Reverend Death: ‘A Midwife to the Dying'
Reverend George Exoo has helped over 102 people to die. He’s the euthanasia activist people are referred to when the mainstream organisations won’t take their cases – many of his clients were not terminally ill, but were instead depressed or suffering from psychosomatic diseases.
Jon Ronson profiled him for the Guardian in 2008, after six years making a documentary about Exoo and the euthanasia underground, Reverend Death. The story is in his new book, Lost at Sea, released this month.
‘I’ve never done anything as important as this in my ministry,’ Exoo told Ronson. ‘I think it’s the reason I was placed on this planet. I’m a midwife to the dying, for those who want to hasten their deaths.’
He was working as a Unitarian minister in Pittsburgh, when a parishioner with ALS, a form of motor neurone disease, approached him for help with an assisted suicide. Before that, he’d been wondering if he was wasting his life – but from then on, Exoo decided he had found his ‘calling’.
Dr Pieter Admiraal, a pioneering Dutch advocate of euthanasia, told Ronson that he’d been observing Exoo, and believed he was ‘enjoying’ being there to watch people die – that he gets a kind of pleasure from cheering people onto the afterlife.
Exoo sent Ronson a tape of him assisting a client’s death over the phone.
‘I know you’re nervous,’ Exoo said. ‘You’ve never done this before. But that’s all right. We’re going to get through this. It’s time for you to’ – he sighed – ‘drink the potion that’s in front of you. It’s bitter and horrible tasting so it’s important that you chugalug it right down. I ask you to raise that glass and I want you to know how honoured I am to be with you at this moment.’
There was a silence of perhaps 10 seconds. Then Exoo’s voice hardened: ‘I know it’s bitter. Just keep drinking. Put your finger over your nose and get it all down.’
Ronson also interviewed Exoo’s assistant-in-training, a woman who had met him after she asked for help committing suicide. ‘She would have killed herself with Exoo’s help – he was perfectly willing – but she couldn’t find anyone to look after her pet snake.’ So instead, she became his assistant, and told Ronson she hoped to take over from him.
‘I see this as a business,’ she said. ‘George sees it as a calling. There’s a big difference there. For me it’s no cash, no help.’
You can watch a section of Jon’s documentary, Reverend Death, below. Ronson told the Telegraph that it was the most stressful and emotionally draining documentary he’s ever done.