How-To Suicide Video Shown in Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. -- Feb. 2000 -- A video how-to guide to suicide for the terminally ill was shown on a public-access cable station over the objections of those who warned it would encourage the desperate to act on their impulses.

Local police and a crisis hot line reported no increase in people trying to kill themselves the morning after the broadcast of "Final Exit," narrated by assisted suicide crusader Derek Humphry, a founder of the Hemlock Society and author of a best-selling book of the same name.

Cindy Noblitt and her husband, Mick Garvin, showed the video Wednesday night on "Cascadia Theater of Action," which they produce on Lane County Community Television.

They said they did it to raise awareness of a pro-life bill in Congress to nullify the law making Oregon the only state where assisted suicide is legal. The bill, the Pain Relief Promotion Act would prohibit the use of federally-conrtrolled drugs in assisted suicide and promote palliative care.

"Public access television has pushed the envelope on issues long before they were OK on network television," Noblitt said. "As we become more and more an aging society, the issues of death, dying and chronic pain should be out and openly talked about."

At the Tiny Tavern, the broadcast barely broke through the noise of conversation and rock music.

"The only person I can think of in my family who could sit down and watch this is my grandparents," said Sarah Perry, an artist trying to listen to the video.

In the video, Humphry describes how he mixed lethal drugs in coffee to help his first wife take her life when her suffering from breast cancer became unbearable. Humphry lists the best drugs for a comfortable death, demonstrating how to crush them with a spoon and mix them into applesauce.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said he hopes other cable TV providers will not show the tape and that news organizations will be "extremely judicious" in using the tape as part of their coverage of the story.

"It is grossly irresponsible to produce a `how-to' tape on suicide, given its potential to influence the acts of those who are not of sound mind, especially troubled youth," Kitzhaber said.

Even some assisted suicide advocates have called the video irresponsible.

"The video takes assisted dying out of the context of medical care and puts it in the context of hardware store," said Barbara Coombs Lee, who helped enact Oregon's law as director of the Compassion in Dying Federation.

Humphry, 69, said Thursday: "This video is aimed at the terminally ill. People who are mentally ill or deeply depressed, they're not going to do it at just that moment. They're going to do it when they hit their low point."

Christian Medical & Dental Society on Assisted-Suicide Video

Bristol, Tenn. -- The 15,000-member Christian Medical & Dental Society today deplored Oregon's cable broadcast of Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry's "How-to-Die" video. The national organization's doctors and ethicists, who have spoken out against physician- assisted suicide on Capitol Hill, say Wednesday's "'how-to-kill-yourself' program is an appalling, yet unsurprising 'next step' for a state that has equated killing with caring."

CMDS Executive Director David Stevens, MD, who has led campaigns against assisted-suicide in Michigan and California says, "This program not only devalues human life, it is based on the paradox of a 'successful suicide'. Far from triumph, suicide is the paramount act of hopelessness. The Death with Dignity movement is obsessed with devising tidy deaths, but suicide is messy-period. Death by plastic bags and poisonous puddings will never change that."

Stevens continues, "People who attempt to end their lives are often suffering from depression or physical pain." He cites a recent study finding that the will to live among even terminally ill patients fluctuates over 30% in twelve hours. "Hopefully, Humphry's video didn't catch anyone at a bad time of day," he adds.

With depression as the primary cause of disability in the US, Stevens is deeply concerned about the message "Right-to-Diers" send, despite their disclaimers. "300,000 of our nation's 20 million depressed people attempted suicide last year. Thankfully, only one in ten people succeeded. But if Derek Humphry's instructions work as well as he claims, many more will die! As medical professionals, we recognize suicide as a desperate cry for help. We answer that cry with pain management, proper medical treatment and counseling."

Stevens concludes, "The broadcast has exposed the irresponsible and dangerous mentality of the so-called 'Death with Dignity' movement to Oregon and the world. Derek Humphry's media stunt teaches viewers to eliminate themselves, not their pain. It's time we trashed this warped philosophy before it further corrodes our nation's long-standing tradition of care."

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