On a Sunday morning in 1990, a member of First Unitarian Society in Madison invited the founder of Hemlock of Illinois to speak after the service about "self-deliverance." This was by way of paying tribute to her father, who had earlier taken his own life. Lori Pederson, another member who had belonged to the Hemlock Society since the early '80s, and who had been instrumental in the passage of a resolution by the Unitarian Universalist Association affirming the right of self-determination in dying two years before, was there and noted the outpouring of interest in this topic. People filled the room to overflowing, and a larger venue was hastily arranged.
The speaker, Don Shaw, told of preparing his family for his own death, and taking two young nephews to the family plot where his remains would one day be buried. "Lie down there, Uncle Don," one of the boys begged. "We want to see how you look dead." There was appreciative laughter as the audience recognized that planning for dying does not need to be morbid.
Concluding his remarks, Shaw noted that there was no Hemlock Chapter in Wisconsin yet. That statement stayed with Pederson over the next several months until a friend agreed to help her draw up a list of potentially interested individuals and groups to contact, to ascertain whether there was sufficient interest in the right-to-die movement around the state to form a Chapter in Wisconsin.
That effort culminated in a gathering held in the Lower Meeting House at the First Unitarian Society in January, 1991. Some sixty people came to view an introductory Hemlock Society tape, and when Pederson asked if anyone would volunteer to serve on a Steering Committee, 28 people raised their hands. They were promptly invited to stay for pizza and the task at hand. Before the year was out, a Board was chosen, Bylaws adopted, a quarterly meeting schedule begun, and an application for tax exempt status filed.
A number of national events subsequently served to draw attention to our Chapter, including: The death of Janet Adkins at the hand of Dr. Jack Kevorkian; publication of Derek Humphry's "Final Exit"; right-to-die initiatives in Washington and California, followed by the first death-with-dignity initiative to win at the polls in Oregon (1994).
In 2003, the Hemlock Society changed its name to End-of-Life Choices, and in January of 2005 End-of-Life Choices merged with the organization Compassion in Dying to form Compassion & Choices. The roots of Compassion & Choices spring from the experience, courage and success of these predecessor organizations.