Lloyd Waters: Dr. Peter Goodwin, an angel of hope

April 07, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

The year was 1970. A gentleman was terminally ill and suffering great pain from his fight with bone cancer. He was tired, with few options left, and knew his life’s journey was coming to an end.

Pain, misery and anguish were his daily companions.

Hope and dignity had left this individual alone to deal with his plight. His family and friends wished for a peaceful ending to this story.

As matters became worse, the man contacted Dr. Peter Goodwin, a family practitioner who worked in Portland, Ore.

The cancer patient asked the doctor for some pills or medicine that would end his suffering and permit him to die with some dignity. He pleaded with the doctor for some help.

Dr. Goodwin was a medical professional who was touched by this request, and he fully understood the man’s predicament and pain.  

He didn’t believe the request to be unreasonable. He wanted to help.

But he also knew that the law prevented him from providing these end-of-life drugs to this individual. He refused to violate that law.

He didn’t prescribe the drugs for the man, but from that day on he became an advocate for the terminally ill in Oregon.

Dr. Goodwin was a fine ethical professional. He enjoyed life with his own family to the fullest. But he was touched in a special way by this man who wanted to put an end to his pain and distress.

Because of the event described above, Dr. Goodwin provoked a discussion in Oregon that would have a profound impact on its citizens. He sought to create some assistance for the terminally ill patient.

He believed that an individual who arrived at the end of his or her journey and wanted to die with some dignity in place should have the opportunity to do just that.

Heroic measures to prolong a life of suffering when the patient desired to go in another direction made little sense to Dr. Goodwin. He believed that an individual should have the “right to choose” his final day on earth if he or she were terminally ill.

Many people have differing opinions on this debate. I respect each one. 

Dr. Goodwin was perhaps one of the first medical pioneers to openly support a doctor-assisted suicide law. He called it simply a “Death with Dignity” Act.

As a result of his efforts, the law was passed by Oregon voters in both 1994 and 1997. As of 2011, some 596 Oregon residents have died with medications prescribed under the Death with Dignity Act. 

Two other states, Washington and Montana, have passed similar legislation.

The story does not end here. Dr. Goodwin and his wife, Erica, were married for 50 years before her death in 2008. They had a good life and that union produced four sons. 

I suspect the Goodwin family, like many common folks, had many special moments together. In 2002, however, Dr. Goodwin was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A few years later, he was told he had a rare and terminal neurological disease. Most recently, his doctors told him he had a prognosis of six months to live. 

Dr. Goodwin then made the same request that the bone cancer patient made to him many years earlier. Only this time, the request for medications to end Dr. Goodwin’s life was granted because of the Oregon law he encouraged for the terminally ill.

On Sunday, March 11, 2012, the doctor, at the age of 83, said his goodbyes and was surrounded by his four sons and their respective families as he administered the dosage of medications that permitted him to die on his own terms.

Because of Dr. Goodwin’s relentless efforts, hope and dignity have returned for those terminally ill patients living in Oregon. 

I wonder if those same two attributes for the terminally ill will ever find their way to Maryland.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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