September 13, 1991


If you must commit suicide...always contrive to do it as decorously as possible; the decencies, whether of life or of death, should never be lost sight of.

George Borrow (1803-1881)

A new book by Derek Humphry called Final Exit, is on the best-seller list and is causing quite a flap. Among other things, it tells a person how to kill himself,including drug dosages. Humphry uses the euphemism "self deliverance". Some people object to providing such information to the public, instead of reserving it to the medical profession --who are forbidden by law to use it.

Dr. Jay Rothstein, geriatrics center director of a Veterans Administration Medical Center says, "It may be reasonable to have medical panels discuss the ethics of suicide in intractable situations, but helping a patient commit suicide is not ethically approved".

Richard Doerflinger of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops says "It is the height of irresponsibility to market this book for the general population, which includes momentarily despondent people, depressed teen-agers and anyone else with $20 or a library card."

Humphry, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, is the founder of the Hemlock Society and he makes a damn good living out of other people dying. The information in his book is an updated version of a previously published book.

I joined the Hemlock Society, but left it because I believed that Humphry and his colleagues have a financial stake in keeping the debate about euthanasia alive rather than solving it with legislation. My reason for believing this, is the inept handling of an initiative that should have been on the California ballot during the last presidential election and would have stood an excellent chance of being approved by the voters. Thanks to Humphry's new book, there may be a well organized opposition to it when it finally does get on the ballot. That means more controversy and more money in Humphry's bank account.

Just as people should have the requisite information on how to live well, they are also entitled to know how to die well. Ignorance solves nothing. It simply opens the door to misinformation. I know of no one who has ever been injured by knowing too much, while there are many people who have lost their lives or their health by knowing too little. Knowing how to commit suicide is not going to influence someone to do it. The decision may be delayed by not knowing or having the means to do it, but a person bent on killing himself will manage to do it. I suspect that a number of people commit suicide by running an automobile into something at high speed. While this is a very messy and unsure way of killing one's self, it is one way to do it and leave everyone believing that it was an accident. A person can even hide his suicide from himself.

Nothing that I know of is quite as pathetic as a botched suicide. One very painful case involved an old and severely infirm couple. The husband, with his wife's consent, shot his wife; dropped the gun that he intended to use on himself and was unable to retrieve it and kill himself, as planned. He was tried for murder. I don't recall the verdict, but the man was in total misery because of his failure to finish the job.

The most painless way to commit suicide is one where a person goes to sleep and doesn't wake up. It can be accomplished with an overdose of barbiturates or other drugs, or with a large plastic bag which kills by carbon dioxide suffocation. Carbon monoxide, produced by an automobile engine, also works, but it is generally unpleasant.

It seems silly to object to giving out information on how to kill one's self to young people. It is silly because they already have that information. Not only do they have the information, but the methods taught on TV are optimally designed to shock those left behind; who are the people an angry suicide might want to hurt. The TV method is to take a loaded gun, hold it to the temple and pull the trigger. It is one of the messiest ways to commit suicide known. While it is a quick way to die, it is extra hard on those who have to clean up the mess. The other method taught on the tube is cutting the wrists. Besides being very bloody, it is often botched because the potential suicide doesn't cut deep enough. The third method is hanging(strangulation) which, while requiring little equipment, is a hellofa way to die.

Despite the interdiction of churches and laws, people who wish to die will manage to kill themselves. It seems to me that it is preferable that they do it with as little pain as possible to themselves and to those they leave behind.

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