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The writer of these letters was under sentence of death when she wrote them. The sentence had been pronounced by her Doctor, an intimate friend of hers… He was an orthodox Christian, and he hoped that she would find support and comfort in his creed. But her mind was cast in a different mould. The doctrines of orthodox Christianity did not appeal to her. But she found support and comfort in a religion of her own—a religion which she called Rationalism, though it may be doubted if that title was worthy of it…

Foreword, Words in Pain (1919)

This beautiful book had a life and an afterlife: first printed privately (and anonymously) in 1919, before being rediscovered a century later and brought to a new readership. Containing letters written by the terminally ill Olga Jacoby to her pious doctor, Words in Pain is a powerful expression of a richly humanist philosophy, and a call for the right to die with dignity. Reviewing the first edition in The Literary Guide (now the New Humanist), Joseph McCabe wrote: 

Her sunny and beneficent creed must add something to the life of every reader. I know no finer or more impressive presentment of the Rationalist’s code of life; and I trust that her friends will give her the immortality she desired— to live, anonymously if they will, in the better lives of others.

This humanist sense of immortality as being in the memories of others encapsulates the positivity of the one life, all the richer for having an end. In her final letter to the doctor, Jacoby wrote: ‘I shall go to sleep with a good conscience and with a feeling of warm gratitude towards all who have enriched my life.’ In the decades since the letters were first published, many humanists have actively campaigned for the right to die, and continue to do so.

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