John West. The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents with Their Suicides. Counterpoint. 2009. 272 pages.
$16.50 from Amazon (click to order)
What would you do if both your parents asked you to assist them with their suicides within the same year? This unthinkable dilemma is exactly what John West faced in 1999 when both his parents became terminally ill almost simultaneously. His book, The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents with Their Suicides, explains what he went through as he helped them end their lives.
West's parents were both psychologists and their medical background had led them to agree that if the time ever came, they would help each other die with dignity. They did not imagine that when the time came, they would both be disabled and each unable to help the other. West describes how his father, who was suffering from terminal cancer, came to him for help. At the time, his mother was suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease-like symptoms. A few months after his father died, his mother asked him to help her end her own life.
The book unflinchingly describes West's difficulties in coping with his parent's illnesses, his struggles with the health care system, and the stresses of carrying this burden. West wrote the memoir at the request of his mother, but kept it a secret for ten years, waiting to publish until the statute of limitations for assisted suicide in California, where his parents' deaths took place, had expired. But he acknowledges that he could still face prosecution. "I'm hopeful that that won't occur, but there is the possibility," West said in an interview that aired on Good Morning America. "The statute of limitations for assisted suicide has run [out] but the prosecutors can charge you with just about anything. There is no statute of limitation for murder, for manslaughter, probably certain drug offenses."
West doesn't think families should be put in his position, believing instead that when to die should be a decision between patient and doctor. West wants to make it clear that if the laws regarding assisted suicide were changed, no one would have to do what he did.
To listen to a public radio interview with West about his book, click here.
For the interview with West on Good Morning America, click here.