The Hemlock Society in the United States has been in existence
for 17 years and has an estimated 25,000 members. It is the
oldest organization advocating for the legalization of assisted
suicide and euthanasia on this continent. Therefore, special
attention should be given to what its leaders have been advocating
in regard to euthanasia - as it turns out, the words and actions
of Hemlock leaders often involve a more radical agenda than the
A survey conducted by the Hemlock Society of its own members
reports that 82% would extend assisted suicide to people with
non-terminal but "hopeless" conditions. In recent
months, official press releases and legislative proposals made
by the organization and its members have become increasingly
broad in scope, even including involuntary euthanasia. In spite
of this, Hemlock's public image continues to be that it advocates
a right to an
The Story of Elizabeth Bouvia
The history and past actions of the Hemlock Society and
its founders show remarkable congruency with the latest actions
and releases of the organization.
The story of Elizabeth Bouvia is instructive as a way of understanding the goals and values of the Hemlock Society and its supporters. Writing about the Bouvia case, Humphry expressed Hemlock's support of the right to voluntary euthanasia for "a person terminally ill, or severely handicapped and deteriorating..." Hemlock Quarterly 14 (1984). But Ms. Bouvia was not "deteriorating." Cerebral palsy is not degenerative. The open-ended term "deteriorating" can be made to mean almost anything in order to justify a disabled person's suicide.
Bouvia had been through a series of devastating ordeals in the two years preceding her request for help in ending her life. The graduate program in social work at San Diego State University violated her federally protected civil rights. Reportedly, one of her professors told her she was unemployable and that if they had known just how disabled she was, they would never have admitted her to the program. So Bouvia dropped out of school, and the state Dept. of Rehabilitation repossessed her wheelchair-lift-equipped van. Instead of urging her to fight this discrimination, Richard Scott, her attorney and Hemlock co-founder, declared publicly, "Quadriplegics cannot work."
Meanwhile, she married and kept her marriage secret from social-welfare authorities in order not to run afoul of the "marriage disincentives" that would have cost her essential financial aid. She got pregnant, had a miscarriage, separated from her husband, decided to divorce him, and learned that her brother had drowned and that her mother had cancer.
At this point, Bouvia checked herself into the psychiatric unit of Riverside County Hospital and said she wanted help to die.
Bouvia's lawyers, led by Richard Scott, distorted the nature
of her disability, likening her to a terminal patient. "Were
Plaintiff Bouvia an 84-year-old woman whose life was prolonged
A wheelchair is not a life-prolonging machine, nor will Bouvia's cerebral palsy ever require her to use such machines. Advocates of assisted suicide prejudicially twisted the facts of disability to make their case.
Scott brought in a doctor, a psychiatrist, and an educational
psychologist to evaluate Bouvia. The young woman reported to
them the emotionally devastating experiences of the preceding
two years. She also said she wanted to die because of her disability.
Ignoring all of the emotional blows and discrimination, they
concluded that because of her physical condition she would never
be able to achieve her life goals, that her disability was the
Hemlock's Definition of "Dignity" More recently,
Janet Good, the late president and founder of the Michigan Hemlock,
was interviewed by the Washington Post. Good also attained some
Washington Post, August 11, 1996: "Pain is not
Many people with disabilities need such assistance in the
bathroom, assistance which they direct and control, assistance
which they do not regard as undignified. It's a dying shame
that Ms. Good doesn't convey a more respectful attitude towards
her "clients." Instead she reinforced and lethally
acted out the devaluing attitudes of our society, telling sick
or disabled people they lacked dignity because they needed assistance
Have we really gotten to the point in this country that
we will sanction and abet the suicides of people because they
can't wipe their own behinds? Too many people have internalized
society's contempt as self-hatred. Too few have had contact
and on-going support from other members of this nation's largest
minority group, people with disabilities. The fact that Janet
Good thought this justified facilitating suicides shows what
little progress we
Ms. Good's colleague, Jack Kevorkian, openly expresses even greater contempt for sick and disabled people. He sees us as a drain on society. He told a Michigan Court in August 1990: "The voluntary self-elimination of individual and (sic) mortally diseased and crippled lives taken collectively can only enhance the preservation of public health and welfare."
Recent Press Releases
Apparently encouraged by public apathy toward Kevorkian's blatant bigotry and public sympathy toward Robert Latimer, the Canadian who killed his 12-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, the Hemlock Society took a bold step in December 1997, more openly in communicating their full agenda. Below are excerpts from a press release issued by Hemlock on December 3, 1997.
"The Hemlock Society USA advocates that a suffering
person at the end of life should be able to receive compassionate
help from a physician to end his or her life if that is the (sic)
In a press release issued on July 23, 1998, Faye Girsh, executive director of the Hemlock Society, stated that the organization's efforts would continue "until every person with an incurable illness and unbearable suffering has a legal way to request and receive a hastened death." The word "terminal" is now increasingly absent in similar statements describing Hemlock's mission.
Hemlock's Proposed Legislation
Until recently, the Hemlock Society's web-site offered
the "Harvard Model Law", drafted by prominent Hemlock
members and published in the January 1996 issue of The Harvard
Journal of Legislation. In an introduction to the Act on their
web page, Hemlock called it "an example of a well thought
Hemlock supporters in New Hampshire reintroduced a bill
last year that corresponds closely to the broad "model act."
House Bill 1433-FN, entitled "An Act relative to physician
aid-in-dying for certain persons suffering from a terminal condition,"
includes a unique definition of "terminal condition".
The bill defines a terminal condition as "an incurable
and irreversible condition, for the end stage of which there
is no known treatment which will
"The Unspoken Argument"
Now it's been spoken---in "Freedom to Die - people, politics, and the right-to-die movement" by Derek Humphry and Mary Clement. Chapter 21, titled "The Unspoken Argument," advocates the economic benefits of euthanasia.
"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." (p. 313)
The excerpt below deals with the justifiable horror and dread that people feel toward the possibility of being incarcerated in a nursing home. But Humphry and Clement's *solution* is very different from ADAPT's and other disability rights groups:
"Surveys have consistently found that most people
would rather continue to live at home rather than in a nursing
home. What has not been known until recently, however, is that
the aversion to "such a facility is so strong that a new
study of seriously ill people in hospitals found that 30% of
those surveyed said they would rather die than live permanently
in a nursing home." (*) This information begs the question:
Why do we, as a nation, not allow
What happened to in-home services and hospice? They must not meet the cost-containment goals of the white-well-off-worried-well members of Hemlock and its allies. (According to a Hemlock survey, the median income of its members is $52,000.)
The statements and actions noted above are neither stray,
nor taken out of context. 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
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. Not Dead Yet calls on Hemlock, its leaders and its allies, to come forward, to clearly state their complete agenda and open it to honest debate.