Hemlock Society

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For the Indian Bengali film of same name, see Hemlock Society (film).

The Hemlock Society USA was a national right-to-die organization founded in 1980 in Santa Monica by Derek Humphry. Its primary missions included providing information to dying persons and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted dying. In 2003 the national organization renamed itself, and a year later merged with another group into a newly formed national organization called Compassion & Choices.

History and chronology[edit]

Prior organizations, such as the Euthanasia Educational Council which formed in 1967 and changed its name to Concern For Dying in 1978 pre-dated The Hemlock Society and its mission.[1]

Hemlock was a founding charter member of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies when the international organization initiated in 1980 in Oxford, England, by Sidney D. Rosoff and Derek Humphry. Hemlock's national membership grew to 40,000 with eighty chapters.

Hemlock backed legislative efforts in California, Washington, Michigan, and Maine without success until the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in 1994.

Past Hemlock Society USA presidents included Gerald A Larue, Derek Humphry, Sidney D Rosoff, Wiley Morrison, Arthur Metcalfe, John Westover, Faye J Girsh. Past executive directors included Derek Humphry (1980–1992), Cheryl K Smith (acting 1992-1993), John A Pridonoff (1993–1995), Helen Voorhis (acting 1995-1996), Faye J Girsh (1996–2000).

The organization changed its name to End of Life Choices in 2002 and merged with Compassion In Dying Federation in 2003 to become Compassion & Choices. Several supporters of the Hemlock Society started Final Exit Network in 2004.


  • "In the United States, the Hemlock Society alone had grown to 57,000 paid members with 86 chapters. For every paying member, there were [believed to be]100 more people who shared the same beliefs. The self-deliverance genie had been forever freed from its bottle and had taken on a robust, self-sustaining life of its own."[2]
  • "Whatever downside there may be to Hemlock, if claims of being open to dialogue and striving for tolerance are justified on this side of the divide, the negatives may well be outweighed by the positives."[3]
  • "Those who have some indecision may have benefited from remarks by Bishop John Shelby Spong in a keynote address to the Hemlock Society USA conference in San Diego on January 10, 2003."[4]
  • "When the votes [in California] were counted after the November 3, 1992 election, Initiative #161 had failed to pass by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Although the narrow defeat marked a temporary setback for Hemlock Society USA and its supporters, the fact that 5,500,000 voters had marked yes on their ballots was encouraging for the future."[5]
  • "Early in 1986 the Hemlock Society, then based in California, proposed amendments to the 1976 [Living Will] law that would have included 'aid in dying' and it urged [Senator] Keene to include it in a revised bill. He declined."[6]
  • "On the other side of the battle line, the coalition [for California Prop. #161] included numerous Protestant denominations, organized labor, the state Democratic party, AIDS activists, the Grey Panthers, and, of course, the Hemlock Society."[7]


  • Farewell to Hemlock: Killed by its name, an essay by Derek Humphry
  • Daniel Hillyard and John Dombrink, Dying Right: The Death With Dignity Movement, Routledge, 2001
  • Constance E. Putnam, Hospice or Hemlock? Searching for Heroic Compassion. Praeger, 2002
  • Ian Dowbiggin, A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in America, OUP, 2003
  • George Howe Colt, The Enigma of Suicide, Summit Books, 1991.
  • Donald W. Cox, Hemlock’s Cup: The Struggle for Death With Dignity. Prometheus Books, 1993
  • Derek Humphry, Good Life, Good Death - Memoir. Norris Lane Press, 2008; ISBN 9780976828334

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "News and notes". Death Studies. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  2. ^ Richard N Cote, In Search of Gentle Death, Corinthian Books, 2008, Page 6, ISBN 978-1-929175-36-9
  3. ^ Constance E. Putnam, Hospice or Hemlock? Searching for Heroic Compassion, Praeger, 2002, pg. 51; ISBN 0-89789-921-0
  4. ^ Sidney Wanzer MD and Joseph Glenmullen MD, To Die Well. Your Right to Comfort, Calm and Choices in the Last Days of Your Life, Merloyd Lawrence, 2007, pg. 85; ISBN 0-7382-1083-8
  5. ^ Donald Cox, Hemlock's Cup: The Struggle for Death with Dignity, Prometheus Books, 1993, pg. 178; ISBN 0-87975-808-2
  6. ^ Henry R. Glick, The Right to Die: Policy Innovation and Its Consequences, Columbia University Press, 1992, pg. 103; ISBN 0-231-07638-X
  7. ^ Peter G. Filene, In The Arms of Others: A Cultural History of the Right-to-Die in America, Ivan R. Dee, 1998, pg. 196; ISBN 1-56663-188-2

External links[edit]