A Chosen Death: The Dying Confront Assisted Suicide
Lonny Shavelson


In A Chosen Death, Lonny Shavelson writes movingly about five terminally ill people who wrestle with the decision of whether to end their lives, giving us eloquent insights that add an important dimension to the impassioned national debate on assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Each of these people, in making important end-of-life decisions, personally confronts the highly charged emotional questions about euthanasia and assisted suicide that have now become part of the everyday reality of our individual and family lives.

Renee was thirty-six when a CAT scan showed cancer in her brain. She tried everything, including an experimental medical program in Sweden. "Plan A," she said, "is to fight like hell to live. Plan B is my suicide, if Plan A fails and the suffering becomes intolerable." Pierre, a circus trapeze artist with AIDS, planned to commit suicide but first had to face the consequences of how his decision would affect his seven-year-old daughter. Gene, partially paralyzed by a stroke and fearful of complete debilitation, failed at two suicide attempts and then called the Hemlock Society to solicit their help in his next attempt to die. Kelly, mute and completely paralyzed since a childhood accident, decided it was time to "move to another existence," but his physical inability to kill himself precipitated tormented soul-searching for his family. Mary, a mystery writer dying of breast cancer, discovered that finding ways to control the final anguish of her death, while also taking into account her family's needs, could lead to unpredictable endings.

Written with sensitivity and compassion, and accompanied by Shavelson's poignant and often haunting photographs, A Chosen Death shows us the anguish, determination, and dignity that can impel the dying to contemplate suicide, as well as the powerful emotional impact this decision has on family and friends. Shavelson weighs the benefits and risks of assisted suicide, and writes thoughtfully about his own family's experiences in dealing with this complex issue. He urges a humane and responsible reaction to those people whose final suffering brings them to request help in suicide. Finally, he envisions a compassionate solution that would enhance medical care for all terminally ill patients.


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