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Records of the Hemlock Society of Delaware Valley

Identifier: MSS 3/022

Scope and Contents

This collection is not processed.

The records of the Hemlock Society of Delaware Valley consist of eight accessions received over a four-year period, beginning in 1992.. The last two accessions, 1996-011 and 1997-011, are not represented here as of May 28, 2015.

The collection includes minutes and meeting agendas of the Steering Committee; by-laws; correspondence; programs from conferences and congresses; membership lists; press releases; newsletters; newsclippings; and inforamtion about the Connecticut, Ohio, Washington State chapters of the Hemlock Society.


  • 1987 - [ongoing]


Biographical / Historical

The Hemlock Society was started in 1980 by Derek Humphry, a journalist and author who had emigrated from England two years earlier. In 1975 he helped his first wife, suffering from cancer, to commit suicide and later published a book on this entitle Jean's Way. Co-founders of the Society were Ann Wickett, Gerald A. Larue, and Richard S. Scott.

The Society was formed because no organization in America was tackling the issue of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill through assisted suicide. There were many such groups in other countries.

The founders decided to call their organization "The Hemlock SOciety" because the root plant Hemlock was used in ancient Greece and Rome for rational suicide. Suicide, which, under certain conditions, was acceptable to those societies. The death of Socrates is the most famous example. In Western literature, the term "drink the cup of Hemlock" has (through Shakespeare and others) come to mean rational suicide. This organization uses it in a symbolic fashion; to ingest Hemlock is a painful and uncertain way to die.

In 1981 Hemlock became a California nonprofit educational corporation, although since 1988 the group has operated from Eugene, Oregon. The National Hemlock Society (legal name) is a tax-exempt, tax-deductible organization classified 50l(c)(3) by the IRS. Hemlock's financial statement is published annually.

The Hemlock supports the principle of a person who is terminally ill and suffering to choose to end his/her life, and if necessary get help in doing so, ideally from a physician. This is not yet lawful. Through books, newsletters, pamphlets, talks, the media, conferences, and its chapters, the matter is discussed.

There are more than 80 chapters of the Hemlock Society across the United States.

[Taken from "Q and A on the Hemlock Society" pamphlet, undated.


2.5 Linear feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The records of the Hemlock Society of Delaware Valley consist of eight accessions received over a four-year period, beginning in 1992. They were donated to the College of Physicians by the chapter's President, Donald Cox.
Records of the Hemlock Society of Delaware Valley
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Repository

19 S. 22nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States