A Good Death

By Ferry, Carol Bernstein | The Nation, September 17, 2001 | Go to article overview
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A Good Death


Ferry, Carol Bernstein, The Nation


In June, Carol Bernstein Ferry took her own life in the presence of family members, as she had told them she would after receiving a fatal diagnosis. Before she died she wrote an open letter explaining her decision. We publish it as an eloquent statement of the arguments for the "right to die."

--The Editors

If my death can contribute to an understanding of euthanasia, then I want it to do so. That is why I am writing this letter, explaining why I choose to take active steps to end my life rather than waiting for death to come gradually. With this letter I also want to make it clear that, although I have the support and tacit agreement of my children and close friends, no one but myself will take the steps that cause death. It is unfortunate that I must say this; our laws are at a destructive point just now, so if anyone other than myself actually causes my death, that person will be liable to conviction as a felon. What an absurdity! To help someone facing a time--whether short or long--of pain and distress, whose death coming bit by bit can cause major sorrow and anxiety to family and friends, not to mention the medical help, quite useless, that must be expended in order to maintain a bearable level of pain--that this sensible deed can be construed a crime is a blot on our legal system and on our power of thought.

I have known since last June that I am terminally ill. Emphysema, a tumor in my chest and recently a new tumor near my pelvis put it beyond question that I am on the way to death. This seems to me in no way a tragedy--I am, after all, 76 years old--but a natural ending. I don't feel called upon to suffer until the last minute of a creeping death, nor do I want to put my children through such a time, so I am choosing to make a finish while I am still able to function.

I've had a lucky life. I've had a lot of joy; I've had enough sorrow to know that I'm a member in good standing of the human race; I have tried to make myself useful. I have nothing to complain about, certainly not death. I feel lucky now, in that I have been given a somewhat definite span of life ahead. Once the approximate limit of that span--six months to a year from last June--got absorbed into my brain, many problems floated away. I no longer have to worry about death, as it is with me now. Every day is a treat, an extra gift, the positive side of the expression Borrowed Time.

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