Quaker Universalist Voice

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Responsible Death

A Book Review of Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, The Peaceful Pill Handbook (2021)

Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, The Peaceful Pill Handbook (2019) provides current complete, reliable, information about responsible end of life choices consistent with different values and contexts. We all need this information, but we may not need to use it.

This book is widely understood as the leading self-help resource for a good death.  It is available to an intended readership of senior adults to undertake informed death planning. It is not intended for young persons or persons with mind-distorting psychiatric illness or depression. The authors believe that providing people with information empowers people to make informed decisions and does not encourage people toward death.  They reject the benefits of ignorance about death and seek to help people make informed decisions for the end of their futures.

The authors’ purpose is to provide easily understood information on death decision-making to seniors, the seriously ill, and their families and friends. The emphasis is on scientific research and the accumulating experience of many final exit organizations around the world. The authors affirm the importance of access to information that enables informed decisions and the reduction in the final life chapter anxiety. 

The book is published in two editions: online and print. The online tradition is updated continuously.  The print edition is updated annually.

The scope of the Handbook’s coverage includes computer privacy security, the full range of substances, the devices, the methods, and assistance services to show the full range of choices. Each strategy is rated for peacefulness, reliability, dignity, and accessibility. All strategies have advantages and shortcomings in different contexts.  Other criteria assessed in the book include ease, pain freedom, availability and timing. The criteria were developed through a survey of 1,000 people. 

The book does not include an index, but the table of contents is clearly organized for reference. The writers intended specifically to use lay language in the explanations. The Handbook needs a copy editor for numerous typographical errors, none of which are substantive, but which slightly undermine the excellent and candid substantive information. An appended chart provides helpful comparisons among some alternatives.

We all face the end of life challenge and its decision-making.  This handbook is an important resource for implementing individual decisions.

Quakers: What cans’t Quakers say?  The current answer is nothing currently notable.  There is an emptiness in the Quaker tradition on the subject of death and its prudent accomplishment.  Quaker tradition offers no guidance to this universal challenge of death in life’s final chapter. Most Quaker leaders and deep Quakers cast a wink and nod to the exercise of personal agency.  Quaker organizations offer no significant counseling or information in this subject area and no theological assistance.  Quaker seniors currently join all other seniors in facing the end without assistance or spiritual guidance. Quakers in local meetings do have the tool of individual clearness committees for support in individual or family decision-making and the ability to approach ministry groups for community exploration if they take the initiative.


  • What do Quakers understand about the decisions and management of death?
  • What can Quakers offer in the face of anxiety, ignorance, and helplessness at the end of life?
  • What information should Quaker meetings and churches provide to seniors regarding life’s final chapter?


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