meetings, but it was not a subject of public discussion or knowledge. I think I would have had to go to a dictionary to look up the word euthanasia or so forth. I said, “What do you want me to do?” She said, “I want you to go …” In a way, she prefigured the laws. She didn’t know she was doing this, prefigured the laws that are coming into place in six states in America. And she said, “I want you to go to a doctor, explain what the situation is, and ask him for lethal drugs in which at the time of my choosing, I’m not ready yet, but it won’t be far off, time of my choosing, I want to be able to take my life immediately in my bed at home with family nearby and so forth.” I said instinctively, I know I didn’t philosophize about it or … “Okay. I’ll help you.” And-

Dr. Bob: Do you recall what your initial reaction was to that? Of course, you wanted to be supportive, but did you have … Do you remember how you felt about doing that at the time, conflicted?

Derek Humphry: I remember saying to her, “If I was in your position, I would be asking you the same,” so that I comforted her by saying, “We’re on the same wavelength.” I didn’t want her to die at all, but having seen her pain and suffering for the last two years, well, understood why she would ask. She was a very strong, independent woman and knew her own mind. She’d seen her mother die about 10 years earlier of lung cancer, and she had to be with her father at her mother’s bedside. I wasn’t there. I was looking after the children somewhere else.

The mother died an awful death apparently. She didn’t realize she was dying, and the pain control was terrible. If I’d known about it at the time, I would have lodged a complaint against the doctor. But I wasn’t on the scene. But this obviously triggered in Jean that when her time was closing, that she was going to do it differently than her poor mother had dealt with it.

So I went to … I puzzled over what I should do, how to get the drugs, and I thought, “I don’t want to involve her own GP or lead cancer specialist in Oxford.” I didn’t feel it was right to involve them. They were good people, good men, and women, very helpful, but I’ve been a journalist in London. I knew a certain doctor who we’d worked on stories about medicine before, and I thought, “That’s the fellow.” So I went to see him, took him to dinner, and I said to him, told him what the situation was, and he questioned me closely about Jean’s illness, the state it was, what we’d been through, roughly what sort of medications and so forth, and where she was.
He turned to me and said, “She has no quality of life left. I will help.” And he gave me the lethal drugs with which to; she could end her life. We shook hands on the bargain that I would never reveal his name, that that would be secret, and it’s been secret to this day, although people have asked me who he was. I took the drugs home. I said to Jean, “I have the drugs. They’re locked away in the medicine cabinet out of the way.” And we got on with life, and she got on with life as best she could.
She took another chemotherapy, which gave some momentary relief. And we had a happy Christmas in the end of 1974; I think that was. And then but by February, March, she was very, very ill and taking a great deal of what in England they call hospice mix. No, in America they call it hospice mix. In England, it’s called Brompton cocktail. It’s a mixture of drugs that suit one’s particular illness. It’s a sort of trial and error until the doctors can work out what this particular patient handles best. So we had that.

And we continued, and things got worse. Then her ribs broke in a sort of accident, and that seemed to be her benchmark. She couldn’t get to the bathroom anymore. She could hardly move. She couldn’t get up in bed without a massive amount of painkillers. She couldn’t sit up in bed. And I knew the end was coming, and I knew this question was going to come, so I was thinking about it but saying nothing.

Then one day I got her to sit, managed to get her to sit up after taking the pain medications, and she calmly turned to me, and she said, “Is this the day?” That’s a pretty rough question to answer when you’re the … We’d been married for 22 years and three children and had a happy life together. And I sort of gulped and said, “Well, if the pain is getting worse, you’ll probably have …” I was sort of stalling for the moment. I didn’t want to rush an answer. “You’ll probably have to go back into the hospital at the end of the week for more pain relief.” And she said, “I’ll die at one o’clock today.” And so that was … She was a very outspoken north country English woman and-

Dr. Bob: Knew her mind.

Derek Humphry: … we talked all morning, and we shared our memories. The marriage had been very solid, but we’d had two quarrels, one over which house to buy and one over my moving to London from Manchester. We’d settled them, but she brought them up, and she said, “Well, I was right about the house, and you were right about moving to London.” So we settled the two quarrels that we had. And she told me to go tell her father what had happened so that it wasn’t like her mother’s death, that hers was much more straightforward.

At one o’clock, if she hadn’t said, “Get it,” I would have just continued talking. I left it, the initial movement, I left up to her. At one o’clock she said, “Go and get it.” So I went and got the doctor’s drugs, mixed them in a cup of coffee, put a lot of sugar in, and brought it back to her. I told the boys were lying around in the house. The previous evening Jean had sent me on a fool’s errand to get something from the supermarket, and during that, my absence, she called in the boys and told them that she was going to die tomorrow. I was not part of that. She wanted me out of it for that communication with her sons.

Dr. Bob : How old were the boys at that point, Derek? Do you recall?

Derek Humphry: Sort of 17, 18, 19. I can’t remember exactly.

Dr. Bob: So young men. They were-

Derek Humphry: But late teens. Yes, young men. And they’d seen her suffering. They’d helped me nurse her, helped. When I was absent, they would provide her drugs and things like that. They knew the situation, and they knew their mother was a determined woman. If she said something was going to happen and she was going to do, then she was going to do it. So I took the drugs in to her. As I passed through the living room, I said to the boys, “She’s preparing to die,” so that they were up to mark on it.

I put the drugs down beside her, and she said, “Is that it?” I said, “Yes. If you drink that cup of coffee, you will die.” She accepted that. I got on the bed and gave her a last hug and a kiss. We said our goodbyes. I got back on my chair so that she could lift the coffee straight up without … And she picked up the mug of coffee and gulped it down, drink it down. And I sat there watching in awe. And before she passed out, she said, “Goodbye, my love.” And that was it. She lingered for a while. Then she vomited a little, which frightened me. I thought, “Oh, dear.” I didn’t know at the time that right to die was not a subject of … I never investigated closely or not … She should’ve taken some antiemetics.

Dr. Bob: As we do now.

Derek Humphry: … to prepare the stomach for that extremely toxic drug that was going to kill her. Anyway, she didn’t vomit all that much. And she just quietly died.

Dr. Bob: Were the boys with you at the time? Were they in the room or were they?

Derek Humphry: No. They were in the next room. But when I went out of the room, I know they went into the room when she was dead and apparently said goodbye to their mother, and after my presence. And I called the local GP who looked after her for about two years and told him that Jean was dead. And he came out. He said, “I’ll be around in an hour or so and sign the death certificate.” When he came in and looked at her, and I kept out of the room deliberately. I didn’t want to muddy the waters in any way or whatnot. And I was out in the garden, but he wrote down death from carcinomatosis, massive cancer.

If he’d wanted to speak to me, I was there in the garden, and he could’ve called and said, “I want to talk to you, Derek,” but he didn’t. And he thought it was a natural death from her powerful cancer.

Dr. Bob: Which it would’ve been before too long had she not taken this step.

Derek Humphry: Yes.

Dr. Bob: But it would’ve come after quite a bit, potentially quite a bit more struggle and suffering, right?

Derek Humphry: Yes. Well, certainly she would’ve been dead within a month. That was definitely on the cards. Her doctors had told me that they would look … They’d say, “She can come in to Oxford Hospital, and we’ll look after her, or she can die at home.” And I said, “She wants to die at home.” And they said, “Fine. We’ll provide as much comfort as we can.” So that was how it ended.

Dr. Bob: And that was 40 … How old was she?

Derek Humphry: She as 42.

Dr. Bob: And that was 43 years ago, 1974.

Derek Humphry: Yes.

Dr. Bob: So 43 years ago. It sounds like you can … I know that you’ve told this story not just a few times over the years, but it sounds like you can almost, it’s almost like it was yesterday. You seem so clear that you can recollect the details so clearly.
Derek Humphry: Yes. And she was so clear. She wasn’t one who would aggravate over things. She wouldn’t … She’d talk things over, “What is this? What is that?” We’d had a pact that when she first asked me to help her that it would be a joint decision. She said, “I could be made woozy by all these drugs.” And she said to me, “Back at the first opening of this, she said, “If I’m asking to die at the wrong time because there’s been a cure for cancer or if there’s more to do, don’t help me. It’s a joint decision.” And so I went along with that. You have to stand by your partners at the worst of times.

Dr. Bob: Well, she certainly sounded like she was very clear and wasn’t hesitating at the time. And her strength, and her fortitude, and her clarity have had such a significant impact on many lives from that. Had she not made that decision, had she not asked you to support her in this way, it’s hard to know what would have transpired and how the right-to-die movement might or might not have developed over time. So can you share how things developed from that point and how her gentle and peaceful death ended up leading to the next steps for you?

Derek Humphry: Well, I had written. I was, what, 45 at the time, and I had published three non-fiction books, had modest effect with them. So I was a published author. So I decided to write a little book about this. I was rather … I studied the subject after Jean died–no, before and after. And I went into the library of the Times of London, and I read up all the assisted suicide cases for the last 50 years.

And what struck me was that here were spouses, male and female, dragged into court. Assisted suicide was and is a crime in Britain. And I was shocked by what I read in modern history about this. And what really struck me was that these people that I could see were never sent to prison although they were vulnerable to 12 years in prison, the maximum sentence. But the judge would always say, “You’ve done wrong, but it was done in a spirit of compassion.” Then he would suspend the sentence or put them on probation and things like that.

I thought, “Well, this is a wrong law.” If it’s a crime, well then it should be punished as a crime. But this is not a crime, and it should be modified.” So that got my dander up. And so I wrote a little book called Jean’s Way in which I told the truth, the harsh truth of what had happened, the good things, the good times, and the bad times, and how Jean had handled it and so forth, and about the doctor, whose name I did not release.

And when I took the book ’round to several publishers in London, nobody would publish it. Even though I was already a published author and staff writer at the London Sunday Times, they said, “Oh, no. It’s too harrowing. Oh, no, it’ll make people cry.” And my own editor, Harry Evans, the great editor, he looked at it, considered it, and he said, “No, I don’t want my readers crying on Sunday morning.” And I said, “What’s wrong with a good cry for genuine reason? This is part of human life.” But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t publish it.

Anyway, I found a little publisher who was willing to take the chance, and they published it. And the entire book was sold out in a week. In five days it was gone. The public snapped it up, and I sold the paperback rights, and the Norwegian rights, and the Japanese rights, and Spanish rights. So the publishers and my editor were wrong. People do want to read genuine cases about this, sincere cases. And a huge amount of the public is interested in peaceful and careful dying. So that was that.
Then I moved to America to work for the Los Angeles Times. I wanted to change, and the book became very controversial, and I was invited onto lots of television shows, the Donahue Show. All of the big afternoon television shows, all of them invited me on to talk. And it began to stir interest, and I began to get huge mail from people, and they could reach me at the Los Angeles Times. They would just write, “Derek Humphry, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles,” and that would get me.

And people said to me, what are you going to do about this? And I said, “Well, I’m thinking,” and this question kept coming up. And so I began to feel, “Well, I’ll set up an organization to help people as best we can and long term to change the law so that this could be done thoughtfully, legally by willing doctors according to law and guidelines. And so I set up the Hemlock Society in August of 1980, announced it at the L.A> press conference. I remember one reporter said to me, “Are you going to be in the yellow pages?”

I said, “Of course. This is not going to be a covert organization. This is going to be straightforward. But we’re not going to break any laws if we can help it. We’re not that way. We’re in the business of changing laws.” But meantime I wrote a little book called Let Me Die Before I wake, which a guide to how to do it yourself.

This first book was on the right today, well, second if you call Jean’s Way as one. It was true cases of people dying, taking their lives, and what drugs they used, and how they handled it. I went around America interviewing people who were willing to talk to me about the death of a spouse or a child. And I gathered these stories together, published it in a little book, which sold continuously for the next 10 years to mostly members. It wasn’t a bookstore book; it was people heard of the Hemlock Society, and I did a number of radio and television programs. Gradually the membership at Hemlock Society grew from nothing to 47, and I had a-

Dr. Bob: 47?

Derek Humphry: Yeah. I had a-

Dr. Bob: It’s interesting. I meet people in my practice, and many of these older residents of these community are card-carrying long-term members, and they’re so proud of it. These are people who are very successful, intelligent, and they’re the folks who have always been able to kind of be self-determining and not just accept what is being handed to them but want to really determine the course of their lives.

I don’t see as many younger people, and you can share your thoughts on this and what’s happened since, but not as many younger people seem to be connecting and kind of opening themselves up to this sort of connection because the people who are the older people who are these long-term members of the Hemlock Society, they had to find out it and join when they were about my age in their 40s and 50s. I don’t hear a lot of 50- and 40-year olds these days engaging in this conversation, which is interesting. It’s mostly the older folks who are looking more-

Derek Humphry: I don’t agree with you there.

Dr. Bob: That hasn’t been your experience? Okay.

Derek Humphry: My experience is different. I have two websites. I have a blog, and I have a Listserv, and I find that the ratings of people, it varies a great deal. I get an uncomfortable amount of students approaching me, wanting to interview me and to know background, and so forth because they’re writing projects on it all over America. And I get some end of term or so forth, I get swamped with these. So I think there is fairly across the ages group of support, true most support from people over 50, and that’s very often because they’ve seen their parents or grandparents die in circumstances that they would not want for themselves.

Dr. Bob: That makes complete sense.

Derek Humphry: Whereas young people have probably not. Thank goodness they’ve not seen loved ones die. But we older people, of course, have, so and-

Dr. Bob: I appreciate that perspective. I appreciate … Obviously, you’ve been in this world for longer and are very tapped in to it. So I appreciate knowing that from in your experience, that there are people across the age ranges who are paying attention and supporting. So what happened with the Hemlock Society? I know that there were changes that occurred.

Derek Humphry: Yes. Well, because the movement grew bigger, and other organizations formed. Ten years after I formed the Hemlock, Dr. Kevorkian came on the scene with his very controversial tactics and actions. And of course, the media were fascinating with Kevorkian. I mean, they’d never heard of a doctor with a suicide machine that killed patients on request. So he got an enormous amount of … far more publicity than I got. I washed with interest.

In terms of informing, because a lot of people only watch television, and they don’t tend to read books and papers, and that’s their choice. So suddenly Kevorkian offers so many television appearances. We’re telling people about the right to choose to die, and he helped directly with drugs 130 people to die and could have going on doing that. He was twice charged with assisted suicide, and the juries wouldn’t convict him. He was acquitted.

But then he wanted to make it a bigger impact. He believed that all this publicity would make the medical profession change its mind about assisted dying. He was wrong, but he persisted, very persistent, tough man. And he performed active voluntary euthanasia, a man ,very sick man came to him and asked to be helped to die. The family was behind him, and he was a very, very ill man

And when Kevorkian ended his life, this man’s life by injection, and he filmed it, and he got 60 Minutes to put it on film, and on the 60 Minutes program, Kevorkian looked down at the camera and pointed his finger, and then said to the district attorney of his area up at Michigan, “Either you prosecute me, or I’ve won.” Very [defact 00:36:24], strong … He threw down the gauntlet to the legal people, who were not going to prosecute him again. They’ve got fed up with him.

But this time they had to take him to court because he was such a defiant act. And they were willing to look past assisted suicide, but death by injection, they were not. That was … They charged him with manslaughter and second-degree murder. And he was convicted. He’d overstepped the mark because of assisted suicide before the courts, you can plead … It was something you had to do, something that was by choice and by agreement.

Although it’s strictly it’s against the law, juries accepted that when they heard the cry is from the family and what the dead patient had said and so forth. Now, with second-degree murder, you cannot bring evidence of compassion and sympathy. That’s not allowed in Britain and America under a murder charge. You either did it, or you didn’t do it. You can’t say, “He asked me to kill me.” You can’t say, “I did it for a good reason.” That argument, the judge will immediately stamp on any argument, and he has to. That’s the law that’s in the practice.
Bob Uslander: I imagine it may have an impact on the sentencing and on how the punishment is meted out? But it sounds like not on the actual determination of guilt or innocence.

Derek Humphry: Yes.

Dr. Bob: Is that correct?

Derek Humphry: Yes, and he repeated his thing, “This action of mine, helping this man to die was merciful, and the law should be changed,” and all the rest of it. He said to the jury, “Do I look like a murderer?” Of course, he didn’t.

Dr. Bob: Of course not.

Derek Humphry: But the judge was pretty strong on him. He’d appeared before her before, and he signed a bond that he would not help any people to die, and of course, he obviously broke that bond. And so the jury found him guilty, and the judge said that “This is the end of your actions on this.” And he was sent to 10 years to life; I think it was. It was a certain period to life, and he went to prison. He appealed, but he had no grounds for appeal. He kept on appealing, but they didn’t have good grounds for appeal.

That’s the way the homicide laws are: You either did it, or you didn’t do it. He had a film with himself doing it. So his work … He did eight years in prison, served it very bravely, and nobly, and was let out after eight years instead of life on a promise that he wouldn’t do it anymore. And he stuck to that promise. A few years later he died of kidney disease. He certainly had his impact.

But where I, and I’m not medical profession, I’m not a doctor, of course, only a journalist, and people would write to him and say, “Will you help me?” He would write them back or call them back, and he would say after he’d saw the circumstances, “Yes. Fly up here.” So people that he accepted would fly to Detroit, check into a motel. And he would help them to die next day. Now, that upset the medical profession. They said, “Look, that’s not the way you practice medicine.” Even if the end result was a Kevorkian-type result, you would evaluate a patient. You get to know a patient. You make sure it’s a genuine, compassionate request. So he didn’t move the medical profession at all. I’m afraid, and-

Dr. Bob: Right. And that’s really what’s developed of course in the states that do have loss that allow physician-aided dying. Those issues are addressed. And as somebody who’s practicing in that realm, I can assure you and everyone listening that the relationships are very important, and this is not a quick transaction, right?

Derek Humphry: Yes, not a casual thing at all. There has to be understanding and friendship and signed documents saying that that’s proving that this was the patient’ own decision, the witnessed documents and whatever. It must be done carefully. And Kevorkian, one, in the start of his antics, he came to me, and he said that “Will the Hemlock Society send me patients?” And I said, “No. I don’t believe in …” Oh, he said he was going to start a suicide clinic. And I replied to him straight off in my office, he came to my office, asked for help, and I said, “No, I don’t believe in people being helped assisted dying in clinics. This is something that must be done in home with knowledgeable doctors and agreeing families. This is not acceptable at all.”

He got very angry and stamped out of the office because I wouldn’t help him. And I said, “Alright.” Even before he got out, I said, “Alright. We have to change the law, not break it.”

Dr. Bob: Right, not circumvent it.

Derek Humphry: Anyway, so he never spoke to me again.

Dr. Bob: First of all, thank you for that history lesson. It’s fascinating, and I now a lot of people will benefit from having a greater understanding of how the right-to-die movement really began and where Dr. Kevorkian fits into it. Share with me a bit, if you would, about what you’re doing now. What is life like for Derek Humphry these days?

Derek Humphry: Well, I’m 87 years old, in pretty good heath instead of some of the things like nerve-ending damage, or losing my hearing, and so forth that old people suffer from, but I don’t have any major illnesses or terminal illnesses. I resigned from the Hemlock Society seven years ago. It was getting too big. I’m a writer, not a CEO, and so I handed it over. A few years later it merged into Compassion and Choices, into another … It was merged, and the Hemlock Society doesn’t exist anymore, except Hemlock Society of San Diego: They’ve kept their name and a very strong chapter down there.

Dr. Bob: Yes, good friend sort of mine, and I will be introducing the listeners to some of the folks from the Hemlock Society of San Diego in future podcasts.

Derek Humphry: Yes. I run a little organization that supplies quality literature about the right to choose to die, about assisted dying. And my book Final Exit, which is the guidebook as to how you can practice your own self-deliverance, what you must beware of, the dos and don’ts, the law. It’s all described in journalistic terms. I’m a very straightforward writer. The book Final Exit has been selling since 1991, selling today. I sell about four or five a day. It’s in the bookstores. It’s on Amazon, and so forth. And it’s sold all over the world. Most languages have taken, and even China and Japan have taken it.

And then I’ve just published a memoir of my life, Good Life, Good Death, which is the story of my life before 50. I was 50 when I started the Hemlock Society, but it describes my life there, and then the second half about Jean’s death and how the right-to-die movement numeric grew and grew. I moved to live in Oregon from Los Angeles, and I discovered that Oregon had a system of you could change the law by citizens initiative, that citizens could vote in their own law. It’s quite complicated to do it.

So in 1993, we set about, I gathered people around me and Hemlock Society of Oregon. I met other good people, doctors, and the lawyers, and nurses, and laypeople, and we got a citizens initiative going in Oregon in 1994, and we learned from other failures that we’d had previously in California and Washington. And to everybody’s surprise, we won. We won by 2%, and the right-to-life movement sprung into action, got an injunction against us, stopped it. Then we fought that injunction off. Then they brought another one in, and they delayed the law for three years, and they called another vote, a state-wide vote in Oregon. They called another vote. And it was the biggest mistake they ever meant. We won by 4% the next time. We doubled our gain. So the vote, it was twice voted on in Oregon. And the law went into effect in 1998, and has worked-

Dr. Bob: Yes, it has, and then-

Derek Humphry: … very satisfactorily ever since, and I think-

Dr. Bob: Yeah, and then laws, the law in Washington became essentially modeled after that, and California and now Colorado, and I understand that there are initiatives and bills in many other states. So we are I think the progress continues.

Derek Humphry: Yes. It’s slow progress, and people would like to see more, but in a democracy and a free country like America, you’ve got to go step by step.

Dr. Bob: Yes, you’ve got to go through [crosstalk 00:49:14].

Derek Humphry: Interesting. In Britain, it’s still a crime to assist a suicide, but the Chief Prosecutions Department in London has issued guidelines. This is two years ago. They issued guidelines as to when they would prosecute a person and when they would not, what their markers were, what their standard was. And I agreed with it. I thought, “That’s …” I could see that I was … Oh, there was a … After the cheese, we came out, he police came to me and said, “Did you do this?” And I said, “Yes, I did. Oh, yeah.” I said, “If you take me to court, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the court.” I did help her. But the public prosecutor decided not to prosecute me. He used a clause in the law that if he felt one way about it, he could decline prosecution. And in Britain, they have this new law. They still haven’t changed the law in Britain, and though they’ve tried the Oregon law two or three times, it never gets through Parliament.

But they do have these guidelines which you can read there on the Internet and everywhere, which says if you assist a loved one, it can’t be strangers, if you assist a loved one under these circumstances, I can’t spread them all out now, but intelligent circumstances, then we are not likely to prosecute. If you do it for monetary reasons, or selfishness, or any criminality, then you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Dr. Bob: As it should be.

Derek Humphry: So go ahead.

Dr. Bob: No. I said, “As it should be,” right? I know that sometimes there can be nuances, but we do need to be protecting … We need those protections in place.

Derek Humphry: Oh, yes, undoubtedly. We’re moving towards doing it. And I think that the whole change in America society is swinging, going to swing in our favor. I mean, who would’ve thought 10 years ago that there would be gay rights as clear as they are now, that there would be same-sex marriages? Who would’ve thought that a few years ago? But it’s gone through, and the Supreme Court approved it. So there is a change in attitudes.

Dr. Bob Bob: There is.

Derek Humphry: And younger people are more open to intelligent decisions instead of old-fashioned and religious decisions.
Bob Uslander: Well, you were ahead of your time, my friend, and you were it sounds like an accidental pioneer. I personally and professionally am grateful. We will be kind of carrying the torch and continuing in the efforts that you and many of your peers have put forth. And there are many, many people who owe you gratitude for going out and being willing to put yourself out there because it wasn’t the easy path. It wasn’t the path of least resistance by any stretch. I know that.

Dr. Bob: So, Derek-

Derek Humphry: … had some ups and downs.

Dr. Bob: yeah. Well, no doubt. And there is more work to be done.

Derek Humphry: Oh, yes.

Dr. Bob: There is quite a bit, but we also want to, like you were indicating, we want to recognize and appreciate the strides that have been made. And we are, I feel like we’re moving clearly in the right direction.

Derek Humphry: Yeah. I hope so.

Dr. Bob: If people want to connect with you, and certainly you discussed a few of your books, I know there’s others, but Let Me Die Before I Wake was one; Final Exit; Good Life, Good Death, which I have a copy of, and I can’t wait to crack it open and dive into it. What is the best way for someone to learn more about you, be able to access your blog or give access to your books?

Derek Humphry: My main website, which is the name’s easily remembered, and then that leads you on to my other websites and blogs. It’s www.finalexit.org. I’m not a nonprofit organization. If you go to finalexit.org, you could then see how you could move on to our bookstore very clearly or join a blog or the Listserv. So that’s the easiest way to get in contact with us, finalexit.org. And my latest book is my memoir of all these years before ’50 and the turbulent years since 50, and I call it Good Life, Good Death, so not all about death. There’s quite a lot of humor and irony in other parts of it. And it’s available through me or Amazon or so forth, but prefer you bought it from me. And you can find it through finalexit.org and get it at the discounted rate.

Dr. Bob: Wonderful. Well, Derek, I just want to thank you for taking time and sharing so openly, and, again, for everything you’ve done to move, I think to move humanity forward.

Derek Humphry: In a small way, and it’s been very rewarding. I’ve built up a huge friendship and wonderful friendships, and people to work with on these calls, and particularly down in San Diego there seems a real hotbed of thoughts and action about this subject.
Bob Uslander: Yeah, well, I know you’ve got some very good friends and admirers down here, and I’m one of them. So I’ll look forward to continuing this friendship, and I know that we’ll be back in touch soon. So I’ll be signing off. Thank you so much, and we all appreciate you.

Derek Humphry: It’s been good talking to you.

Dr. Bob: Okay, Derek. You take care of yourself.

Derek Humphry: Okay. Thanks very much.

 

One response

The doctor in this PODCAST, Dr Bob Uslander, practices a form of integrated medicine where he will help a terminally ill person to die in whichever way they want — natural death, hospice, or assisted dying.
He practices in the San Diego area, and often co-operates with the Hemlock Society of San Diego.

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