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From The Lancet Book Reviews:

“Good Life, Good Death”

Review by Talha Khan Burki
Published: May 2017

Derek Humphry used a cocktail of codeine and secobarbital to end his wife’s life. The cancer had spread from her breast into her bones and organs. Jean Humphry had reached a stage at which the merest movement threatened to snap a wrist or a couple of ribs. She did not want to live like that. Her family knew what she wanted her husband to do. When the moment came, Jean asked Derek “is this the day?” The drugs were ready, obtained in advance from a sympathetic doctor. If the authorities were to uncover the identity of the anonymous physician, they could charge both him and Derek under section 2 of the Assisted Suicide Act (1961).

In the early afternoon of March 29, 1979, Derek Humphry gave his bed-ridden wife a large mug of coffee, full of sugar and enough drugs to stop her breathing. After Jean passed out, she vomited. Derek worried that she may have expelled the medication; he readied himself to stifle her with a pillow (later, he would advise others in similar circumstances to use antiemetics). But everything went according to plan, and Jean died. “The swift finality of it stunned me—one moment she was here, next she was gone.”, writes Humphry in his deft memoir Good Life, Good Death. “All this was later to have unforeseen repercussions”.

Humphry’s career spanned the golden era of British journalism. He was born in 1930 in Somerset, son of a ne’er do-well father and a flighty mother. His account of his peripatetic childhood is enthralling. Humphry writes in crisp and spare prose, doubtless honed during his years working on august national newspapers. After Jean’s death, he moved from journalist to campaigner, decamping to the USA, where he founded the Hemlock Society, the country’s first pressure group for assisted suicide and euthanasia for the terminally ill.

Good Life, Good Death” is a charming and moving book, effortlessly evoking the tough world of post-war journalism and the tireless advocacy efforts that characterised the second half of Humphry’s career. The author concludes by pondering his own death. “If the pain management and quality of life are acceptable to me, then I shall stick it out to the natural close”, he writes. “If not, I shall advise those close to me that I shall shortly be bringing my life to a planned end. As I have so often said, the aim is a good life and a good death”.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(17)30271-1
Published by Carrel Books, New York. Available on Amazon worldwide, hardback, ebook or Kindle.

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