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9780830822591

Final Wishes : A Cautionary Tale on Death, Dignity and Physician-Assisted Suicide

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780830822591

  • ISBN10:

    0830822593

  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2000-05-01
  • Publisher: Intervarsity Pr
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Summary

Recipient of an Honourable Mention in the 2001 God Uses Ink Contest!Patrick is dying a slow, agonizing death. He wants his friend, Dr. Ron Grey, to help him--but not to get better. Instead, Patrick wants Ron to help him end his suffering by ending his life.This is the premise of a story that Paul Chamberlain employs to reveal the ethical and emotional complexities of a movement that is gaining supporters daily. It is a story that sends Ron Grey on a difficult journey across a continent and through a minefield of conflicting ideas and values.Should people have a legal right to choose the time of their death? Can adequate safeguards be employed to protect the public from potential abuses of physician-assisted suicide laws? What does it mean for people to die with dignity? Will people feel an obligation not to burden their families with their prolonged illness? What has been the experience in the Netherlands, which has had a physician-assisted suicide law for over twenty-five years? What about the possibility of misdiagnosis? Is there a legitimate public interest in what appears to be a purely private act? Can morality be legislated at all?Paul Chamberlain considers all of these vital issues clearly and carefully. Yet as we move through the legal, political, medical and ethical questions, he also helps us to see the personal side of these topics played out in the context of a caring family and a deep friendship. Here is a timely and helpful book on one of the most controversial concerns of our day.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Chaptersp. 1-24
Notes
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpts


Chapter One

Ron tightened the seat belt and gripped the armrests as the plane began its descent. He tried not to think about the various reports of plane accidents he had seen on the news even this last week. He tried not to question himself about whether the pilots were ready for such a situation. He tried not to imagine what it would feel like to crash.

    Suddenly the fuselage leaned hard to the right, and he felt the engines rev up as the plane momentarily lifted and then settled back again. Then, just as suddenly, the engines cut back as the plane dropped noticeably, causing his stomach to leap into his throat. The young girl sitting next to him searched frantically in the pouch in front of her for, he guessed, the little bag. Her face was ashen, and it was clear that she could not take much more of this. It would not be a soft landing; he was pretty sure of that.

    Man, I hate that feeling , he mumbled to himself. Total loss of control. My life is in someone else's hands and there's not a thing I can do about it . He looked down and saw his knuckles--white from clutching the armrest in a viselike grip.

    Without warning the plane jolted and lurched back as the wheels touched down and the reverse thrusters roared to life, pushing the passengers forward in their seats. Through the vast amounts of blowing snow, Ron saw the flashing lights of the snow-removal vehicles as they pushed their way up and down the runways.

    He breathed a huge sigh of relief, then recovered his luggage and headed to the terminal. As the adrenaline rush caused by the landing subsided, Ron's original anxiety returned. He thought of the loving kiss his wife had given him that morning and the harmonious relationship it represented, contrasted with the sad business that drew him away from her. Although he always looked forward to seeing Patrick, this tragic turn of fate in his friend's life was not the pleasant context he would have hoped for in his next visit.

    Dr. Ron Grey was a second-generation doctor and had grown up observing his father's love for his work and patients. He also had come to appreciate the comfortable life his father had provided for his family compared with that of Ron's grandparents and other relatives. Vacations, trips, restaurant meals, newer cars and homes. He was determined to follow in his father's footsteps.

    Ron and Patrick had aspired to be doctors in high school, and both had been accepted at the University of Toronto medical school. They had stayed together throughout, and though they had parted ways after that, they had remained in close contact. The intervening twenty-or-so years had been good for both of them, with Pat joining a practice in the Chicago area and Ron doing the same in Winnipeg. Their jobs were rewarding and their family lives were happy. Until three months ago.

    Ron recalled the shocking news that had informed him that Patrick had been diagnosed with ALS, a fatal degenerative disease. The chill he had felt then remained with him even now. As disturbing as the initial phone call had been, it was the most recent one that had driven Ron's decision to make this trip. Patrick's words were indelibly imprinted on his mind: "You've got to help me," he had pleaded. "I don't want to go through all the pain and suffering that I know is coming. And I certainly don't want Jean and the kids to have to go through it either. But I won't be able to end it all myself, and you are the only one I can count on." When Ron only listened in stunned silence, Patrick had added the words, "Can't I? Right? I can count on you, can't I?" He had sounded depressed, almost pitiful. Nothing like the Patrick Ron had known. How in the world should he respond?

    The very next day Ron had decided to book a flight so he could talk to Patrick in person and try to sort things out. At the last moment he had forced himself to pack a small medical kit containing, among other things, doses of morphine and potassium chloride and two syringes. The possibility that he might use the kit had sent another shudder through him.

    From their past discussions Ron knew that Patrick approved, in principle, of physician-assisted suicide. But this was no longer a philosophical question. This was a friend asking for help. Ron was troubled by the whole situation. He too had always accepted some vague notion of a person's right to live or die, but had felt a nagging reluctance to become involved. He suddenly found himself thrust into the heart of an issue that he had no desire to engage at all.

    The taxi ride to Pat and Jean's offered some peace and quiet for Ron to rest. Not really seeing what he was doing, he paged through the Newsweek he had grabbed before boarding the plane. The cover story was about troop movements in the Middle East, but something near the bottom of the page caught his attention: "Illinois Senate to Decide Right to Die." Coincidence? Ron wondered. He flipped to the story and found out, to his surprise, that during the very week of his visit with Pat, the Illinois senate was holding hearings on physician-assisted suicide. He noted the time and location and started to think about how he might get access to those hearings. He wondered if Pat's decision had anything to do with them.

Chapter Two

The large and well-kept houses of Lake Forest streamed past as the taxi headed down Westleigh Road. Ron had once envied Pat's good fortune, but that had all changed. The taxi turned into the long, winding driveway. A new engraved sign at the entrance read, "The Metcalfes, Pat and Jean." As usual the grounds were well kept, all three acres of them, but they showed the effects of a harsh winter. The house was a large, Tudor-style mansion, renovated up and down. Ron knew that Pat and Jean had pampered and coddled it. New windows. New doors. A security system. Even a weight room, Ron had been told. The view of the nearby lake from the top floor of the home was captivating.

    As the taxi pulled up to the house, Ron noticed an attractive woman wearing a heavy parka with the hood resting neatly on her back, revealing fashionably trimmed, dark brown hair. She seemed to be about to take two black Labradors for a walk, and she was only moderately surprised at the taxi's arrival. Ron nervously stepped out. All he could manage was a bittersweet smile. He couldn't help but notice the effects of the stress that the past few weeks had put on her.

    "Jean ..." Ron mumbled as he put his arm around her, trying to keep a brave face as tears welled up in his friend's wife's eyes.

    "Thanks so much for coming, Ron. Pat is really looking forward to seeing you."

    Ron was pale, unsure of anything significant to say at this moment. "I just wish the situation were different. How are you holding up?"

    "I need to be strong for Pat," she said, "but we've never had to go through anything like this before."

    Ron fumbled with his wallet as the taxi driver's patience began to wane. This was going to be more difficult than he had anticipated.

    "Everything has changed now," Jean continued. "Our life. Our plans. Even our relationship. Do you know what it's like being married to someone who wants to die?"

    Ron shook his head silently. He hadn't a clue.

    "I know he won't be here much longer, and I often find myself wondering what he'll be like in a month, two months or half a year if he's still here."

    Ron felt powerless to help. Feels like the plane landing , he thought.

    "He's waiting for you. We better go." Jean opened the door to let Ron and his luggage in, then disappeared into the house. Ron heard some noise around the corner, and then a somewhat familiar--if off-balance and shuffling--figure moved toward him. It was Pat. Ron was surprised at the metamorphosis that his friend had undergone since he had last seen him. Although the familiar beard was still well trimmed, Pat's face seemed longer, more haggard. The shortness of his stature seemed emphasized by an invisible weight on his shoulders. There was a slight slur in his speech when he greeted Ron.

    "I knew you'd come," he said.

    Ron grabbed him and they embraced each other, their tears mingling. "It's so good to be here," he said, realizing he had mixed feelings about his words.

    "Why don't I show you your room so you can get settled, then we'll talk."

    "Sounds great." Ron's words felt empty, despite the empathy in his heart. Pat led Ron into the house and showed him to a guest room on the upper level. It was large and well equipped, containing a television, a radio, a desk and chair, and a view of the lake. Ron shut the door and set down his luggage. The medical kit was safely packed inside. Immediately he picked up the phone and dialed his home.

    "Hello?" the voice on the other end sounded restrained and uncertain.

    "Hi, Love." Ron yearned for his wife. He needed her embrace.

    "You sound like you need a hug. How is everything? How are Pat and Jean?"

    "I don't know how to answer that. It's tough, Judy. It's like nothing else I can imagine."

    "Any insights as to how you are going to handle this?"

    "That's what makes it even tougher. I have no idea. I just got here and I haven't talked with either of them about it yet. It would be one thing to be asked to give comfort or encouragement to them, but to be asked to help him die ..."

    "I know." She was almost whispering. "You're his friend and you're a doctor. That's why you're there."

    "I'd better go. Jean has coffee and a snack waiting. I love you, Judy."

    "I love you too, Ron. Take care of yourself, and please call back sooner. OK?"

    "Yes, Dear," Ron groaned, like he always did when he teased his wife.

    "Hey!"

    "Sorry, Sweetheart. I'll call you soon." Ron hung up the phone and followed the smell of coffee down the stairs. Jean had put out deli meat and fresh-baked buns along with some pastry and a pot of the richest coffee Ron had drunk in a while.

    "In the den, Ron!" Pat called out. He was sitting in a leather recliner with a plate of food on the side table, a cup of coffee in his hand and a warmer on his legs. The dogs were wrestling on the floor, and Ron could not avoid the contrast between their vitality and Pat's deterioration.

    The north and west walls of the den were lined with book-laden oak shelves. The south wall was fitted with a comfortable, beige love seat, which was next to Pat's chair and the dogs. Ron sat down in the love seat. If so many thoughts were not troubling him, he might have easily dozed off.

    Jean joined them a few moments later and broke the silence. She nervously asked about Judy, the children, Ron's practice, their home--all the usual small-talk. Ron answered with whatever enthusiasm he could muster and then politely returned the questions. Judy reported that Pat's practice was winding down. His last day was to be at the end of the month, three weeks away, and he was only going in four hours each day now.

    Jean commented that Pat's disease seemed to be progressing quickly although no one really knew for certain. The limp had just started three days earlier and already caused him greater unsteadiness. Sometimes the deterioration goes fast and sometimes it goes slow, his neurologist had told them. He might need a wheelchair soon. No one could say for sure. Ron felt sick to his stomach as he pondered the devastation this ugly disease was about to bring upon his friend.

    After quietly sipping coffee for a minute or so, Pat looked at Jean awkwardly, then turned to Ron. "There's something else we need to tell you," he said.

    What now? Ron wondered.

    "It's about the media."

    "The media?" Ron looked confused.

    "Yes. ATN to be exact."

    "What does ATN have to do with you?" Ron asked, fearing that Pat was about to tell him something big. ATN was one of the nation's major networks, with satellite stations throughout the country. Every day millions of viewers tuned in to get their news and entertainment from this impressive media giant.

    "Nothing, until last week," Jean replied. "Somehow they got wind of Pat's illness, and two reporters stopped by last Friday."

    "They called themselves investigative journalists," Pat added.

    "And asked you what?" Ron was growing suspicious.

    There was another awkward pause. "They want to do a story on us," Pat finally replied nervously, as if he knew his long-time friend would not be happy to hear this.

    "A story?" Ron exclaimed, bolting forward to the edge of his chair.

    Pat was startled. "They want to follow the progression of my illness through a series of interviews."

    "A series?" Ron was on the edge of the love seat, almost rising to his feet.

    "They think it could have educational value for the country," Pat replied.

    Jean leaned forward. "The man explained that it would give people insight into ALS and how it affects a person who has it and the person's family. He said it could have great benefit for their viewers all around the country."

    "Not to mention what it could do for their own ratings," Ron replied cynically. "Vultures," he muttered under his breath, loud enough so that Pat and Jean could hear. "Parasites."

    "So you don't like the idea?"

    "That's very perceptive, Pat. The idea stinks! What business have these people got coming in here, pressuring you like this? They're making you feel like if you don't do this, you're denying all this benefit to the world, like you have some obligation here. You don't! Do these people have no limits at all? No decency, no sensitivity to a person's need for privacy, especially when they are dealing with something like ALS? What kind of people are these who would take advantage of a person when he's down so they can boost their own ratings?"

    Pat looked over at Jean and sucked in a large breath, then slowly exhaled. They had wondered how Ron might respond, but they weren't prepared for anything this intense.

    Ron spoke again. "You're not going to do it, are you?"

    There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

    "C'mon, Pat!" Ron lectured and begged at the same time.

    "They're coming tomorrow," Pat replied quietly but firmly.

    Ron was dumbfounded. He looked at the floor and whispered, "Tomorrow." After a few seconds of silence he looked up. "You don't have to do this! Especially not tomorrow! Why such a rush?"

    "We had to make a decision ... quickly," Pat said. "We're not dealing with a lot of time here."

    Ron slumped back on the love seat, silently shaking his head. "I don't believe this," he whispered. "You can still call it off," he said. "I'll call the vultures myself if you want."

    "I don't want to call it off," Pat said. "We've decided the country could use some education about this disease, and the people at ATN say they can make it happen."

    Ron bolted upright again. "You don't for a moment believe they're doing this out of some noble ambition to disseminate truth, do you? It's ratings, ratings, ratings! That's all these people care about. They live by ratings. They monitor them all the time. If your story wasn't good for the ratings, they wouldn't do it!"

    "Whoa! Whoa!" Pat raised his hand. "I don't know what their motives are, but I do know the country could use some education on this disease and on why a person who has it might want to choose physician-assisted suicide."

    Ron froze. "You've told them that too?"

    "Told them what?"

    "That you want a physician-assisted suicide?"

    "I didn't have to. They knew it already. They seemed to know a lot of things by the time they arrived at the house. These people have got ears everywhere."

    It suddenly hit Ron like a ton of bricks. That was why the media were taking such an interest in Pat and Jean. With the debate in the Illinois state senate on physician-assisted suicide just days away, the entire country was turning its attention to this issue. And here was a prominent local physician, struck down with ALS and, at this very moment, making it clear that he wanted the legislature to legalize the practice so he could receive the service. Could there be a better story? It had controversy. It was about one man pitted against the system, and it involved real people, not mere numbers, facts, or arguments.

    Ron turned to Jean. "I hope you realize that a good portion of this will fall to you," he said. "It's only a matter of time before Pat becomes incommunicative."

    "I know," Jean whispered.

    Turning back to Pat, Ron said, "Let me guess." His words dripped with cynicism. "They want to do a lot of their interviewing in the next week or so, before the vote is taken in the senate?"

    Pat looked at Jean and chuckled knowingly. "Yes. They want one tomorrow and another on Saturday."

    "Two interviews in two days."

    "They want to ask a lot of questions at the beginning, while I still have strength to do this," Pat smiled.

    "Sure," Ron smiled back. "It looks like we've got our work cut out for us."

    "They promised it won't be hard," Jean interjected, helpfully. "No preparation. Just tell our story."

Excerpted from FINAL WISHES by Paul Chamberlain. Copyright © 2000 by Paul Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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