As society changes, its citizens must examine their own beliefs, morals, and values. Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in a few states. Usually one thinks about the suffering of the terminally ill when considering physician-assisted suicide. But what about the values and feelings of doctors being asked to assist? Or the nurses, or caregivers in the facilities housing the patient, or the next door neighbor? Where do their values and thoughts enter in? In The Dignified Death of Joseph Sherman, Robert Lawrence explores this controversial issue from a variety of viewpoints, never giving the "right" answer, but presenting all sides, leading the reader to more thoroughly examine his/her own opinion.
The Dignified Death of Joseph Sherman is set in a prison where Mr. Sherman is a convicted murderer. Having a terminal illness, Mr. Sherman demands physician-assisted suicide in accordance with the laws of his state. Presenting this issue from the viewpoints of the prisoner, the prison doctor who will prescribe the lethal dosage, the nurse who cares for Mr. Sherman, the warden who is responsible for the safety of all prisoners, the chaplain, and the victims' families, Dr. Lawrence weaves a mesmerizing story with compelling characters. They each have their own thoughts about the procedure and their role in it, whether forced or voluntary. Although the setting is a prison, this issue has far-reaching ramifications in today's society. This story and how physician-assisted suicide affects members of society will remain in one's thoughts long after the book is closed.
Virginia Degnan, Ed.D.
I absolutely loved your book. I'm ready to say, "Movie!"
Your introduction and development of each character is superb and comes together perfectly for a suspenseful ending.
Avalyn introduced us to character pathology in her nurse's rounds then evolved into the right person to mirror our angst.
Dr. Brandt excellently portrayed the desire to live in the theoretical and then "wash his hands" of the practical implications. No doubt physicians will see the danger of practicing both white and black magic if the price is right; the real cost will be loss of respect, trust, and confidence.
The pivotal points of the issue were nicely drawn from philosophy, ethics, and worldview to illustrate that our states of mind can have unintended and unavoidable consequences. I think this book will be eye-opening for some who do not wish to see. For others it gives coherence to what they sense but cannot articulate.
I liked the way the definition of "dignity" was challenged. The secular worldview often turns words upside down in a futile effort to relativize reality. Dignity, courage, integrity, humility, credibility, the greatest good, all foundational to wise living were woven artfully in the narrative, rightside up.
I think this deserves a wide distribution and the timing is right to advance the discussion.
Ken Mueller, Ph.D.
Gifted teachers are effective translators. They decode abstract concepts with familiar words and descriptive images.
R. T. Lawrence, by way of a contemporary allegory, has effectively translated the ethical concerns incumbent to the end of life in his novel The Dignified Death of Joseph Sherman.
From the opening page of the manuscript, Lawrence allows the words of Margaret Mead to define the issue that begs for discussion.
“Society always is attempting to make the physician a killer---to kill the defective child at birth, to leave the sleeping pills beside the bed of the cancer patient…it is the duty of society to protect the physician from such requests.” (page xi)
Skillfully, Lawrence leads us through the sally port of a maximum security prison, and then bolts the door behind us for twenty-four hours. In the course of that one day, his readers confront a cascade of conflicting choices triggered by Joseph Sherman, who, in spite of his incarceration, exercises his legal right for physician assisted termination of his life.
With metered dialogue, Lawrence permits his characters to introduce themselves: the insensitive Dr. Brant; Nurse Avalyn Robbins, conflicted by uncertainty; Franz Vatel, the pragmatic security officer; Boxer, Blaine and the resourceful inmates of Echo mod; Joseph Sherman, imprisoned by the consequence of his choices. Each one views the end of life from a different perspective, and that collection of bias allows Lawrence to present a balanced consideration of duty and responsibility sealed within the physician-patient relationship.
Initially, the reader is permitted to stand back as an observer, but as the characters become fully dimensional, Lawrence draws us into the debate, challenging us to measure our personal responses to the questions raised. Who wields control as we approach the end of life? How does the decision of one caregiver impact the responsibility of another? When do civil mandates cross ethical boundaries?
Tactfully, Dr. Lawrence walks us through the penal community without distracting us with a stereotypical portrayal of wanton life behind bars. His convicted respect for life, regardless of circumstances, stems from his background of service as Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska Department of Corrections and from his life-long involvement in third-world medical missions.
For readers looking for a bit of intrigue and suspense, the denouement will offer an unexpected conclusion. However, for the audience willing to linger and join the discussion fueled by the demands of Joseph Sherman, the story is just beginning.
- Michael Justus, MD