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It is not unusual for families to face a huge dilemma over whether to help a loved one die, be it in terminal illness, degenerative conditions, or simply unbearable, extreme old age. Who amongst us will pull the plug? Who will take the responsibility of even being present in moral support?
I have read in old books that Eskimos years ago had a way of helping to die which perhaps resolved this. A rope was put around the dying person’s neck and fed out through the roof of the igloo. Then all family and friends went outside and together pulled on the rope. Thus the act was a mutual responsibility. Of course I cannot vouch for this story, and it certainly no longer takes place, but it does convey a message.
Similarly, I heard first hand of the death of a long-time tetraplegic by joint action. He had for years wanted to die — and for which action he had supporters — but they were afraid of breaking the country’s strict taboos and punitive laws on assisted suicide. Additionally, there had been publicity about his wish to die, thus his death would be bound to attract attention.
So his friends concocted an extensive plan for sixteen people to help him die, meaning the authorities would have to charge them all – or none. For instance, one person looked up the lethal dosage for cyanide in my book ‘Final Exit,’ another secured the substance, another mixed it into a glass of water. And so on. Others set up a video camera and turned it on.
Three years later I was shown in 2002 – in confidence — the resulting video of the man sitting in bed, turning his head to the right, taking the straw in his mouth, and imbibing from a well-placed glass the cyanide-laced liquid. The room is empty. Within seconds his head falls and he is dead. For perhaps ten minutes he is seen gasping as his lungs reflexively expel the air in them — as happens in most cases of accelerated death.
There was never any prosecution. The law authorities were baffled.
What these two stories indicate that in some circumstances (not all) the answer to family doubts and responsibilities is to not put the onus on any single person. It is oftentimes best if all key members of the family are present at the deathbed so that later the finger of blame or guilt cannot be pointed at any one person. Not that it is a crime to be present physically at the deathbed by suicide or assisted suicide of a dying person, but sometimes anger and recriminations flare up later due to unresolved family stresses.
No two cases are exactly alike of course, yet when a family is struggling with the tremendous dilemmas of justifiably helping a loved one to their chosen end, a familial decision, a coming together, might ease the burden. — Derek Humphry
Derek Humphry’s memoir, ‘Good Life, Good Death,’ is now available in digitally at www.finalexit.org

One Response to “Acting in unison at the deathbed can be helpful”

  1. dranyam says:

    i have huntingtons chorea and am thinking about ending my life..don’t want to face whats ahead..i was thinking of taking sleeping pills or a combination of cymbalta amitriptyline, diltiazem, benazepril..the sleeping pills are restoril..any suggestions on how many to take

    Derek Humphry responds: I understand the seriousness of your medical condition.
    But the combination of drugs which you write about would be risky and unreliable in self-deliverance. You need a more refined plan. I suggest that you read my book ‘Final Exit’ (=and also contact the Final Exit Network

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