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Freedom to Die: People, Politics, and the Right-to-Die Movement Hardcover – September 15, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0312194154 ISBN-10: 0312194153 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (September 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312194153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312194154
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,830,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Over 20 million people tuned in to watch Dr. Jack Kevorkian help a terminally ill man die on 60 Minutes during television-sweeps week in November 1998. The right to choose when to die is a deeply divisive issue around the world, and is especially so in the United States, thanks in part to Kevorkian and other activists. In Freedom to Die, Derek Humphry and Mary Clement describe the history of the right-to-die movement and explain all sides of the debate. Humphry has been an advocate of physician-assisted suicide ever since his wife died slowly and painfully of cancer in the mid-1970s. Humphry founded the Hemlock Society, one of the first advocacy organizations on this issue, and has written several other books on the subject.

The authors describe how technological advances, changes in the doctor-patient relationship, poor end-of-life care, and the civil-rights movement prompted the development of the right-to-die movement. Humphry and Clement are very critical of doctors' determination to keep a patient alive even after the patient's quality of life has become unbearably low:

To rely so heavily on technology and biological functions to define the states of life and death is to deny the very social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life that give it meaning. In their zeal to fashion new and improved technologies, many doctors have promoted measures that are inappropriate and whose applications often have horrendous consequences.
After outlining the history of the movement and the arguments of those on all sides of the issue, Humphry and Clement explain the 1997 Oregon Death with Dignity Act and other recent legislation. Even those who do not agree with the authors that choosing when to die is "the ultimate civil right" will find this book a useful tool in understanding this turbulent debate. --Jill Marquis

From Library Journal

In 1991, Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, published his best-selling Final Exit (Hemlock Society), fueling the national debate over physician-assisted suicide. Now, he and lawyer Clement provide a history of the right-to-die debate. As reasons for increased public sympathy for assisted suicide, they cite advances in medical technology coupled with increases in costs, the failure to address chronic pain control, AIDS, and the rights culture that first appeared in the 1960s. The authors then trace the issue's history from Karen Ann Quinlan in 1979 through the appearance of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in 1990 to the Oregon initiative from 1994 through 1997. Discussion of the religious, medical, and political opposition also appears, along with coverage of Dutch assisted-suicide laws, the status of state-assisted suicide laws, and a chronology. Though obviously favoring the right to die, the authors present their opinions in a clear, low-key manner. All individuals interested in this question should read this work; highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
-AStephen L. Hupp, Swedenborg Memorial Lib., Urbana Univ., OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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 15 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."

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.
[Update:3 July 2014]

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Great book. Our society makes it a "sin" to help terminally ill people end their lives without further pain. Thats the sin! When you're well, a book such as this might seem ridiculous but when you're walking in death's shoes from a painful, degenerating disease, its complete inhumane torture to allow the patient to suffer past his/her wishes.
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By Jackbo2 on November 25, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has assisted me in some research regarding the Death and Dignity Act. The sections I have read have been helpful. I look forward in using the book for continued information regarding any other research or my work.
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Format: Paperback
Derek Humphry & Mary Clement
Freedom to Die:
People, Politics, and the Right to Die Movement

(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998) 388 pages
(ISBN: 0-312-19415-3; hardback)
(Library of Congress call number: R726.H844 1998)

No single individual is more central to the right-to-die movement
than Derek Humphry, who founded the Hemlock Society in 1980
and who has written several book on the subject.
(In 2003 the Hemlock Society renamed itself End-of-Life Choices.
And in 2004 it merged with Compassion in Dying,
taking the new name Compassion & Choices.)
This book is a summary of the history
of the right-to-die movement up to 1998.
The right-to-die emerged in response to modern medical technology,
which can keep bodies 'alive' longer than ever before imagined.
Humphry and Clement summarize the most famous right-to-die cases:
Quinlan, Cruzan, Kevorkian, Quill.
They summarize the then-current policies in the Netherlands,
which allow a physician to assist a patient to die
when specified safeguards are fulfilled.

Detailed accounts are given to the efforts to win the right-to-die
on the West coast of the United States: California, Washington, Oregon.
These states have referendum laws,
allowing the people to create laws directly by a popular vote
--when the elected lawmakers are too timid to enact a particular law.
One drawback of this means of changing the laws
is that the debates tend to be reduced to 30-second television ads.
Oregon was the first state to allow physicians to aid a voluntary death
--by prescribing lethal drugs after careful safeguards were fulfilled.
(The complete text of the Oregon law is included as an appendix.
Read more ›
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book truly made me re-think my attitude towards the subject. Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Clement should be commended for this masterpiece.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael Muehe on August 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Chapter 21 of this book, titled "The Unspoken Argument," advocates the economic benefits of euthanasia, as follows: "Similar to other social issues, the right-to-die movement has not arisen separate and distinct from other concurrent developments of our time. In attempting to answer the question Why Now?, one must look at the realities of the increasing cost of health care in an aging society, because in the final analysis, economics, not the quest for broadened individual liberties or increased autonomy, will drive assisted suicide to the plateau of acceptable practice."
Derek Humphry and other right-to-die leaders, time after time, have demonstrated the same willingness to promote this final "solution" to the problems of people with disabilities. Taken together, these words and deeds mark a clear and consistent pattern - one that includes promotion of euthanasia and extermination of people with disabilities.
Nevertheless, leaders of the pro-euthanasia movement still often falsely claim that their concerns are only for those with terminal illness. Their messages are tailored to specific audiences and vary greatly depending on the immediate political climate. The Hemlock Society, its leaders and its allies, need to come forward, to clearly state their complete agenda and open it to honest debate.
Credit: Not Dead Yet! -- Disability activists opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide
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