End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Dr. Peter Goodwin Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Voices of Compassion > Stories > Dr. Peter Goodwin Leaves a Lasting Legacy

I’m determined that I’m not going to die the way this disease would force me to die, which is in a vegetative state.

I’ve always accepted the idea that if push came to shove and if I qualified for the law, that I would use the law. As far as this disease is concerned, I decided as soon as I knew enough about it. I decided that sooner or later I would be asking my physicians for a six-month prognosis. And they have accepted that, all three of them, and so I have a six-month prognosis, and I have the medication in my possession.

Erica, my wife of fifty years died in October of 2008, and 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.

Erica and Peter
Erica and Peter

Very recently, about three or four weeks ago, the neurologist who is looking after me and also agreed with the six-month prognosis said to me, “Peter, I don’t want you to do anything impulsively.” So I thought to myself, if it’s a concern of his, maybe it’s a concern of my children. So I checked it all out with each one of them in turn. And each one of them was very reassuring and said when you decide that you have come to the end of your life, that will be the time that we’ll accept that you have come to the end of your life. So that really reassured me from the point of view of my being impulsive, and in any case it would be very difficult for me to be impulsive. I have to get this whole group of people together. The people who are involved say to me, “Well, I’m going to be away from so-and-so to such-and-such. I hope that will be okay by you.” So in a sense, it’s given me an incentive to not let them down. If they want to be here, I think to myself well, she’s going to be away until the 15th of March: I can’t allow anything to happen until the 15th of March, you see. And I’ll be prepared to accept some of the limitations that I said I might have difficulty accepting. In order to get the group together, I could put up with that just for a little time.

All four of my children know that I’m going to take advantage of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. They are all regretful but supportive, and so are their spouses. Of course I’ll miss them all terribly, and I feel as though I’ve been robbed of 8 or 10 years of my life. I’ve already said goodbye to the five grandchildren, all grandsons. And that was a tearful event, I can assure you.

I’ve tried to visualize what it will be like. It will be a very, very sorrowful time, and I’m not looking forward to it. But I am glad to be doing it my way, on my terms. One of the most important things I have learned about the experience is that these important end-of-life decisions are at the core of human liberty. I have had to learn to live—and end—my life as a person, not a physician. This is not about lawyers. This is not about physicians. This is not about politics. This is about real people. People facing the end of their lives with dignity. I am glad to be a part of that legacy.

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