Around the time that John West was helping his parents end their lives, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired pathologist from Michigan, was found guilty in 1999 of second-degree murder for his role in assisting suicides.
Kevorkian served eight years of a 10- to 25-year prison sentence. Upon his release from prison in 2007, the 80-year-old claimed to have assisted at least 130 with their suicides.
Assisted suicide, even if intended as an act of mercy, is still considered a crime in most states. Oregon and Washington have legalized it, and a Montana judge's decision to do so is under appeal.
But even in those states, physicians, not family members, are authorized to help carry out the act, by prescribing a dose of lethal pills to terminally ill patients who have been counseled and who have, in some cases, undergone psychiatric evaluations.
"I think assisted suicide is a slippery slope," said Art Kaplan, a medical ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania. "Despite the fact that this story may in a sense pass ethical muster, killing someone is still homicide."
West said he wrote "The Last Goodnights" hoping that it will spur debate about assisted suicide laws.
"I'm saying I don't want you to ever have to do what I did and don't break the law but change the law," he said. "The law needs to be changed."
While helping his parents end their lives was a painful decision, West believes he did the right thing for them.
"I hear them saying, 'Thank you, Johnny.' And I hear them saying, 'Keep up the good work and you're on the right track. We're proud of you.' And I believe it."