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What is the Hemlock Society?

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Quick Answer

The Hemlock Society was an organization dedicated to providing individuals suffering from terminal illness with information about end-of-life options. The Society also advocated for legislation permitting physician-assisted dying. The Hemlock Society was founded in 1980 in Santa Monica by Derek Humphry, a British-born American journalist and author of "Final Exit." In 2003 the organization was renamed and merged with the Compassion in Dying Federation to form Compassion & Choices.

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The Hemlock Society was founded with the intent of educating residents of San Diego about end-of-life choices and supporting humane options for self-determined death through contributions to political campaigns for law reform and assistance with legal defense. The organization was a founding member of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. It was operated entirely by volunteers and did not pay salaries to any of its contributors.

The Hemlock Society backed campaigns to reform laws in the states of California, Washington, Michigan and Maine. It was unsuccessful in all of these campaigns, and these states continue to have laws forbidding physician-assisted suicide. The first state to legalize physician-assisted dying was Oregon, which passed the Death with Dignity Act in 1994.

The Hemlock Society's principal belief was that all competent adults have the right to end their lives on their own terms, and to choose time and manner in which they would do so.

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