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Co-Founder of National Hemlock Society Apparently Takes Own Life

October 9, 1991

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) _ Ann Wickett Humphry, co-founder of The National Hemlock Society, devoted much of her life to helping people escape long, painful deaths. Last week, she rode her horse into the wilderness, apparently to end a painful life.

A search party found her body Tuesday against a tree on a high ridge in the Three Sisters Wilderness where she could watch the sunset over the Cascade Range. Nearby were the saddle and bridle she had taken off her horse before turning it loose.

It was a scene reminiscent of a chapter in the best-selling suicide handbook ″Final Exit″ by her former husband, Hemlock Society Executive Director Derek Humphry.

Back at her small farm in the Willamette Valley town of Monroe, where she raised Highland cattle with the help of a single hired hand, she had left a note saying she had gone to the wilderness to die.

″She just always was such a survivor and a fighter, that it just seems sad,″ said Linda Pappin of Culver City, Calif., who became a close friend when the two served on the board of the American Association of University Women in Santa Monica, Calif.

Humphry, 49, was about to get her pilot’s license after winning a fight with the Federal Aviation Administration over the effect of drugs she was taking for breast cancer. And she recently was reunited with the son she had given up for adoption while she was a college student in Toronto.

″It’s almost like something made her decide it was time to stop fighting,″ Pappin said.

Derek Humphry figured the final blow was news that her legal battle with him and Hemlock was over. Her lawyers told her last week they would no longer pursue her $6 million libel and slander lawsuit against Humphry and Hemlock. The lawsuit alleged that comments Humphry made about her mental state during their divorce and her separation from The Hemlock Society were intended to make her commit suicide.

″This case became an obsession with her,″ Humphry said. ″When she realized she couldn’t go on with the case, she saddled up her horse and rode away.″

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department has not yet released autopsy results. But Humphry was sure his former wife took an overdose of prescription drugs, as she described in her book, ″Double Exit,″ about helping her parents commit suicide.

″She took her own life because she was unhappy,″ Humphry said. ″She did it herself in a dignified manner.

″The Hemlock Society’s mission is to secure assisted suicide for the terminally ill. We see no contradiction here. We are just enormously sad she took her life.″

Born in Belmont, Mass., Ann Wickett Humphry was the daughter of a Boston banker and attended boarding schools in Tennessee, Derek Humphry said. She earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from Boston University.

She earned a master of arts in English literature from Toronto University and in 1975 went to England to work on a doctorate in English literature. She never finished her thesis.

She married Humphry, a British journalist, in 1976, one year after he had helped his first wife, Jean, end her battle with cancer with an overdose of prescription drugs.

They moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and together wrote a book about the death of Humphry’s first wife, ″Jean’s Way.″

Along with Gerald A. Larue, emeritus professor of religion and adjunct professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, and Richard S. Scott, a lawyer, they formed The National Hemlock Society in 1980. The society moved to Eugene in 1988.

″I don’t know what lay back of this last action of hers, but I’m sure depression must have been a part of it,″ Larue said. ″The times I’ve seen her when she was happiest was when she had this sense of self-fulfillment, when her talents were recognized and when she was doing the things most important to her. In those moments, the beauty of the woman and strength of the woman shone forth.″

There was no immediate word on services.

She is survived by a sister, Jane Canfield of Massachusetts.

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