August 15, 1995
From Correspondent Dan Rutz
"Nothing will help me," says Peter Gaspar. "Suicide. Death. I want death. You don't know what it's like. I go to bed and hope that I never wake up. But I wake up every morning."
Gaspar lives only to die. Multiple Sclerosis is cheating him out of the prime of his life. But at 41, he could linger for years.
Now, he's joined up with activists who push for political and social change. "We stand to augment people's choice in dying," says Gasper. The Right To Die Society offers a "how to" book of lethal drug combinations and other suicide devices. Some of them are specially designed for the disabled.
But Gaspar is afraid of the do-it-yourself measures. What about the pain? What if he doesn't die? Would he be worse off than now?
Euthanasia has been against the law in most societies through out history. The father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, is said to have condemned it more than 2,000 years ago. The Hippocratic oath that doctors still recite today orders against "giving a deadly drug to any patient."
But the technological revolution has set off a fresh debate weighing quality of life against life at all costs. The same science that helps bring about miraculous recovery for some, keeps others alive who have no prospect for improvement.
Dr. Timothy Quill drew international attention four years ago by prescribing lethal drugs to a patient and telling her how to use them. He broke still another taboo by admitting the whole thing in the pages of a major medical journal.
"From my point of view, that story was not about an assisted suicide," says Quill. "It was about helping an individual make it through a very hard situation in a way that was consistent with her values."
Quill speaks of an all-important bond with his patients. By getting to know them, he says, he can almost walk in their shoes, and see how some might ask him to help them die.
"They need to understand better why you're recommending; you need to understand why they don't want a given treatment. But people do have the right to not have treatments they don't want. That is a settled issue."
Quill took on an unsettled issue when he wrote about helping a patient end her life. It lead to a criminal inquiry but no charges.
He's written since in support of people like Peter Gaspar- imprisoned by disease, sentenced to life.
Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.