The Washington Post
The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents with Their Suicidesby John West
The Last Goodnights provides a unique, powerful, and/i>
A husband and wife, both medical professionals, are gravely ill. Rather than living in pain, they choose to end their lives, and they turn to their son for help. Despite the legal risks and certain emotional turmoil, he agreesand ultimately performs an act of love more difficult than any other.
The Last Goodnights provides a unique, powerful, and unflinching look inside the reality of one of the most galvanizing issues of our time: assisted suicide. Told with intensity and bare honesty, John West’s account of the deaths of two brave people is gritty and loving, frightening and illuminating, nerve-wracking and even, at times, darkly humorous. As West’s story places him in one of the most difficult experiences anyone can endure, it also offers a powerful testament to the act of death by choice, and reveals the reasons why end-of-life issues are far too personal for government intrusion.
Intimately told, The Last Goodnights points out the unnecessary pain and suffering that is often forced upon dying people and their families, and honors the choice to die with purpose and dignity. In the end, this story is not just about deathit is also about love, courage, and autonomy.
The Washington Post
“John West has a significant story to tell . . . He shines a harsh light on a society that forces a son to go through so much pain simply to relieve a parent's suffering. And he also communicates a softer message about his relationship with his mother and their unselfish love for one another.” The Washington Post
“Harrowing and heartbreaking . . . a gripping account.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“You will sympathize.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune
- Counterpoint Press
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Meet the Author
Educated at Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Wisconsin Law School, John West is an attorney, writer, and outdoorsman. He lives in Los Angeles.
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I really thought this one would be a tear-jerker, but it surprisingly wasn't. It wasn't that I didn't become emotionally attached, but West gives the story so matter-of-factly and the humor that exudes from his family makes it easier to read. Not to say that he's making light of this very serious topic, but the stories are marked with humor because that's how they happened. Whether you agree with assisted suicide or not I think this is a great book to read. The turmoil West goes through, while helping his parents relieve themselves of their turmoil, is horrible but to be expected when placed in this situation. I felt like I got to know K, Jolly, and John while reading this. And while I know they are real people books about real events always seem to have something missing that links the people to the real world. I didn't feel that way at all with this one. I think the portrayal of who these people really are came through very well. It was very well written. I don't know that I could have done what John did, I don't know that I would ever be placed in that situation, but what I do know is that I could not have relived it over and over by writing a book about it. I think it is courageous of West to have even attempted it. And while he states that it was therapeutic for him I think it still must have been a very difficult and emotionally draining task (given what he had already gone through). Even with the very difficult subject matter this was a very readable book. I didn't get to drained to finish it, and it didn't take me very long to get into it, and then finish it.
This is NOT an easy book to read, and having dealt with end of life issues with my husband and other family members I was sad, mad and sometimes scared while reading the book and for a variety of reasons. I kept wondering why stronger pain meds wouldn't have been a better choice than asking ones child to put their own life and freedom at risk. Then I reminded myself that I wasn't there so I couldn't really know everything involved. The book literally made me scared and then I cried as I read how hard it was for his Dad to get enough pills down to kill himself. My mind kept thinking of what his sons mindset must have been like with that thought of 'what if'. What if the pills don't work and his Dad had the paramedics working to save him while also wondering how so many pills could have been consumed without anyone knowing what was going on. Then his Mother. With similar thoughts going thru my mind. The whole 'what if' questions that stay with you after finishing the book. And the author writes about his drinking and depression periods which I think is very important for anyone who thinks helping a loved one end their life is simple as A B C. This is something I think anyone who wants to ask someone to help them die should also consider. It reminded me of when my husband was in the hospital for a routine procedure and I was there to pick him up, when he dropped dead, and all I could think of for weeks, months was that fine line between life and death and how once you pass the line there is no returning.
John West is a fine and a very brave writer: his polished writing style suggests he could well succeed in literature and give up his career as an attorney. His willingness to take on the sharing of his personal experiences with assisting in the final hours of his parents' lives demonstrates not only courage in making this public, but also offers an excellent argument for changing our laws to allow assisted deaths. The fact that West is able to take the reader through not only the decision making and the actual preparation and implementation of two deaths, but also the emotional roller coaster ride he endured in the process is what makes this book more a memoir, a novel that happens to be true, than an chest-pounding diatribe as this subject matter usually produces in the hands of other writers. The only son of two professional, highly regarded people, John West is approached first by his father, a prominent physician from UCLA who is diagnosed with severe metastatic carcinoma and elects (after a trial of radiation and chemotherapy) to spare himself and his family from the rigors of a painful exit: he asks his son to assist him in ending his life before it incapacitates himself and those around him. West agrees and we are taken through the mental and physical preparation for the final goodnight of his father. Every aspect of the deed is related with dignity and with eloquent prose. West must then fulfill the same promise to his equally famous and revered clinical psychologist mother from the Veteran's Hospital in Westwood. His mother has been failing due to Alzheimer's Disease as well as debilitating osteoporosis and kyphosis. She and her husband had always decided that they would elect the time and manner of their end, and after West has successfully fulfilled his promise to his father, his mother asks for the same modus exodus nine months later. This extraordinarily well written book is important on many levels and will satisfy those who ponder the methods of assisted suicide as they perhaps have similar living experiences as the author: it will also offer keenly felt information for encouraging the passage of laws (already present in Oregon and Washington) to permit assisted suicides. West is bright, compassionate, and wholly human in his manner of writing. The reader comes away admiring his courage in offering the complete love his parents' request, feeling the anguish of his decision, and supportive of the stance he has taken in sharing this information with the public. Dylan Thomas' poem 'Do not go gentle into that good night' may seem the antithesis of this book's message, but if the 'rage against the dying of the light' is a standard bearer for calling for reform of our current cruel laws about suffering and death, then it is a pertinent resource for us all. Grady Harp
I found this book to be very touching, I could feel Mr. West's pain, sorrow and his happiness. I am a Catholic and suicide assisted or otherwise is prohibited in my religion but after reading this story my feelings have changed. I don't think that I myself could ever agree to such a thing. But I now don't feel that I have the right to tell a terminally ill person that they must suffer because of my religous beliefs. It is a very thought provoking subject.
Even though it is an interesting story, the book reads more like fiction than memoir. I found it incredible that his parentes, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, would ask their son - a lawyer, not a doctor - to assist them with their suicides. Was his mother even competent to make that decision? West fails to share any insights he has gained, either as a result of the experiences with his parents' deaths, or following nearly ten years of living with his secret. And, his tone is so smug and self-satisfied that it was impossible to ignore in favor of a focus on the obviously unusual family dynamics.