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Forty years ago today Jean Humphry used physician-assisted suicide to end her life at age 42. She was in an advanced stage of cancer metastasized from breast cancer two years earlier. She fought to live, had three chemotherapies, and good pain control from caring doctors.

A few months earlier, after the cancer had nearly killed her, she asked me to help her to die. In l974 the subject of assisted dying was little known. So I asked Jean what she wanted me to do.

“Go to a doctor,” she replied. “Tell the doctor my situation and ask for a lethal overdose of drugs. Store the drugs at home and when I’m ready to die, and if you agree there is no hope, hand them to me and I’ll die.”

After studying Jean’s condition and wishes, a doctor gave me the drugs with which on March 29, l975, she took her life. The doctor and myself were both breaking the law of England but Jean was not because suicide is not a crime. Neither the doctor nor I were prosecuted although assisted suicide is still (2015) a felony in England.

In l978 I published an account of this in a successful book “Jean’s Way” and the right-to-choose-to-die debate began to expand

from voluntary euthanasia to doctor-assisted dying. Unknown to any of us, Jean was prefiguring what years later, first in Oregon (1998} and Washington (2008), became the physician-assisted suicide procedure called the Death With Dignity Act. In l980 I started the Hemlock Society to get the reform debate going. (Hemlock morphed into Compassion and Choices in 2003.)

Currently, the British Parliament, Canada and 24 US states are considering assisted dying law reforms.

The avalanche of political activity in the US is due to the famous self-deliverance on November 1, 2014, of Brittany Maynard, using the Oregon law. Suffering from advanced terminal brain cancer, the 29-year-old newly-wed made a moving video of her plan to die which was seen by millions at the instigation of Compassion and Choices.

Brittany wrote that after researching her options she found that “I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable. I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.”

Her thoughtful, planned ending via doctor-prescribed lethal overdose has had enormous impact: at last the political wheels are beginning to turn in a major way because of Brittany’s brave message about an intelligent way of dying.
— Derek Humphry

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