Eugene, Ore. (AP)--The loud conversation and music from the jukebox threatened to drown out the low-key program playing on television at Tiny Tavern. But Jerry Shapiro and Sarah Perry were paying attention: they wanted to watch the how-to guide on suicide that aired Wednesday night on local cable. It was the video version of Derek Humphry's best-selling book "Final Exit," and it being shown on TV for the first time.
"If you're in pain, it's a very frightening thing and it's very alone," said Perry, who is worried about her aging grandparents. "We hardly ever talk about death. Nobody wants to talk about being sick and old." Cindy Noblitt, a co-producer of Cascadia Theater of Action, said that by airing the program in the Eugene area, she hopes to draw attention to federal efforts to nullify Oregon's first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law. "As we become more and more an aging society, the issues of death, dying, and chronic pain should be out and openly talked about," she said.
The 34-minute video was written and narrated by Humphry, a founder of the Hemlock Society, the oldest and largest right-to-die organization. With the soothing sounds of an acoustic guitar in the background, Humphry describes how he helped his first wife, Jean, take her life when her suffering became unbearable.
"I went into the kitchen and mixed the lethal drugs into a large mug of coffee, laced it with plenty of sugar to reduce the bitter taste," he says in the video. "When I returned to her bedside, Jean said, 'Is that it?' 'Yes,' I told her. 'Drink that and you will die.'"
During the program, Humphry lists various drugs that will hasten death and demonstrates how to crush pills with a spoon and mix them into applesauce. He also shows how to use over-the-counter sleeping pills and a plastic bag to end it all.
Humphry cautions that assisted suicide is against the law everywhere except Oregon, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. He says the guide is only for "self-deliverence of the terminally ill" and urges the depressed or mentally ill to seek help.
Even 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, wrote "Final Exit" in 1991 and began offering the video for $20 through a website and on Amazon.com last December. It has been available on audiotape and in Braille for several years.
"A lot of terminally ill people haven't got the concentration to read a book, or the time," said Humphry, a former journalist who left the Hemlock Society and now heads the Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization from his home in Junction City.
Noblitt said she asked Humphry for permission to air the video to raise awareness of a bill that would undercut the state law that allows doctors to help terminally ill patients take their own lives. The bill has already passed the U.S. House and is pending in the Senate.
"It's an issue of personal liberty and states' rights," Noblitt said. "A lot of information in society we seem content to leave in the hands of professionals--the doctors and psychiatrists. I think there's a lot people can do to help themselves."
Frances Bardavid, 53, of Phoenix, Arizona, has seen her father and brother die painful deaths from cancer and was disappointed to learn that she couldn't watch the broadcast from her state. She suffers from fibromyalgia, a painful disease of the connective tissue, and rheumatoid arthritis.
"It's not that I'm suicidal or anything, but I feel that I want this information," said Bardavid, who has asked her daughter to buy the book and video. "If anyone has experienced this with loved ones, they understand exactly where this death-with-dignity issue is coming from."
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