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Cancer Patient Seeks Ruling that Doctors Can Provide Aid in Dying in New Mexico
(Washington, D.C. – July 10, 2013) Veteran Hollywood actor Elliott Gould recalls visiting his friend Groucho Marx during his last, painful days of life in the summer issue of Compassion & Choices Magazine (see pages 26-27).
Gould became a star in 1969 when his co-starring role in the sex comedy Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice earned him an Oscar nomination, and he followed that up in 1970 with his co-starring role as Trapper John in M*A*S*H. He continues to work steadily and has done hundreds of films, including The Long Goodbye, American History X, and Ocean’s 11 and its sequels. He’s also well-known to a younger generation as the father of Ross and Monica Geller in the long-running TV sitcom Friends.
Appearing on the cover of the magazine and featured in its “Voice of Choice” column, Gould says:
“I was privileged to be Groucho Marx’s friend in his latter days. And I recall the last time I saw Groucho: he was in the hospital, and he had tubes in his nose and what have you. And when he saw me, he was weak, but he was there; and he put his fingers on the tubes and went like it was a clarinet. Groucho played the tubes for me, which brings me to tears.
To be able to die with dignity is to be comfortable with the truth. I do completely agree and feel that that’s humane and that’s positive and very beautiful and very loving.”
Gould also talks about playing the challenging role of a husband to a wife with advanced dementia in the 2012 film Fred Won’t Move Out.
“In the film we had a music therapist. And one of the most moving things in it was for the — it makes me so emotional — was to sing together, to express ourselves together. … Even to just hold hands when we can no longer be of help to those that we love.”
Compassion & Choices has used ballot initiatives (Oregon, Washington state), legislation (Vermont) and case law (Montana) to ensure that terminally ill patients have the option to ask their doctor to prescribe an aid-in-dying medication that they can take if their suffering becomes unbearable. Local activists provide the grassroots muscle to expand options at the end of life.
One activist featured in the magazine is 49-year-old Aja Riggs of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was diagnosed late in 2011 with advanced uterine cancer (see pages 20-21). Doctors have treated her with radiation and chemotherapy, and she has sometimes suffered debilitating exhaustion. In December 2011, she suffered neutropenia — an immune system “crash” — requiring hospitalization.
“That experience,” says Aja, “and the amount of pain and intensive medical treatment, has made me think: If this disease is going to take my life, I don’t need to go to the very end with it. I understand people can’t know how they’ll feel until they get there. So I don’t know. But I know I want to have the choice.”
Aja heard a radio report about Compassion & Choices’ case, Morris v. New Mexico, asserting that aid in dying is not prohibited by existing New Mexico law. She decided to join oncologists Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik as a plaintiff in the case, which aims to establish the difference between aid in dying and assisted suicide. The case is scheduled to go trial in December.
Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultation program provides expert consultation, advice, information and emotional support nationwide for patients and families facing the end of life. All services are free of charge and confidentiality is strictly protected. To request client services or for more information, please call our toll-free number: 800-247-7421.
Photos of Elliott Gould to accompany stories are available upon request by sending an email to:
The full interview with Elliott Gould is available here:
The full interview with Aja Riggs is available here:
The online edition of Compassion & Choices Magazine is available here:
Readers may request a hard copy of the magazine by sending an email to:
Materials for advance healthcare planning are available here: