As I write this, I am preparing to say goodbye to my dear friend and co-campaigner, Dr. Peter Goodwin of Portland, Oregon. He is 83 years old.
Peter’s moral compass was forged in the heat of apartheid in his native South Africa but he calibrated that instrument during his transition from one kind of doctor to another. He began medical practice as a surgeon. He ended it as a role model for the modern family practitioner, a generalist promoting healing and growth from the beginning of life to its end. Highly regarded in his profession, he trained legions of doctors now in practice.
Like all fine physicians, Peter learned more from his patients than from texts. Several told him that choice at the end of life would help them face it with dignity and grace. He listened with an open heart and it turned him into an activist.
Peter calls his accomplishments as chair of the committee to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in the mid 1990s — the first law of its kind in our country — “the most gratifying of my entire life.” Indeed, his principled and passionate leadership laid the groundwork for a broad expansion of end-of-life choice across the nation which continues to this day.
Six years ago, Peter received a diagnosis of corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, a rare disease with no known cause or cure, and very few therapies to relieve symptoms. Consequently, he now faces the end of his own life. And he does so with typical courage and grace.
In a few days’ time, Peter plans to ingest medication he obtained under the law he believed in so much. His journey as a doctor, educator, husband, father and leader will draw to an end with his four children and their spouses at his side. Last week, I offered Peter a blessing I’d like to share with you now.
An excerpt from An Irish blessing “For the Dying” by John O’Donohue
May your death come gently toward you,
Leaving you time to make your way,
Through the cold embrace of fear,
To the place of inner tranquility.
May your leave-taking be gracious,
Enabling you to hold in dignity,
Through awkwardness and illness.
May you see the reflection,
Of your life’s kindness and beauty,
In all the tears that fall for you.
May there be some beautiful surprise,
Waiting for you inside death,
Something you never knew or felt.
Which with one simple touch,
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken with the embrace,
For which your soul was eternally made.
With this message, I’d like to invite you to share your own words with Peter and his family. As our ally in the movement for end-of-life liberty, you share the principles and values that have defined Peter’s life. Your words will contribute to the celebration of his life, and bring real comfort to Peter and his family.
To share your thoughts, a blessing or simple good wishes, please click here .
I shall miss my dear friend, from whom I’ve learned so much. But I know his life could not have been fuller, and I draw comfort knowing he died on his own terms with courage, grace, and dignity. None of us could ask for more.