Many, many years ago, a very refined, elderly lady invites me over for me. Tea is duly served with the finest china as this lady makes delightful, educated small talk. An ex-architect, she has an air almost of royalty about her and speaks with the most perfect English accent. Eventually, when a polite interval has passed, she leans forward with a conspiratorial whisper. “Now,” she says, “I would like you to tell me where I can get one of those – you know – little blue pills!”
This was long before the days when ‘a little blue pill’ meant something to enhance male ‘performance.’ I was in no doubt that she was asking me for the mythical peaceful pill that would end life, washed down with a few sips of Earl Grey.
Such a medication does not exist. It has never existed. There is no magic pill. There’s even a book about how it doesn’t exist. Using drugs for reliable, peaceful suicide is unfortunately not a straightforward matter. In spite of what people think, most drugs that you can get hold of will make you feel a lot worse if you overdose and many attempts fail. Most reliable ones have been taken off the market. And a large quantity is invariably needed, not one or even a few. At EXIT we believe in choice, not a lottery.
Just to say, “It will be all right,” doesn’t make it right. Believing pills will work, won’t make them work. Or they might work but with terrible side-effects. Or they may be reliable if you have a medical team standing by in case of problems, like in Holland. There are lots of opinions about what works, but mostly they are opinions. Even doctors are not trained in what will kill definitely you.
The EXIT office has wall-to-wall shelves. Information from hundreds of studies. Medical data, journals, statistics, reports. Books on pharmacology, neurology, pathology – as well as reference works on law and palliative care, diseases, toxicology. Research and publications from around the world. Our other shelves are filled with test equipment, helium, experimental devices and ideas. Our office seen meetings of the International Drugs Consensus Party and Board has hashed over the dilemmas since the ’80s. We plan workshops and publications. We liaise with top specialists in many, many fields around the world. Like a gigantic Rubic Cube, we piece the information together.
But we don’t help you die. That is your choice and your choice alone.
Our remit has always been that Exit should not be needed. There should be a law to allow help for people in dying. What worries us even more is the abundance of unreliable information in the press and popular books. Ignorance can lead to tragedy. Well-meaning, compassionate organizations trying to help out of the goodness of their hearts: yet too often things are suggested that may lead not to a peaceful death but increased suffering.
Exit are not a suicide club. We don’t have a website with drug dosages and how-to diagrams. But if you are a serious, rational minded adult, the sort of person who likes to be in control of their future, we work hard to make sure there are publications in the bookstores that can be relied on. Our textbooks don’t appeal to distraught teenagers. We know – as most people do – that people can and do get this type of information just by googling the Internet for a minute or two. Less expensive books than ours, quick reads, or even people to break the law. But at EXIT we do the unglamorous work no-one else wants to or has the time for. Checking the evidence. Planning for a future time.
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, In the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place. (Susan Sontag (b. 1933), U.S. essayist. Illness As Metaphor, 1978)