Gerald A. Larue, co-founder and first president of the Hemlock Society, died on September 17 in Newport Beach, California. He was 98. Death certificates do not list old age as a cause of death – he had a stroke.
Larue was an ordained minister who eventually became an agnostic, a scholar and an early and leading advocate of giving the terminally ill the option to end their own lives.
In a New York Times news obituary, his son David Larue said, “We had the chance to put him on a ventilator, but given that he’s the founding president of the Hemlock Society, I’d discussed that with him and knew that was not what he wanted to do.”
More from the New York Times story:
Professor Larue, who joined the religion department at the University of Southern California in 1958, challenged conventions long before he became involved in what is sometimes called the death with dignity movement. His own professors in college nicknamed him Heretic Larue, and he ceased working as a minister in 1953, the year he received his doctorate in theology. Years later, as his studies expanded to include archaeology, he enjoyed trying to debunk biblical stories….
His interest in end-of-life issues began in full in the 1970s. In 1976, he attended a retreat about death and dying with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the noted psychiatrist who helped change attitudes about caring for people who are dying. Four years later, he helped found the Hemlock Society with Derek Humphry, a British journalist who had written “Jean’s Way,” a book about his terminally ill wife’s decision to commit suicide in 1975.
Professor Larue served as president of the Hemlock Society for much of the 1980s, a role that drew criticism in some quarters at U.S.C. He retired from the religion department in 1981 and quickly moved to the gerontology department, where he was an adjunct professor.
Among the courses he helped develop was one on death and dying. One of his goals was to confront his young students with the reality and inevitability of death. To do so, he would circulate some of the cremated remains of Herman Harvey, a former psychology professor.
Professor Larue liked to say of his late colleague, “He is still teaching.”
In 2005, a successor to the Hemlock Society called End-of-Life Choices merged with another group to form Compassion & Choices, a leading advocacy group that has fought for the passage of right-to-die legislation in several states.
I am very fond of this quote from a Hemlock Society brochure: “Dying is regarded as bad taste in this society, despite the fact that ten out of ten people do it.” Gerald Larue, thank you for your contributions to getting the end-of-life conversation started.