The Hemlock Society: Vanguard for Euthanasia on Demand

Author: A.L.L.


American Life League

Having to respond to Derek Humphry's claims of my mother's 'mental illness' is both humiliating and insulting. Anyone who knew Ann Wickett realizes how courageous and sensible she was, and how preposterous such claims are. And no one [knew] better than Humphry himself. Death for Humphry's Hemlock Society is strictly business, and to him his wife simply became bad business, to be discarded. What he did to my mother disgusts me. To top it off, he had no qualms about printing a eulogy in The New York Times, then later openly admitting its purpose was damage control.

          Robert W. Stone, Ann Wickett Humphry's son.[1]

Anti-Life Philosophy.

The Hemlock Society and other "Right to Die" organizations are fighting for the most basic rights of all people. After all, if you have no control over how you will die, life itself has little meaning. The Hemlock Society is a champion of the idea that we should all have the Constitutional right to control our own bodies.

The Fractured History of the Hemlock Society.

The End and the Beginning.

Derek Humphry, a British journalist, was in a difficult situation in early 1975. His wife Jean was suffering from the agony of incurable bone cancer, and he could not bear to see her in such pain. So, after much discussion between them, he handed her a cup of coffee loaded with barbiturates and pain killers. She drank this concoction and died.

Less than a year after Jean died, Humphry married American Ann Wickett. With her help, he wrote the book Jean's Way, published in 1978, that described the ordeal he shared with his first wife. With media attitudes toward euthanasia being as favorable as they were, the book was soon made into a television movie and a stage play entitled Is This the Day?, the last words Jean Humphry allegedly spoke before she killed herself.

Laying the Foundation.

In 1980, Humphry moved to Los Angeles, where he founded the Hemlock Society, aptly named after the cup of poisonous herbs that the Greek philosopher Socrates was forced to drink by his Athenian enemies (it is significant that Socrates was the victim of involuntary "euthanasia"). Humphry also founded a pro-euthanasia political group named Americans Against Human Suffering to promote the legalization and social acceptance of assisted suicide.

The Deaths of Ann's Parents.

In 1986, Ann Wickett Humphry's parents took their own lives, assisted by her and Derek Humphry. The Humphrys illegally impersonated doctors in order to obtain lethal doses of Vesparex, a powerful barbiturate. They then mixed the crushed tablets into applesauce and ice cream. Ann spoon-fed her mother the deadly ice cream, and Derek watched her father feed himself the applesauce. Both of Ann's parents died minutes later.[2] Technically, Derek Humphry assisted in a suicide while his wife actually committed homicide.

In direct contradiction to their philosophy that assisted suicide is a paramount personal right, the Humphrys realized that they had done something very wrong and desperately tried to cover up the evidence. Ann put the dishes in the dishwasher and buried her handbag (containing the unused Vesparex) in the garbage. The Humphrys also destroyed any other evidence of their participation in the deaths, including all correspondence between themselves and Ann's parents regarding assisted suicide. To top it all off, Ann told the coroner that her sister was their parent's primary caregiver, thereby attempting to implicate her in the deaths![2]

Following her husband's lead, Ann Humphry soon authored a book about her parent's death entitled Double Exit (perhaps the title was in deference to Britain's Exit Society, another "Right-to-Die group).

Ann's Turn.

In September of 1989 Ann Humphry was diagnosed with breast cancer. Derek Humphry, the leader of the "compassionate" Hemlock Society, responded to this situation by labeling her a mental incompetent and then dumping her.

Robert W. Stone, Ann Humphry's son, defended her and revealed some of the inner machinations of the Hemlock Society when he wrote that "Having to respond to Derek Humphry's claims of my mother's 'mental illness' is both humiliating and insulting. Anyone who knew Ann Wickett realizes how courageous and sensible she was, and how preposterous such claims are. And no one better than Humphry himself. Death for Humphry's Hemlock Society is strictly business, and to him his wife simply became bad business, to be discarded. What he did to my mother disgusts me. To top it off, he had no qualms about printing a eulogy in The New York Times, then later openly admitting its purpose was damage control."[1]

She then publicly charged him with gross hypocrisy. Where was the caring, nurturing attitude so prevalent in Hemlock Society literature? Ann said that "I am an embarrassment to them. I was dumb enough to get cancer."[2]

Eventually, Ann Humphry rode her horse into a remote Oregon wilderness and killed herself.

The Hemlock Society's Assisted Suicide.

Ann Humphry charged that the Society had become a "parasitic organism," taking dues from tens of thousands of members and returning very little (Derek Humphry's salary was at least $65,000, not counting travel expenses and many other perquisites).[2] Additionally, Humphry retained full control of Hemlock Society finances, and authorized illegal transfers of Society money to non-tax exempt satellite organizations like Americans Against Human Suffering.

The Hemlock Society Today.

Although it does not flatly say so, the Hemlock Society has, as its ultimate objective, the enshrining of euthanasia on demand in this country in the same manner that abortion on demand is now so honored. This goal is frequently enunciated at Hemlock Society conferences and meetings.

For example, Dutch euthanasia doctor Julius Hackethal presented a talk at the Second National Voluntary Euthanasia Conference of the Hemlock Society, in which he confidently predicted that "Your [Hemlock Society] congress will help that the self-evident human rights for a dignified death will become a fixed and steady law all over the world. Such a vested human right would automatically cause that everybody would be able to determine for himself at what time and in which way he wants to die."[3]

As Derek Humphry has made perfectly clear, the Society intends to use the virtually infallible strategy of gradualism to achieve its ultimate goal. First the euthanasiasts pushed for the Living Will, and then the durable power of attorney. Then it was doctor-assisted suicide, and finally it will be euthanasia on demand.

For more detailed information on this general strategy and how it precisely follows the pro-abortion strategy, see Chapter 112, "Objectives of the Euthanasia Movement."

In aid of its goals, the Hemlock Society and its members actively counsel people to take their own lives. Their purpose in doing so is not only to relieve the suffering of individuals; they assume (correctly) that widespread flouting of the law is a powerful propaganda tool. After all, if the law is widely ignored, why retain the law? It's outmoded and antiquated, after all, and society has matured beyond such meaningless restraints.

Does all of this sound familiar?

If it doesn't, it certainly should!

Today's Hemlock Society.

Although the Internal Revenue Service seems to have taken an interest in Hemlock Society finances, the Society continues its fight for euthanasia on demand on several fronts. It has found that the Pacific Northwest is fertile ground for its ideas.

The Hemlock Society publishes a book entitled Compassionate Crimes, Broken Taboos, which is a detailed anthology of mercy killings and assisted suicides.[2] The Society likes to joke that libraries have a real problem in getting people to return this book (after all, dead people don't worry about nickel-a-day fines).

Disturbingly, the Hemlock Society has recently experienced a large influx of new members, notably many AIDS sufferers. If American society continues to follow the utilitarian Hemlock lead, we may soon find a cheap, easy, and efficient way to avoid the expense of caring for all of these stigmatized "AIDS people."

Even more unsettling is the fact that the "Right to Die" movement is spreading all over the world. Derek Humphry was recently elected president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, which has half a million members in 17 countries. Some of these organizations are listed in Chapter 112, "Objectives of the Euthanasia Movement."

Revisiting the Crime?

The entire sequence of events in Humphry's life is most peculiar, but at the same time most familiar. Instead of attempting to legalize euthanasia and then killing someone, he reversed the order by killing his first wife and then attempting to legalize euthanasia. He then reinforced this behavior by assisting his second wife in the 1986 killing of her parents.

The role of guilt in such activities is clear. Humphry regularly boasts about how "caring" and "compassionate" he was in killing his first wife. He has never repented of this crime, so he is attempting to force society to approve of his crime albeit in a belated fashion by legalizing what he has done.

This drive to assuage guilt instead of repenting is typical among those who adhere to the anti-life mentality, as described in Chapter 2 of Volume I. Homosexuals, pornographers, and pro-abortionists band together and attempt to legalize their behavior, as do prostitutes and the users of illegal drugs. The examples of this kind of behavior are countless, and they are all damaging to the fragile fabric of society.

Hemlock's Fishy Survey.

Propaganda Tools.

Anti-life groups commonly use doctored or entirely phony surveys of public or professional opinion to bolster their viewpoints. They point at the "results" of their survey(s) and say that, since they are in the majority, then everyone else must fall into lockstep behind them.

Not surprisingly, they refuse to allow anyone to examine their methodology or the actual survey results, purportedly for unspecified "legal reasons" or "to protect the privacy of their respondents."

Failed California Initiative.

In 1988, the Hemlock Society pushed hard to get an initiative ballot on the California election slate that would have legalized assisted suicide. The initiative failed to gather enough signatures, primarily due to the strong opposition of the California Medical Association and the Catholic Church.

The 1988 Hemlock survey of California doctors was apparently performed in support of this initiative ballot. The idea of the survey was to "show" that most doctors killed their patients anyhow, so it must be all right.

After allegedly receiving input from hundreds of doctors, the Hemlock Society summarized its responses and then burned them "on advice of legal counsel" so that the numbers could not be crosschecked.[4]

The Hemlock Society "found" that;

• 79 percent of California doctors had killed a patient that had asked to die. Of these 'doctors,' 84 percent thought that they did the right thing, and 13 percent had killed at least three persons;

• 68 percent of all California doctors favored a relaxation of existing euthanasia laws; and

• 51 percent of all California doctors said that they would practice euthanasia if it were legal.

One of the indicators that this was a bogus survey is the conflict between the first and third results as tallied above. If 79 percent of all California doctors had already killed at least one person when euthanasia was still illegal, does it make any sense that only 51 percent would practice euthanasia if it were legal a drop of 28 percent?

A "Doctor" With an Attitude.

Public and Private Objectives.

The Hemlock Society has, as its ultimate objective, the legalization of euthanasia on demand. Under such laws, anyone of any age could enter a euthanasia clinic and, after perfunctory "counseling" (of the same type women currently receive in abortion clinics), "end it all" for a modest fee.

However, the Society cannot state this goal publicly because it is too radical for the general public at least for now. The Society officially insists that all it wants is perhaps the Living Will here, the withdrawal of nutrition there, and perhaps at the most "assisted suicide" for those in the last months of life. As Derek Humphry himself has said, "We have to go stage by stage, with the living will, with the power of attorney, with the withdrawal of this; we have to go stage by stage. Your side would call that the 'slippery slope.'"[5]

An Honest Killer.

At least one Hemlock member seems to have thrown off the shackles of conventional tactics and has spoken his mind freely. He is a retired pathologist, Jack ("The Dripper") Kevorkian.

After he helped fellow Hemlock member Janet Adkins kill herself in 1990, he said that "Religious dogma has become part of the marrow of humanity. We can't get rid of it. There should be absolutely no connection between medicine and religion, but there is, and it's paralyzing ... Religion has fouled up medicine for centuries."[6]

Kevorkian is right, of course; religion has "fouled up" his brand of medicine ever since it was first practiced the kind of "medicine" where "doctors" expose newborns, kill preborn babies, let people starve to death, and commit murder and assisted suicide.

Kevorkian says that he wants to set up a chain of "obitoriums" or euthanasia clinics for people who wanted to commit suicide. He says "Let me put together a small [euthanasia] team called the Untouchables. I guarantee, under my supervision, it would be incorruptible."[7]

Kevorkian describes himself as an "obitiatrist," or 'death doctor,' and has advocated everything from involuntary medical experimentation on death-row inmates to chains of non-profit suicide clinics. His motto: "A rational policy of planned death."[7]

Interestingly, Kevorkian's business card reads:

Jack Kevorkian, M.D.
Bioethics and Obitiatry
Special death counseling

The Obvious Conclusion.

What is really interesting about Kevorkian's assisted "kill" of Adkins is the reaction of the Hemlock Society to it. Instead of publicly disavowing Adkin's death, Society members revealed their true objectives by embracing it. Janet Good, president of the Michigan chapter of the Hemlock Society, enthused that "He's [Kevorkian] compassionate, he's courageous; thank God we have a doctor like him. He's done a great service." After Kevorkian helped Susan Williams kill herself on May 15, 1992, Good also announced that "Hemlock has prospered and grown because of him."[8]

Jack Kevorkian has indeed done all of us a great service. He has shown us precisely what the Hemlock Society ultimately wants: Euthanasia on demand, the establishing of a chain of euthanasia clinics ("obitoriums"), and a corps of "doctors" willing to kill for a living. The abortionists will finally have company

If American society chooses to ignore this clear warning, as it has ignored so many other warnings, then it deserves everything yes, everything it gets.

References: The Hemlock Society.

[1] Robert W. Stone, son of Ann Wickett Humphry, in a letter to Vanity Fair, March 1992.

[2] Thomas W. Case. "A Requiem for the Hemlock Society." Fidelity Magazine, June 1990. Pages 24 to 32.

[3] From the transcript of a speech by Dr. Julius Hackethal entitled "Medical Help By Suicide As a Method of Voluntary Euthanasia," presented at the Second National Voluntary Euthanasia Conference of the Hemlock Society on February 9th, 1985, in Los Angeles, California.

[4] Leslie Bond. "Hemlock Society Burns Responses to Euthanasia Survey." National Right to Life News, March 10, 1988. Page 5.

[5] Derek Humphry, Director, Hemlock Society, in a December 18, 1986 interview.

[6] National Catholic Register, June 24, 1990, page 2.

[7] Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman. "Rational Suicides: Urge to Control Death." The Oregonian, June 17, 1990, page K3.

[8] Janet Good, quoted in Mary Meehan. "Down the Slope." National Catholic Register, June 7, 1992, pages 1 and 6.

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This is a chapter of the Pro-Life Activist’s Encyclopedia published by American Life League.