Final Wish, Final Hope

In 1990 a woman suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease sought a way out of what she believed at the time would be a tragic existence. This woman, Janet Adkins, found her “savior” in the person of Jack Kevorkian, a man who has come to be known in some circles as “Dr. Death.”

Kevorkian agreed with Adkins that her life would become a nightmare for herself and her family; he administered his mechanical death machine and finally, Adkins got her wish—she died. The question at that time, six years ago, is still the question today—Did Kevorkian commit a crime or was he merely administering his compassion?

Forty-plus victims later, Kevorkian’s rampage continues to spread confusion about the meaning of compassion. True compassion must be grounded in love and should be selfless—those who are feeling the pain of another’s burden wish to nurture, comfort, and embrace never murder. Compassion is the opposite of criminality. Compassion accepts, accommodates, and surrenders to God what is beyond the human capacity to understand or explain. Criminality scoffs at inconvenience, hardship, and pain and ultimately eliminates them with acts of barbarism.

As early as 1985, actors in the assisted-suicide drama were making their move. One woman in particular became very well known when she helped her mother kill herself.

The woman, Betty Rollin, wrote a book entitled Last Wish. In it she wrote of her mother’s battle with cancer and her own commitment to helping her mother commit suicide because, after all, her mother wanted it this way— “not when death summoned her, but when she summoned death.”

The media extolled Rollin’s actions. After all, she had lived through this misery and written a book that would “help” others. The book reveals exactly how Rollin learned to concoct the deadly potion that took her mother’s life. When the story was finally told, however, not one reporter hinted that perhaps Rollin was actually guilty of a crime.

To have read this book just two years after my own mother’s death made me acutely aware of its errors.

I had watched my mother die of a terrible case of rheumatoid arthritis compounded by ulcers and other conditions that left her bedridden for five years—unable to perform the simplest of tasks alone. I did not watch her, however, and wonder whether or not she would be better off dead.

Early on, well before the worst years of her suffering had even begun, my mother made an attempt to take her own life. The overdose failed to kill her. But in that terrible space of time, between the ambulance ride to the hospital and her awakening three days later, my mother taught me a lesson I shall never forget.

As she slowly came out of her deep sleep, she told my father and me that while she was lingering in life, so close to death, God had spoken to her. He told her that he would give her one more chance to live the rest of her life as he would have her live it, rather than face the awful hell to which her suicide would surely bring her.

In her agony and her recovery from her attempted suicide I saw the divine meaning of compassion, and it has little to do with personal comfort, freedom of choice, or autonomy. Rather, compassion has everything to do with absolute, unconditional love and a total surrender of self during times of excruciating pain and helplessness.

Strange, is it not, that one woman can see herself as a heroine for handing her mother some deadly pills? This woman would become a national spokesman for her brand of compassion. But I have seen the heroism of another woman who was truly blessed to survive such deadly compassion and so receive an insight into the will of God that otherwise might never have been bestowed.

  • Judie Brown

    Judie Brown is president of the American Life League.

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