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Scenes from the Assisted Suicide Underground

John on May 12, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Thanks to Keith who sent me this link this morning…

It seems the devotees of assisted suicide really are all you imagine them to be. That’s the impression you get reading this article in today’s Guardian about Reverend George Exoo:

Exoo was cheerful, quite giggly, a gay, liberal, libertarian Unitarian preacher, cultured, funny, charming. He said he often carried around a large, gas-filled inflatable alligator to his “exits” in case the police stopped him on the way. He often used gas as a suicide method. With the alligator, he could pretend he was a children’s party entertainer. But lately he had begun phasing the alligator out.

“It made me feel conspicuous,” he said. “Part of the thing is that I want to not be noticed. I’m always careful and I always work quietly, like the Lone Ranger. I do so generally at night and for the most part I make it look like they just died in their sleep. I’ll prop a book up on their lap so it looks like they just expired. But if I’m carrying a big alligator people are going to notice me.”

It gets much worse of course:

Exoo was in Seattle for a private meeting of international right-to-die activists…These activists meet once a year in an anonymous hotel somewhere to discuss advances in suicide technologies.

“It’s very hush-hush,” Exoo said. “I’m surprised they’re letting you in.”

The delegates sat around a table in a conference room. Exoo began by announcing his intention to martyr himself rather than face extradition [to Ireland on charges relating to a suicide he assisted there]. Then he scanned the room. I think he was expecting an outpouring of shock and sympathy but in fact people seemed much more interested in what method he was intending to use.

“My curiosity is why would you go with a drug approach?” one delegate asked him, and then the others leaned forward, paying attention.

Exoo’s reply was that, when one uses gas, the person killing themselves often tries to involuntarily remove the apparatus once they’re unconscious, and he has to hold their hands down, and he “didn’t want to involve anyone else in my passing”.

And then it gets much, much worse as we discover how the serious right to die activists use Exoo to get rid of irritating callers:

After the conference, I visited Humphry, father of the modern right-to-die movement. He is from Wiltshire but now lives in Oregon.

“Once or twice a week,” Humphry explained, “I get very strange people on the telephone who are anxious to commit suicide because of their depression or sad lives. When they get your number they want to talk and talk. And they call again and again. And they also call all the other right-to-die groups.”

Humphry said that the mainstream right-to-die groups will tell them, “‘We can’t help you. It’s not within our parameters because you aren’t terminally ill.’ But they pursue you. They call and call. And eventually someone will say, ‘George Exoo will probably help you.’ And that gets them off the phone and on to George.”

“Isn’t that terrible?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Humphry.

Terrible, but not as bad as taking all those pesky calls from the depressed and suicidal. Finally, we hit the lowest low with the introduction of Exoo’s protege, a woman described only as Susan:

Exoo drove off to do some real estate business and I was left alone with Susan. We sat on her porch. And she said something extraordinary. She said that unbeknown to Exoo she had set up her own suicide business and was willing to help practically anyone if the price was right.

“I see this as a business,” she said. “George sees it as a calling. There’s a big difference there. For me it’s no cash, no help.” She said her price was approximately $7,000.

“You’re bound to get it wrong, aren’t you?” I said. “And help someone who shouldn’t be helped.”

Susan shrugged. “Probably, at some point, yes,” she said.

She said Exoo’s worst crime was his financial imprudence: that he’ll help people who can’t afford to pay.

“George will get to a point where he’ll run out of money,” she said. “He won’t scale down the expensive cuts of meats every night. He would rather kill himself than economise.”

“He seems quite keen on killing himself,” I said.

“I think he’ll do it soon,” said Susan. “And that’s why I’ve been pressing him to give me a list of his current clients.”

Her business does, in fact, attract customers:

A few weeks after that (I later learned) Susan flew to New Zealand to help a depressed, non-terminally ill woman she had met on the internet commit suicide. The woman had previously asked a mainstream right-to-die group called Dignity NZ to help her, but they had refused.

“I was of the impression that she needed assistance in living rather than advice on how to end her life,” Dignity NZ’s founder, Lesley Martin, later explained to me in an email. She added, “I imagine you are developing a good understanding of what an absolute mess the euthanasia underground is. Unfortunately, there are ‘gung-ho’ individuals involved [she meant Susan] who, in my opinion, treat the matter of assisting someone to die as an exciting relief from the boredom of their own lives and do so completely ill-equipped and dismissive of the responsibility we have of ensuring that people who need mental health assistance receive it, while still working towards humane legislation that addresses the real issues.”

I visited Susan and asked her what had been wrong with the New Zealand woman. “She had some sort of breathing disorder,” she said, “and the doctors there wouldn’t give her the medication that she needed. I happened to take the same medication. I gave her a little bit of mine and she was fine.”

“But you helped her commit suicide, even though you helped her breathe better?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Susan. “Isn’t that ironic?”

“You shouldn’t do it,” I said.

“Somebody’s got to pay the bills so you can have some water in that glass you’re drinking,” she said.

Like I said, it’s everything you imagine it to be and worse.

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