Eighteen years ago, Dr. Peter Goodwin led the fight to grant Oregonians the right to end-of-life choice. I was honored to work alongside Peter as a co-campaigner and call him a friend. Both as a physician and an advocate, he promoted honesty in facing death. This month he confronted his own approaching death with the same honesty. Terminally ill with a rare, fatal brain disease with no known cure, Peter exercised the right to a peaceful death he helped secure.
Without Peter, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) simply would not exist, nor would our national movement be where it is today. He is a hero of mine. A pioneer for human liberty, Peter had the courage to talk about death openly in a death-denying culture. Though not a political person, he exposed himself to the rough and tumble of the political arena, a sacrifice in service to compassion at the end of life. Even in the face of determined opposition, Peter campaigned tirelessly and never lost faith or focus.
Peter, Elven Sinnard and I were the chief petitioners for the ballot measure that led to the legal aid in dying in Oregon. Peter called his accomplishments as chair of the committee to pass the DWDA in the mid 1990s “the most gratifying of my entire life.” He was instrumental in persuading the Oregon Medical Association to remain neutral in 1994 and assembled physician colleagues to stand in contrast to the Association’s opposition in 1997. After implementation began, Dr. Goodwin helped launch Compassion & Choices of Oregon and became its first Medical Director.
His dedication never flagged. In the past month, knowing he had only weeks of life remaining, he gave generously of his time, granting multiple interviews on his life’s work and the importance of end-of-life choice. Speaking on camera, he talked about his work on aid in dying, and his approaching death.
Peter began medical practice as a surgeon. He ended it as a role model and educator in family practice, promoting healing and growth from the beginning of life to its end. He said no experience was more powerful than interacting with dying patients. Here he talks about abiding by and caring for patients as they approached death.
Even more important than being a great physician, teacher, and human rights leader was Peter’s devotion to family. Erica, his wife of 50 years died in 2008. Peter said, “I will never get over the loss of her presence in my life. If her death had not preceded mine, this decision would be much more difficult.” Just weeks ago, he talked about saying goodbyes.
On Sunday, March 11, 2012, Peter died after taking medication he obtained under the provisions of Oregon law. He was surrounded by his four children and their spouses, and a Compassion & Choices volunteer was with them as well. Much laughter and love surrounded Peter as he spoke his final farewell. His last message to friends and colleagues: “Love abounds.”
We shall miss our dear friend. We draw comfort knowing his life was rich in meaning and filled with love, and that he died on his own terms with courage, grace and dignity. None could ask for more. With sincere gratitude we honor a genuine humanitarian and pioneer for end-of-life liberty, Dr. Peter Goodwin.