Final Exit by Derek Humphry

Does "Final Exit" Encourage Suicides?
Reviewer Questions Comfortable Suicides

By Marc S. Schwartz

In his bestselling "Final Exit," Derek Humphry details methods by which suicide may be anything but painless: death by snake bite, for example, or air bubble injection, or ingestion of hemlock. But he also tells how to make it nearly painless.

The co-founder of the Hemlock Society has devoted his life to making comfortable suicide available to the terminally and hopelessly ill. Subtitled "The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying," "Final Exit" is a compendium of practical advice for health care professionals and those who wish to end their lives "with dignity" in the face of devastating illness.

Humphry offers readers information presented in a clear and straightforward manner. He discusses Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney, the importance of carefully choosing a physician, and the benefits of hospice. He cautions it is not only inadvisable, but ethically wrong, to make any attempt to persuade someone to end his or her life. And he asserts that anyone having doubts about "self-deliverance" should never take his or her life. "Make the most of the time you have left," he advises.

Should suicide be painless? Should it be easy? These are worthwhile and serious questions. It is clear that this author believes the answer to both is "yes." But despite his protests that Final Exit is a balanced look at the subject, he doesn't give any credibility to those who disagree with his answers.

One of the most controversial sections of "Final Exit" is found in its drug tables, which provide dosages and instructions for the administration of life-ending drugs. While this information may be available elsewhere, "Final Exit" compiles it in one volume for convenient reference.

Humphry's self-stated motive is a humanitarian one -- to spare the desperately ill needless suffering, and he emphatically states that end-of-life decisions are a matter of "personal choice." He says he does not presume to tell anyone what to do -- merely how to do it most easily once the choice is made.

However, despite his attempts to remain neutral, Humphry cannot resist injecting his opinion from time to time. For example, he expresses admiration for the courage and determination of the suicidal person who would walk to the top of a mountain and freeze to death

In 1975, Humphry's first wife, Jean, died of cancer. Humphry elicits the reader's empathy with his description in the book's introduction of her painful last months and their ultimate decision that he should help her to die.

A reporter, Humphry subsequently wrote a book, "Jean's Way," which told their story. Five more books about euthanasia (including "Final Exit" in 1991) followed. "Let Me Die Before I Wake" (1981), another practical guide to suicide, sold more than 100,000 copies despite a barrage of criticism which Humphry terms "hypocritical." While conceding that there may have been "abuse" of "Let Me Die Before I Wake," Humphry in the introduction to "Final Exit" says those abuses have not been documented. As measure of its success, Humphry states that "Let Me Die Before I Wake" has helped hundreds of dying people to end their lives.

No matter what your views on the issue of assisted suicide, Humphry's glib treatment of death (including a chapter entitled "A Check List") is ultimately frightening. Undoubtedly, depressed people have read this book and used its methods to take their own lives. For this, Humphry must assume some responsibility. Does this serve his "humanitarian" mission?

Humphry makes it clear that his book is not meant for people suffering from depression, and these readers are advised to seek psychiatric help. But if this were an honest concern, why didn't he include mental health contacts for such readers in an appendix? Instead, the end matter of the book is dedicated to a biography of the author and information about joining the Hemlock Society. In a chapter entitled "Support Groups for the Dying," Humphry mentions just one support group -- Hemlock.

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