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Last Wish

The Controversial New York Times Bestseller

By Betty Rollin

Published by Public Affairs
Revised edition
Publication date: September, 1998
256 pp.
ISBN: 1891620010 (soft cover)


This is the revised edition of TV journalist Betty Rollin's memoir of her mother Ida's two-and-a-half year struggle with ovarian cancer, ending with Ida's decision to end her own life. Reading like a novel, the story paints a realistic picture of difficult cancer chemotherapy and Betty's choice to help her mother commit suicide.

Ida Rollin comes across as an intelligent, loving, and somewhat fussy little old Jewish mother. As the indignities of loss of function and increasing pain take their toll, her decision to take charge of her own demise seems in character. Daughter Betty, a high-charged television personality who had covered hospice stories in the past, seems taken aback when Ida first floats the idea of suicide, but quickly realizes that her mother is serious and begins to research alternatives with the skill of an investigative reporter. The book becomes a page-turner as the day which Ida sets for the big event draws near. The story is moving, engrossing, and even funny by turns, showing how family bonds intensified in response to the illness.

On another level it is a case study in failure of medical providers to provide effective symptom management and psychological support, leaving the family feeling like criminals as they explore the only solutions which seemed available to them at the time. Palliative care professionals will see much that could have been done differently in Ida's treatment, and will argue that she might not have desired suicide if she had received more aggressive comfort care and hospice services (hospice care was not readily available in this case). But those who are quick to raise these arguments against self-determination may miss the point of the story, which shows in a moving way how non-professionals struggle to find the best possible care within a fragmented and often unresponsive medical system.

Following this life-changing experience, Betty Rollin has devoted much of the past ten years to public education about end of life issues. As Ida would say, "Everyone should have such a daughter."

First published in 1985, this book was a New York Times Bestseller and a Book Of The Month Club Featured Alternate. The expanded 1998 edition includes current background material on the debate over physician-assisted suicide, a list of resource organizations, the complete text of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, and a question list about issues for use in discussion groups and classrooms.

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