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Ask Faye 8 – Socrates and Hemlock: Punishment Versus Choice


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/02/14

Faye Girsh is the Founder and the Past President of the Hemlock Society of San Diego. She was the President of the National Hemlock Society (Defunct) and the World Federation of RTD Societies (Extant). Currently, she is on the Advisory Board of the Final Exit Network and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. Here we talk about the proverbial hemlock.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are some of the common means by which people kill themselves in moments of desperation? 

Faye Girsh: Firearms are the most used in the U.S. Although, there is a 15% failure rate. I’m not sure about Canada where it’s harder to get a weapon. Hanging is used often, e.g., Robin Williams.

It is apparently hard to succeed if the windpipe is injured but the carotid arteries are intact. In India people, especially farmers, swallow fertilizer. It is unfortunate that these unreliable, often painful, lonely ways to die are used by desperate people. Jumping, from tall buildings or in front of trains, is a frequent means. This almost always works but traumatizes train engineers or bystanders.

Ingesting medications that are not necessarily lethal can make one severely ill, but rarely result in death. The inhalation of Helium was an easy and reliable method, but not since the gas was diluted with 20% air. Nitrogen and other inert gases do work, but good supervision is important.

Jacobsen: What are the most common means by which individuals commit suicide in a controlled, pre-planned setting in the form of a Rational Suicide?

Girsh: In Canada, now, a qualified patient can request either orally ingested medication or a lethal injection. The latter is chosen as the vast majority of the time. This method is also available to qualified patients in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. In the US, an organization, Final Exit Network, teaches eligible clients the use of the Nitrogen method which is quick, painless and certain.

It used to be that some organizations recommended ordering secobarbital (Seconal) or pentobarbital (Nembutal) from China, but these websites are no longer reliable and are often scams. It is not easy to die well.

Jacobsen: In your time at the Hemlock Society of San Diego in the past and in the World Federation of RTD Societies, what are some of the discussions around the future technologies utilized for the minimization of pain and suffering for individuals who wish for a Rational Suicide?

Girsh: An informal organization called NuTech, founded by Derek Humphry and Canadian John Hofsess, has been meeting for the past 15 years to discover and develop new technologies for self-deliverance. Currently, Philip Nitschke is the leader of the group which is open to doctors, engineers, divers, anyone with ideas. The Helim and Nitrogen methods emerged from the ideas of this group.

There is some interest in sodium nitrites but there is little data on this method. We all agree that the method should be quick, certain, painless, and easy to use without help. Many things are lethal but produce an unpleasant, uncertain, often grotesque death. We believe people should not die alone which precludes measures like jumping, shooting and hanging.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faye.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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