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The story of the last few days around the young English rugby player who was paralysed after a game accident, and later chose assisted suicide in Switzerland, reminded me of a haunting experience I had in 1980.

When I was at the world euthanasia conference in Oxford, UK, a young man in a wheelchair approached and, calmly and intelligently, asked me to help him to die. (He had read my book ‘Jean’s Way’ plus I had just formed the Hemlock Society USA)

James Haig, 24, had been terribly injured in a motorcycle accident, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the neck down. He had been compensated adequately, provided with equipment and counseling, but his determination to die went as far as divorcing his wife, then stating publicly that we wanted someone to help him to die.

He drove his wheelchair into the River Thames but it became stuck in a mud bank and he was ignominiously pulled out in a glare of publicity. Right to die groups offered sympathy but no actual help.

Sitting together in the elegant garden of University College, James explained his suffering, which was far more of a mental nature than physical, and asked me to help him die as soon as possible.

I demurred. ‘But you helped your wife to die, why not me,” he protested.

I explained that it was one thing to help a dying wife to die at her considered request, and another to help a complete stranger who, although not dying  was in a terrible physical condition. I had narrowly escaped criminal prosecution for assisting in Jean’s self-deliverance.  A few months earlier I had founded the Hemlock Society USA and was not looking for possible prosecution and more controversy as I was setting it up.

I urged James to find a person close to him who would help him die, quietly, discretely. I know that he  asked others but received no support.

A few months later James committed suicide by setting an armchair on fire and driving his wheelchair into the blaze.

We should have helped him to a more peaceful, pain-free death.

–Derek Humphry, Oregon

5 Responses to “Paralysed man asked for help to die, none did, so set fire to himself”

  1. shazzer says:

    I believe we should be able to choose to die if we are terminally ill or severely disabled. Animals are not left to suffer, why should we.

  2. uk resident says:

    I have left a few comments earlier, and feel very strongly about assisted suicides.
    i agree that being of sound mind, we have the right to choose.
    we are given life without consideration of whether or not we choose it.
    and there are millions of babies born into this world who should never have been, as they suffer from unimaginable abuse by the very parents who birthed them.
    throughout our lives we encounter heartaches which are unbareable, and due to this we feel we want to end it all.
    A few days or weeks later, our thoughts are very opposite, and we have reason enough to look forward to the tomorrows and all the possibilities they hold.
    someone who is mentally unstable may change their minds from minute to minute, but someone who “like James” who continues to seek assisted suicide and who is so determined should be given the rights to choose, and more so the rights to have someone assist without the fear of prosecution.
    so long as all the right elements are in in place, this could prevent such traumatic ends as James’s. ( Rest his tormented soul)
    I believe that so long as preparations have been made, this can be a very peaceful, dignified, and comforting way for all concerned, especially for the sufferer and the family members.
    like going to sleep knowing all the chores have been done.
    i like the idea of that, it makes me feel very comfortable with myself.

  3. […] Derek Humphrey som har skrevet boka ”Final Exit” forteller han i 1980 ble oppsøkt av James Haig, en ung, alvorlig handikappet mann som ønsket hjelp til Ã¥ dø. Han hadde flere mislykkede […]

  4. emmalee27 says:

    I agree that people should have the right to choose. James was my dad, he died when I was 2 years old (he had his motorbike accident when my mum was pregnant with me) although his decision has no doubt hurt those who loved him, and I missed out on a life with him, I totally agree with his decision. I have his grandchildren he will never know but i hate the thought of him living as a shell of his former self and struggling through every day. I think everyone has the right to make that decision and if loved ones want to help them they shouldn’t be prosecuted or treated as criminals. Thanks for th is article and the supportive comments x

  5. ergo says:

    Re the comment above from emmalee27 –

    The story of James Haig, terribly injured in a motor-cycle crash, is Chapter 8 of my book ‘Final Exit’
    under the title ‘The Dilemma of the Severely Handicapped’ at pages 50-51
    Book available at Amazon or signed, updated from me at
    —- Derek Humphry, Oregon

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