In November 1998, John West's father, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, asked him an extraordinary favor: help him commit suicide.
After the tremendous weight of those words settled squarely on West's shoulders, he looked at his father and said the only thing he knew to say, "You got it."
So, on the evening of July 2, 1999, John helped his father take a cocktail of pills. By morning, he was dead. The death was attributed to the cancer, and only West knew better.
Months later, his mother asked West the same devastating favor and, again, he agreed.
For more than a decade, West kept the secrets to himself, not even telling his sisters the role he had played. Now, he is coming out with his side of the story in a book called "The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents With Their Suicides."
Read an excerpt of the book below and check out other books in the "GMA" library by clicking here.
I don't know what my booze bill was for that time, but I'm sure it was big. I had a good reason, though: I had to kill my parents. They asked me to. Actually, they asked me to help them with their suicides, and I did. And if that doesn't justify throwing back an extra glass or three of Jameson's on the rocks, then I don't know what does.
My father was Louis Jolyon "Jolly" West, MD, a world-renowned psychiatrist and former chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, age seventy-four. My mother was Kathryn "K" West, PhD, a respected clinical psychologist at the West Los Angeles (Brentwood) Veterans Administration Hospital, age seventy-five.
Jolly and K were wonderful people—brilliant, academic medical professionals, highly cultured, and well rounded. Neither was at all religious, but both had deep insight into the human condition. They knew what was what. And they knew what they wanted.
So when they made their wishes clear to me, I wasn't about to argue. I respected my father and mother, and I loved them. And I believe, as they did, in freedom of choice, the right to personal privacy and self-determination—which includes reproductive choice (as the law now recognizes, although it didn't used to), the right to refuse medical treatment (as the law now recognizes, although it didn't used to), and the right to choose death with dignity (as the law does not recognize—not yet—although a few states are getting close).
My father's desire to end his life did not shock me, especially since his newly discovered cancer—a particularly vicious type—was literally eating him up and would take him from playing tennis to lying dead in just five months. Should Jolly have been forced to endure a few more days or weeks of agony just to satisfy some people's notions that death should be "natural"?
And what about my mother? K had midstage Alzheimer's disease, plus osteoporosis and emphysema. Should she have been forced to deteriorate into a walking vegetable, soiling herself, wandering into traffic, hunched over like a crab, and coughing up blood, just because some people say that's how it's always been and always should be?
Jolly and K said no. And I agreed.