Hemlock Society

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Hemlock Society
MottoGood Life, Good Death
TypeRight-to-die, assisted suicide
HeadquartersSanta Monica, California; Los Angeles, California; Eugene, Oregon; combined Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado
46,000 [1]
Key people
Derek Humphry, Ann Wickett Humphry, Gerald A. Larue, Faye Girsh

The Hemlock Society (sometimes called Hemlock Society USA) was an American right-to-die and assisted suicide advocacy organization which existed from 1980 to 2003. It was co-founded in Santa Monica, California by British author and activist Derek Humphry, his wife Ann Wickett Humphry (1942-1991),[1] and Gerald A. Larue. It relocated to Oregon in 1988 and, according to Humphry, had several homes over its life.[2] The group took its name from Conium maculatum, a highly poisonous biennial herbaceous flowering plant in the carrot family. The choice of the name is a direct reference to the method by which the Athenian philosopher Socrates took his life in 399 B.C. as described in Plato's Phaedo. It is not a firsthand account; the alleged event was told to Plato by one of Socrates' students, Phaedo of Elis.

The Hemlock Society's primary missions included providing information to the dying and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide. Its motto was "Good Life, Good Death".[3] In 2003, the national organization renamed itself End of Life Choices. In 2007, they merged with the Compassion in Dying Federation to become Compassion & Choices. In 2004, some former members of the Hemlock Society, notably Derek Humphry and Faye Girsh, founded the Final Exit Network.[4] It took its name from Humphry's 1991 book of the same name.[5]

Several local and state organizations have adopted and retain the Hemlock Society name, including Florida[6] and San Diego, California.[7] Others, such as the Hemlock Society of Illinois (now Final Options Illinois[8]) have changed their names.


According to former president Faye Girsh, the Hemlock Society was founded in 1980 and named in reference to Socrates' decision to end his life by drinking Hemlock rather than succumb to an existence he found intolerable.[9] Socrates was convicted in the 5th century BC of corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging ideas seen as contrary to the Athenian regime. Though he was sentenced to death, Socrates could have chosen exile, but chose death, an act seen as dignified and noble by many supporters of assisted suicide. This noble gesture is compounded when one considers that ingesting tincture of Hemlock is not only lethal, but a painful way to die.


Earlier right-to-die advocacy 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.[10]

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 on October 27, 1997.

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 (acting 1980–1992), Cheryl K. Smith (1992–1993), John A. Pridonoff (1993–1995), Helen Voorhis (acting 1995–1996), Faye J. Girsh (1996–2000).

In the media[edit]

In the 2010 television film You Don’t Know Jack, which dramatizes the activism of former Oakland County, Michigan pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian, fellow activist Janet Good (played by Susan Sarandon) meets Kevorkian (played by Al Pacino) during a meeting of the eastern Michigan chapter of the Hemlock Society which Good has organized. Good later offers to let Kevorkian use her home as the location of the assisted suicide of his first patient, Janet Adkins, but later withdraws the offer because her husband Ray, a former member of the Detroit Police Department, questions the legality of assisted suicide in the state. It forces Kevorkian to use his Volkswagen camper van instead.[11] Good is later stricken with pancreatic cancer and, on August 26, 1997,[12] becomes Kevorkian’s 82nd patient. The Patient’s Rights Council website, however, states she was his 57th “victim”.[13] Oakland County deputy medical examiner Kanu Virani, however, later said Good did not have cancer.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ann Wickett Humphry (1942-1991) - Find A Grave Memorial
  2. ^ Farewell to Hemlock
  3. ^ Final Choices Hemlock Society Backers Believe In The Right To A Good Death
  4. ^ History of Final Exit Network
  5. ^ Final Exit, The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying by Derek Humphry
  6. ^ Hemlock Society of Florida
  7. ^ Hemlock Society of San Diego
  8. ^ Final Options Illinois
  9. ^ Girsh, Faye. "The Hemlock Story in Brief" (PDF). hemlocksocietysandiego.org/brief.pdf. Retrieved 11/4/2017. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. ^ "News and notes". Death Education. 2 (4): 433–437. 1978. doi:10.1080/07481187908253325.
  11. ^ Janet Good, 73; Advocated the Right to Die
  12. ^ Janet Good, 73; Advocated the Right to Die
  13. ^ Kevorkian’s Known Victims | Patients Rights Council
  14. ^ Janet Good Found Not to have Terminal Cancer


External links[edit]