Final Exit was written by Derek Humphry and published in 1991. Subtitled "The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide", it was a controversial "how to" manual on taking your own life. Humphry was a reporter for the London Sunday Times and founded the Hemlock Society in 1980. The book was instantly controversial the moment it hit the bookshelves (that is when a retailer would actually stock it … ah the pre Amazon.com days). And like most controversial books, the book quickly moved up the New York Times best seller list, spending 18 weeks on the list. The book has sold over a million copies and has been translated into a dozen languages. It is also available in large print format.

Many objected to the book's rather chilling, matter-of-fact tone and its dearth of moralizing. About the only "don't do it" counseling Humphry offers is a note the book is intended only for those suffering from a terminal disease and was not intended for those suffering from depression. Humphry also gives a brief account of his own wife's battle with bone cancer and her painful last days.

A quick scan of chapter names reveals some of the more chilling aspects of the book:

Chapter 5: Cyanide Enigma
Chapter 9: Self-starvation
Chapter 19: How Do You Get the "Magic Pills"?
Chapter 21: Death in the Family Car
Chapter 22: Self-Deliverance Using a Plastic Bag
Chapter 23: A Speedier Way: Inert Gases

Humphry's preferred method of self deliverance is certain drug overdoses and asphyxiation. He has little faith in the efficacy of firearms, believing most people are either very bad shots at point-blank range or at least poor at aiming in an anatomically correct manner. He believes too many people who try to off themselves with a gun end up paraplegic instead of dead. He also eschews the use of common household chemicals like drain cleaner, although that method seemed to be effective for Kurt Vonnegut's mother.

His suggestion for those preferring the auto asphyxiation route is a plastic bag should be used in conjunction with a heavy sampling of barbiturates. Too many people fail at this method because they end up tearing the bag off their face because they get all panicky at not being able to breath (although that's ultimately the intent). In his revised edition, he suggests acquiring a canister of helium from a party supply store (usually rented out with the intent to fill balloons and not lungs). One should fill the bag with a continuous supply of inert gas. This, I would imagine, gives one the illusion of breathing and preventing one from reflexively tearing off the bag.

Humphry also seems to be skeptical about the use of cyanide, a death movies have given us a sense is quick and painless. Just bite down on a tablet. Humphry notes in the book that "misused, death from cyanide can be painful in the extreme, violent in fact". Just say no, kids!

Many tried to ban the publication of the book although it was clearly a first amendment issue and no ban was seriously attempted. France, where I guess they don't protect civil rights unrelated to cheese and wine, was able to ban the book's publication.

In 2001, to mark the book's 10th anniversary, a revised third edition was released. There were some substantial revisions, owing to the book's controversial nature and various laws and lawsuits over the last decade. The book now includes some more soft shoeing and arguments/advocacy for assisted suicide laws.


The author, although born in Bath, England, currently lives in Oregon, a state with one of the most liberal right-to-die climates in America.

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