Last Goodnights, The – Review

by: West, John


Publisher: Counterpoint; Publishers Group West, 2117 Fourth St D, Berkely, CA 94710

Copyright: 2009


reviewed by: Leslie Yau 3/13/2009

Summary: In this memoir, a son discusses how he helps his parents commit sucide.

“Stick to The Issue”. I have to remind myself often while writing this book review.

A father dying of cancer told his son, “. . .I have options about how and when my death will occur. But I’ll need you on board, to help me.” How is the son, a well educated lawyer, suppose to respond? John West nodded and said, “You got it.” So the dark, unbearable long journey started.

An upper-class family with everything money can buy–almost everything. Two highly respected medical professionals, a husband and a wife, ironically are dying of cancer and deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease, plus osteoporosis and emphysema. Instead of believing in modern medicine, they believed in freedom of choice-freedom to choose death with dignity.

I was compelled by the subject matter when I decided to read the book. The subject has been roving around in my mind subconsciously, like a drifting dark cloud. Now I have finished reading the book, I am not sure if I like the direction that it is going. . . . TV interviews, radio discussions, book signings, author appearances, public speaking and lectures. Oh yes, don’t forget the John West Consulting business. . . . Helping people like me with deep, dark secrets. That should be good. The more we talk about end-of-life issues the better the chances that assisted-suicide will get recognized legally. Right?

Although one has nothing to do with the other, John West reminded me of the ousted Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich. They both turned an ugly scam, widely criticized moral (and legal) issue into a well of opportunity. Brilliant! I know, “Stick to The Issue”.

To be fair, the book is well written and organized. John West told the otherwise personal story with so many painful details and much dark humor. You can actually find it both horrifying and entertaining from time to time. But really, it was not a laughing matter for him to be put in the position of helping end both his parents’ lives and write a book about it. Only the most devoted son would endure nine months of high anxiety, constant planning and scamming in order to make sure the mission succeeded.

In the end, an appeal to the legal system-change the laws so that our end-of-life choices are protected by the doctor-patient relationship. The existing laws against assisted suicide are only justifiable for people who are stuck to the notion that death should be “natural.” But the laws prevent gravely ill people from getting a peaceful exit at the time they choose, unless family or friends are willing to face becoming “criminals.” And is that a conscionable alternative to the current law? We deserve at least the same ultimate dignity and respect as our dogs and cats–free of unwanted pain and suffering.

“Death is as natural as life, and should be sweet and graceful.” RALPH WALDO EMERSON. I agree.