I don't want you to get the wrong impression, but I've long sought a convenient, effective form of suicide. I have absolutely no intention, at this time, of taking my own life. But as the world heats up, both environmentally and militarily, I would like to know that, should the need arise, I could quickly, easily depart this vale of tears. But how? I don't relish throwing myself off a bridge or ramming my car into a tree. Too messy. And some of the other methods, like sleeping pills followed by asphyxiation, seem a little unreliable. Then it hit me: Why not hemlock? It worked for Socrates, and isn't there even something called the Hemlock Society, which promotes one's right to choose one's own death? My questions: Does hemlock do the trick? Is it available around here? And are there better ways?
Alive and Well (So Far)
Alive and Well: Hold on there, Dr. Kevorkian. There are laws against advice-columnist-assisted suicide. And if I help you, I will also be helping a hundred thousand or so other potential suicides, some of whom may not be feeling as alive and well as you are. On the other hand, Derek Humphrey's 1991 book, Final Exit, which gives pointers on the various ways to off oneself, was a New York Times best-seller and can now be found on the shelves at the Madison Public Library. So who am I to stand in the way of the free flow of information? A GUY WHO DOESN'T WANT TO SET OFF A RASH OF TEEN SUICIDES, THAT'S WHO! So here's what I'm going to do, A&W: I'm going to restrict myself to hemlock, which isn't really the way to go, if you ask me. And if, after I'm done describing it, you still want to know about "better" ways, I may tell you, but don't hold your breath. (Get it? Don't hold your breath?)
Anyway, hemlock. Hemlock is a member of the wild carrot family -- a weed, basically. It can be found along the sides of the road, next to waterways, in wet meadows but also in dry pastures. And when flowering, it kind of looks like a Queen Anne's Lace that's gotten carried away, shooting up as high as six or eight feet. Perhaps the best way to identify it is by its stem, which is hollow and marked with purple streaks and blotches. Kids have been known to use those hollow stems as straws, but they really should stick to their Sippy Cups, because the stems, as well as the leaves and the roots and the seeds, are poisonous. How poisonous? Well, let's put it this way: Symptoms can vary from a mild headache to death, with profuse sweating, rapid heart rate, convulsions and paralysis in between.
So, not a good death, should you be lucky enough to die. And that's one of the reasons the Hemlock Society, though named after the bitter brew that Socrates drank instead of his morning tea, didn't include it among its fatality-inducing Top Ten. You might be interested to know that the Hemlock Society itself bit the dust in 2003, an apparent suicide. Actually, what happened is that it merged with an organization called Compassion in Dying to form Compassion and Choices, which does pretty much what the Hemlock Society used to do, only without the word "hemlock" giving everybody the impression that members sat around on Saturday nights sipping hemlock juice through hemlock stems, just to see who keeled over first. Actually, they were an important organization doing important work, in my humble opinion.
Their goal, of course, was to make suicide as easy and painless as possible. And while I support that goal for those who are terminally ill, I'm not sure I feel the same way about those who are terminally depressed. Perhaps they should make it as difficult and painful as possible, lest they regret their decision later. And in that sense, I think hemlock would be a perfectly fine way to go.u
If you thought "asphyxiation" referred to a fanny tuck, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.