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Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.

Thursday's Connector of the Day: John West

March 28th, 2010
10:34 PM ET

For ten years, attorney John West kept a secret about his mother and father from everyone - including his own sisters.

In a memoir called "The Last Goodnights", he reveals for the first time that he helped his terminally ill parents commit suicide - a crime in the state of California, where the deaths took place.

His father, Jolly West, a world renowned psychiatrist was diagnosed with cancer in 1998 and was told he only had months to live.

That same year, his wife Kay, a psychologist learned she had Alzheimer's.

In January 1999, West helped his father end his life. Six months later he agreed to help his mother do the same.

Today, West reveals that he still believes he did the right thing.

West is currently in the process of preparing an intense lobbying effort in various state legislatures where issues of patients’ rights, especially Death With Dignity, are being debated and decided.

The Last Goodnights Organization is the support arm for his efforts in this regard.

West also maintains a confidential consulting service, to help people who are facing (or who have already faced) the issues addressed in "The Last Goodnights".

We want to know what you think.

Should people be able to help their loved ones end their life in certain situations? Should assisted suicide be considered a crime?

Please leave your comments and questions below and please remember to tell us where you're writing from.

soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Dennis

    From Canada
    John West did a compassionate ,reasonable, heartbreaking service by any caring person for his mother and father. No normal person would prefer that anyone to suffer needlessly. One has the right to decide what their own fate should be! It should not be a crime to assist loved ones end.
    It would not be a crime except for the religious zealots who peddle the lie of afterlife or a God!.

    March 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Reply
  2. Viking

    ABSOLUTELY!! Its definitly about time, no more desperate lonely painful anxious deaths, its inhumane.

    March 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  3. Halifax89

    For those who argue "It is Gods will when we die" etc: How can you say this when you use medicine to stay alive or stave off further complications? Surely it is God's will you die from your infection, or whatever ails you! Perhaps it is God's will that someone DOES take their life. You do not/ can not know the situation, and it is incredibly pretentious of someone to think otherwise

    March 28, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  4. puttosleep

    We treat are ailing pets more humanely than people. Assisted suicide should not be a crime. If i should get to a point in my life where i was in constant pain, facing an undignified end, or was completely lacking in quality of life.... let me go. It is my life.

    March 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  5. Lance

    All our lives, we are controlled more and more by rules, regulations and governments. The last right we have is the right to choose whether or not to live in pain. Our decision not to go on is the one thing no one else can or should be able to decide for us. We are not state property!

    March 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  6. Jurgen R. Brul

    Hello John West and CNN friends,

    God gives and God takes
    (Source: Bible, Job 1 verse 21)

    I would like an answer from John West to the following questions:
    – What is your opinion on the latest health reform legislation of the United States of America?
    – What can we expect from you and the Last Goodnights Organization in 2010?
    – How are you inspiring people all over the world to make our world a Better Healthier and Beautiful Place?

    I am awaiting John West’s replies.

    Greetings,
    Jurgen R. Brul
    Hometown: Paramaribo
    Country: Suriname
    Latin-American

    March 28, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Reply
  7. Jorge

    Assisted suicide should be legal and should be regulated in the same way say, divorce, is.

    March 28, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  8. Viking

    1. Should people be able to help their loved ones end their life in certain situations?

    >> ABSOLUTELY!! Its definitly about time, no more desperate lonely painful anxious deaths, its inhumane.

    2. Should assisted suicide be considered a crime?
    >> NO!!!!

    If anything is a crime its that its not a legal human right to have a peaceful loving death CHOISE without this cold sterile deathanxiety and drama, like its forbidden to have a good death... Now its very few choises in regards to that we have 5 senses, not just being a package of flesh who should make as little fuss as possible and just be 'a good SILENT PATIENT' when we are CARE TAKERS til the last breath... where is the care?

    ... the moment of 'departure' should be as calm as possible, with options of music, visuals and other means of help to make it a dignified and honourable experience. Its horrible as it is today.

    Just as a moment of birth/inhale, should be as comfortable and considerate as possible, so should the moment of the body going to rest/exhale..

    March 28, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  9. Jason Wu

    If we can make that into a law as an option of choice by the family it will save the pain for both, especially from the healthy family members. And it is more economy as a whole.

    From Beijing China

    March 28, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  10. Sara Jane Rybarczyk

    I believe that if someone chooses to end his/her life, it is his/her right. It is a sad thing, but a true sign of love that a friend or relative would help someone in misery unable to help themselves. Obviously this is a very complicated situation, but if someone is unable to deal with the pain anymore and begs to die, who are we to say no? It is sad when people kill themselves, but I do not believe it to be a sin or something horrible – just sad that someone was that miserable and unhappy. We should do more to help people before it gets to this point instead of debating this issue and trying to crucify those trying to put someone out of his/her pain.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:02 am | Reply
  11. PB JONES

    Absolutely NOT!!! nobody has the right to take a life......NOT the state, through execution-Death penalty.. NOT the military......NOT the surviving loved one.....
    'WHY DO WE KILL PEOPLE WHO KILL PEOPLE, TO SHOW THAT KILLING PEOPLE IS WRONG'

    March 29, 2010 at 12:30 am | Reply
  12. Mel

    Yes it should be considered a crime. Until the whole of society agrees to it and it is done under controlled conditions, every assisted suicide that has be done unbeknownst to the public must be considered suspicious. Can you imagine the dozens, hundreds of "assisted suicides" that could take place against the will of the patients? "Oh, they were in so much pain, so I help to end their lives" How do we know he didn't do it to profit from it somehow? Perhaps he did it out of filial love, but others may not be so loving......
    In conclusion: no, it shouldn't be done until it is the law of the land, and then only when done by a doctor in the presence of a lawyer or the authorities.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:42 am | Reply
  13. Mel

    " ..every assisted suicide that has BEEN done ...." Sorry!

    March 29, 2010 at 12:43 am | Reply
  14. Oregon Veterinarian

    I have not read "The Last Goodnights".
    I am an Oregonian where assisted suicide is legal and welcome. It has not been abused as the Church and ultra-conservatives would have had us believe when the issue was brought to the public for a vote. In fact the stories that do make it to the media show a very compassionate use of the procedure. I am also a veterinarian and am asked to perform pet euthanasias several times a week. When my day of reckoning comes I will work it out with the Lord. I don't need the Church or politicians being my moral compass.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:48 am | Reply
  15. Jen Brown

    I can't help but wonder why his parents required assistance. Perhaps I should read the book... Nevertheless, I believe it should be legalized, however the law would have to be extremely clear on how that is to be done. A man's wife is found dead in her bed, he could argue that he helped her to commit suicide when in reality it was a homicide. So lawyers, psychiatrists and such would need to get involved with every case to ensure that the person is of sound mind before they sign away their life on a very lengthy contract, absolving their "assistant" of any wrong-doing.

    March 29, 2010 at 1:01 am | Reply
  16. Robert Brackney

    Writing from Mexico. It is a far greater crime to let a terminally ill person suffer more and more than to allow him or "go gently into that good night."

    March 29, 2010 at 1:38 am | Reply
  17. Robert Brackney

    It is a far greater crime to allow a terminally ill person to suffer more and more every day than to allow him or her to "go gently into that good night."

    March 29, 2010 at 1:39 am | Reply
  18. harvey

    The thought of dying does not bother me. The prospect of intense pain for me, the suffering of those who love me, having doctors cutting me open, pounding on my chest in front of my love ones for the express purpose of avoiding a law suit infuriates me.

    My wife and I have agreed that their will be no prolonging of life at the end and I give no one the right to take control of me to put their beliefs above mine

    March 29, 2010 at 1:43 am | Reply
  19. Rick

    no it should not be a crime

    March 29, 2010 at 1:53 am | Reply
  20. Evonne

    If i were dying of cancer or Alzheimer's, I would also like someone to help me end it.
    Either way, these two were going to suicide whether Mr. West helped them or not. At least this way, they didn't die "alone" and had someone who loved them with them.

    March 29, 2010 at 1:54 am | Reply
  21. Karen Muller

    I am personally for assisted suicide. Who wants to "live" in name only? If QUALITY of LIFE means nothing, I don't want to live.

    March 29, 2010 at 2:28 am | Reply
  22. murat

    A man should be allowed to die with dignity...Why can't we show the repect to our fellow human beings that we extend to our pets when they are suffering?

    March 29, 2010 at 2:40 am | Reply
  23. Sara

    I don't think it is a crime. If someone wants to end their life which they already know is on borrowed time then having their death and last moments be with someone who loved them is the humane thing to do. Life is choice and if someone chooses to end it then it should be a free choice to make not a regulated choice.

    March 29, 2010 at 2:47 am | Reply
  24. Isaac

    I believe assisted suicide is a crime. The big problem is how do you distinguish between the ones that actually know what their asking for and the ones that are too mentally handicapped to know.

    Isaac, USA

    March 29, 2010 at 2:50 am | Reply
  25. AV

    I don't see it as illegal, but in order to not let it spiral away into insane killing sprees, it should be legalized with strict rules and done in a completely transparent and humane way. We cannot control our circumstances of birth, at least respect a person's last wishes.

    March 29, 2010 at 2:55 am | Reply
  26. Evan L. Lehman, M.D.

    Death with dignity is important. When the end of life, or the end of a reasonable quality of life, is near, it should be legal for that person to obtain means to terminate himself/herself in a dignified and comfortable manner.

    We live in a time when technology can fight off pneumonia, "the old person's friend", or keep the heart beating and the lungs functioning, even though the person may never again be conscious. By definition, that is "living", but the person no longer has reasonable control over his destiny. Nature, or Higher Power, forbid that such should happen to me.

    For those who feel they have reached a point at which reasonable quality of life is leaving or is soon going to leave, I sincerely believe suicide is a valid choice, and that assistance to achieve it should be legally available. Whether I, as a physician, would be willing to assist someone, I do not know. However, I would want suicide as a choice for myself.

    March 29, 2010 at 2:58 am | Reply
  27. Stephen

    I believe if you are terminally ill you have a right to have yourself put out of that pain. We treat animals more humanly than we do people. Doctors are the only ones getting rich off of us trying to keep us alive even while we're on our dead bed.

    March 29, 2010 at 3:04 am | Reply
  28. Fifi Haroon

    The real question is, where should the power to make the fatal decision lie? Should the choice be based on individual self- assessment or should the decision be handed over to state “suicide tribunals” as suggested by Euthanasia activist Sir Terry Pratchett?

    March 29, 2010 at 3:27 am | Reply
  29. Kate

    I ABSOLUTELY think that assisted suicide, for terminally ill patients, should be legal. Just because a person is terminally ill does not mean that they can no longer decide for themselves. Regardless of age, if a person is dying and wants to speed up the process, they have every right to decide that for themselves. If I live to see a ripe old age, and am dying of a painful disease, you better believe that I want the right to choose to stop living. I don't see how this country allows a woman to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy (and going off of the pro-life argument, terminate a life) but would not allow that same woman to choose whether or not to terminate her own life, if she were terminally ill.

    March 29, 2010 at 3:41 am | Reply
  30. Justin

    Absolutely. It's just an issue of property rights. It's your body, your life, the government shouldn't tell you what to do with it so long as it doesn't affect someone else's rights.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:29 am | Reply
  31. Marten Visserr

    Leaving this world voluntarily is the greatest insult you can make to it and everybody in it. Therefore it saps the vitality of the whole human community. So helping to commit suicide is an anti-social act that needs to be prosecuted.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:40 am | Reply
  32. greenteagod

    It shouldn't be a crime, and there should be a cheap and easy way to do it (cheaper than a bullet at least, and easier to clean up). I have complete respect for people who realize they're terminally ill and don't want to go through any further agony.

    I'd extend the "benefit" to the clinically depressed as well. It would save a lot of money vs therapy and would help weed out the weak minded and weak willed.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:48 am | Reply
  33. Michelle M

    I feel strongly that while family members should, of course, be able to be in the room, doctors should be the only ones allowed to perform assisted suicide. If family members are allowed to, it could potentially open the door for murder to look like assisted suicide. It's the patient's choice, and request, to die, it's their right to decide, but I don't think that common citizens should be able to administer fatal drugs, doctors should.

    March 29, 2010 at 5:50 am | Reply
  34. John

    Certainly, it should be legal – as suicide should be legal. It doesn't really matter if it is legal or not because laws will not stop it. It is just a pity that someone left behind might face legal actions after already suffering so much.

    March 29, 2010 at 5:53 am | Reply
  35. Mary Lou Furstnau

    I believe that terminally ill people have the right to die with dignity and in good conditions, and that there is a time for that.
    I assisted suicide is not a crime, it is horrible to see a person we love suffering day after day, when there is no hope for recovey.

    March 29, 2010 at 6:12 am | Reply
  36. Anthony

    If we see a guy tied to a guarded burning stake,should we shoot an arrow through his heart?

    March 29, 2010 at 6:40 am | Reply
  37. Muhammadu Buhari

    How can someone say he assist in his parents death and still be proud.

    March 29, 2010 at 6:56 am | Reply
  38. KP

    When there is so much pain and death is imminent, how is it humane to put a dog to sleep, however it is not humane to do this to a human? After seeing many family members have a slow and painful end, due to cancer, I believe in euthanasia. Anyone who does not, has either not been in this situation or is too selfish simply because they are not willing to let go. If you are in this situation, I am sorry my comments are so blunt and I pray you find comfort soon.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:04 am | Reply
  39. irma reyes

    Helping your loved ones end their lives in certain situations is the right and humane thing to do. This will be totally accepted in the near future.
    It doesn't matter how many people object to this, or on what grounds or beliefs they do so, this step forward won't be stopped.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:31 am | Reply
  40. Louise

    In this day and age, where so many countries are experiencing freedom, it shouldn't be a question whether anyone can take his/her own life, in whatever way he/she would like to do it. It shouldn't make a difference whether that someone is mentally-disturbed (What is mentally-disturbed?) or whether the doctor "Gods" have decided that that someone will die soon or not (No one knows, in fact). We should be allowed to decide when we want to leave this world.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:41 am | Reply
  41. Tim

    Yes a crime....

    What is murder? Taking a life.

    What is suicide? Taking a life. it is therefore murder....

    What is assited suicide? Helping someone take a life.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:55 am | Reply
  42. Fauxpas

    Good morning from Germany!

    First of all, let me say that I am pro-euthanasia ("a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering"), if, and that's a big if, there are the right laws and regulations for it.

    Ending a life that is only about pain anymore in my opinion is a good thing. The question that occurs to me, however, is, if euthanasia (aka "The Last Goodnights") is to be legal, how would governmental institutions control it? Who is to decide, not personally involved, whether a life may end or not? How will you measure "suffering"?

    As you might see, even though I said I am pro euthanasia, I still struggle to say "Yes, please legalize it immidiately!" for it's such a hot topic.

    Please forgive me for my grammatical mistakes, not a native speaker here.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:57 am | Reply
  43. Etai

    People who are of sound mind and otherwise qualified to make decisions should be allowed to choose to end their own life. Furthermore, under certain circumstances (including terminal cancers and degenerative brain disease, as above) I believe that family/friends/physicians should be allowed to help that person find the end that they choose.

    Any legal system which allowed this would have to ensure the safety of citizens/patients by requiring psychological screening and third party confirmation of the patient's wishes so that we know people aren't trying to get away with murder.

    March 29, 2010 at 8:13 am | Reply
  44. Sunday G.B.

    Without any compromise, assisted suicide is murder. I believe no body has a right to end another's life (apart from capital punishment by law), rather we should do all that is in our means to help ailing loved ones at least provide palliative care whenever possible.

    March 29, 2010 at 8:21 am | Reply
  45. Kulebrero

    Yes, people should be able to help their loved ones end their lives with dignity. Watch "The Suicide Tourist" at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/. That's exactly how I'd like to go. Like the main character in the documentary reasons at one point, we'll have two choices: "If I go through with it, I die, as I must at some point. If I don't go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer and to inflict suffering on my family and then die - possibly in a way that is considerably more stressful and painful than this way. So I've got death, and I've got suffering and death."

    March 29, 2010 at 8:40 am | Reply
  46. clara malawi

    Yes to help your loved one to commit suicide is a very big crime because GOD made people for a purpose. This people needs to be punished
    because they are killers. If somebody can manage to his mother or father what about with local people they are heartless pls punish them.

    Thanks

    clara

    March 29, 2010 at 8:42 am | Reply
  47. Milos

    I have ill parents...
    My grandmother died of cancer in 2000...
    I loved her more than anyone in this world, and that horrible disease tortured her for six months.
    She wanted to die, but couldn't...
    Since then, I realized how terminal diseases are terrible.
    If my parents would have serious cancers, I'd help them with suicide.
    It is more human than to watch them die little every day, and there is no way to help them.
    I have schizotypal personality disorder, and my view of world is different, so I may be wrong.
    But I'm sure that everyone who loved someone who died of cancer will understand me....

    March 29, 2010 at 9:23 am | Reply
  48. Lant Lee

    Absolutely yes,asisting others to suicide is actually a crime.

    However,it is also certain that it is a huge sacrifice.

    Ending other's pain, and living in pains during his rest lifetime.

    March 29, 2010 at 9:36 am | Reply
  49. Jim

    If an individual, or even a military organization in wartime forces someone to undergo prolonged physical or mental suffering, it is called torture, and it's a crime. But in most states it's a crime to RESCUE someone from such suffering, and it's permitted or even required for doctors and family to impose such torture through "medical" intervention.

    That's a very strange "ethic" or "morality".

    March 29, 2010 at 10:16 am | Reply
  50. Robert from Zurich

    Well its legal here in Switzerland !!

    March 29, 2010 at 10:26 am | Reply
  51. Cassy

    I have to agree. We should all have the right to choose not only when we die, but how, and with dignity. The real crime is all of these govenmental agencies who have no idea of the individual circumstances of individual cases rendering blanket legal decisions.

    March 29, 2010 at 10:29 am | Reply
  52. Willow

    From Canada. My brother had a terminal illness. The medical team suggested that they increase the morphine to ease the pain, but told the family that by increasing the morphine this will cause his heart to stop within a short time. Isn't this legally assisted suicide ?

    March 29, 2010 at 10:29 am | Reply
  53. Barbara

    My father was diagnosed with ALS in 2001. Luckily, he lived in Oregon and had the option of assisted suicide. For him, quality of life was much more important than quantity of life. He did not want to end up immobile, relying on others for all his needs and in a mental fog from pain medicines. The fact that he had the option of assisted suicide gave him much peace and honestly, I think he fought longer and harder than if it was not an option. His doctors were all very respectful and helpful and the State support network was phenomenal for my mother. He chose when to make his exit. He did it with dignity and tranquility. I consider that a blessing.

    After watching that process I cannot consider assisted suicide a crime.

    March 29, 2010 at 11:05 am | Reply
  54. Mike

    It is a crime. Terminally-ill patients represent a significant revenue stream for the medical community, and it is unfair to deprive them of the revenues they need for their families. They need to keep people technically-alive for as long as possible, the suffering of consumers is a secondary concern.

    March 29, 2010 at 11:50 am | Reply
  55. lynn shelley

    As a Christian, I believe that only God should decide when we are to die. Jesus healed people, and I have no qualms about our use of medicines today, but when these and prayer fails to cure, God is the final decider of our death.
    From a purely human perspective, the law on abrtion was supposed to allow abortion within certain strict guidelines. These have been stretched out of all recognition, so that abortion is available almost on demand. I have grave doubts about assisted suicide – that what seems reasonable now, will again result in euthanasia on a grand scale within a fairly short time.
    My own mother faced suffering and death within a short timescale. Had we accepted what we thought was a short and painful life span and ended her life out of what would have deemed to be compassion, we would all have missed 20 months when she was well enough to enjoy being alive. At the end of every dat she thanked God for a wonderful day, even when, in eyes, it had been anything but.

    March 29, 2010 at 11:53 am | Reply
  56. Angie

    I don't believe assisted suicide is a crime but, as others have stated, it needs proper oversight.

    My father decided to end his life at the age of 81. He'd lived a great life but was in tremendous physical pain and had no desire to go on living. If he'd come to me for help, I would have tried to honor his wishes, but he didn't want to burden any of us in that sense. After the initial shock, I am now at peace and have admiration and respect for his decision.

    Sadly, not all people are able to take matters into their own hands. There should be a humane and legitimate process that families can utilize, without guilt, in assisting their loved ones. (From California.)

    March 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  57. Sarah

    I would have agreed with some of you, that assisted suicide was a crime. My Mom was a victim of cancer and lay in a hospital crying to have her pain and her life ended. It was more heartbreaking than anything I have ever experienced. She is now at peace. Last week I faced the death of my dog who also had cancer. I held her in my arms and she simply went to sleep, no pain, not a whimper. I am still overwhelmed that I could not have done the same for my mother. I've seen it and if anyone who objects to assisted suicide could walk in my shoes , they would easily change their minds.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  58. Keira

    I think that if the person is of sound body & mind at the moment they make the decision, we should respect their wish. It's their decision & one that it's personal to each & every single person. We can't sit here & pass judgment.

    Having said that I'd like to ask Mr. West, after your parents passed, what was your thought process? How do you reconcile what society determines to be right/wrong to what you believe is the right thing w/ something as permanent as death?

    Thanks,

    Keira
    NY

    March 29, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  59. fionnuala jackson

    I just cought the show and interveiw... i was very moved..
    And i would like to say it takes a lot of love and compassion to be perform such a task..
    i admire your courage and see the sincerity in your eyes..
    and i would do the same anything to stop the pain of a loved one!
    so i admire you and looking forword to read your book!

    sincerly fabi

    April 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  60. elena

    no it should not be a crime
    http://www.bilge-kagan.org

    April 3, 2010 at 2:38 am | Reply
  61. elena

    The real question is, where should the power to make the fatal decision lie? Should the choice be based on individual self- assessment or should the decision be handed over to state “suicide tribunals” as suggested by Euthanasia activist Sir Terry Pratchett?
    http://www.bilge-kagan.org

    April 3, 2010 at 2:39 am | Reply
  62. Thelma

    If you could confront anyone from your past, who would it be and why?

    April 11, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Reply

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