More About the Author
Derek Humphry was born in Bath, England, 04.29.1930 and brought up in a broken family. Despite a poor education, further damaged by six years of war, Derek determined to become a writer. Starting as a newspaper messenger boy on the Yorkshire Post at 15, he worked his way up as a reporter on the Bristol Evening World, the Manchester Evening News to the London Daily Mail, the London Sunday Times and finally the Los Angeles Times.
Always an advocacy journalist, Derek wrote books on race relations, police corruption and a biography of Michael X. For 'Because They're Black' he won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize.
When the wife to whom he had been married for 22 years developed inoperable cancer, he nursed her for two years until she asked him to help her die. Close to the end, Jean chose to end her life with lethal drugs to avoid further suffering. In time, he married again and moved to America.
Derek published in l978 a little book Jean's Way describing Jean's final years and his part in helping her to die peacefully. It became a bestseller and was translated into major languages.
The public response to the book caused him to start the Hemlock Society USA in 1980 from his garage in Santa Monica. Hemlock's purpose was to help people in similar situations as Jean's and also to reform the laws to permit physician-assisted suicide.
Jean's chosen way of dying prefigured the laws later passed for physician-assisted suicide by prescription. 'Jean's Way' (1978-) helped change the debate from 'voluntary euthanasia' to the acceleration of death by a terminal patient choosing to drink a prescribed lethal potion. Such laws are now (2014) in place in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
Derek built Hemlock into a national organization, with 40,000 members and 80 chapters. In l991 he wrote 'Final Exit' - a 'how-to' book for the dying to bring their suffering to an end if they chose. To much surprise, it became a #1 bestseller within six months. It was translated into 12 languages. Random House keeps the 3rd edition of 'Final Exit' in print in 2014, and it is still in print in Spanish and Italian. USA TODAY in 2007 chose it as one of the most significant books of the past 25 years.
His latest book is a memoir --'Good Life, Good Death' -- covering 79 years of an eventful life -- ranging from an unusual childhood in a broken home, a father in prison, a mother who ran away to Australia, then experiencing an ugly war which started when he was nine. The book relates his remarkable experiences in journalism, outstanding interviews with famous people, and his struggle against racism. Derek immigrated to the USA at age 48.
The second half of the memoir deals with his impact on the right to die movement in America, starting and building the Hemlock Society for 12 years, and pioneering the Oregon Death With Dignity Act (l994), the first such assisted dying law in North America. (His memoir can be read on Kindle)
Proud to be a paperback writer, Derek has published 13 books in 40 years. Only two have been hardbacks.
Derek is president of the nonprofit Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization (ERGO), which he founded in 1993. He is also a co-founder and chairman of the advisory board of the Final Exit Network (2004 successor to the now defunct Hemlock Society, which lasted 1980-2003) and an adviser to the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, of which he was president 1986-88..
Although unlettered himself, Derek has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, USC, UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and other universities.
In his book "A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America,' Ian Dowbiggin writes: "Humphry ranks as one of the preeminent pioneers of the American euthanasia movement." (OUP. 2003. Page 149).
In their book 'Dying Right', the authors Daniel Hillyard and John Dombrink write: "Derek Humphry is widely acknowledged to be the initiatior of the euthanasia reform movement in the United States." (Routledge NY 2001. Page 82.) The PBS FRONTLINE TV documentary program in January 2013 described him as being "regarded as the father of modern right-to-die movement."
In John Sutherland's anthology "Curiosities of Literature", Derek's books are discussed at pages 141, 248 and 249. (Arrow Books 2008)
A citizen of the USA and UK, he lived in Los Angeles l978-88 and since then in western Oregon. He has been married to Gretchen (nee Crocker) since l991.
In 2014 Derek Humphry was given the World Federation of Right To Die Societies "Lifetime Achievement Award" for 'contributing so much, so long and so courageously to our right to a peaceful death.'
The award was presented by world president Faye Girsh at the 20th international conference in Chicago on 9/19/2014.
[Update: 31 July 2015]