A Work of Social-Science Fiction

by Ruth von Fuchs


Prologue by the Author

     Like many others who advocate changes to the laws concerning deliberate death, I believe that effective safeguards are necessary. Unlike some others, however, I also believe that such safeguards are possible. If at present you feel somewhat daunted by the task of constructing adequate regulatory measures, I hope that as you read my mini-drama your courage and your resolve will grow - you will come to realize that we can screen out death-wishes which should not be fulfilled because they are based on misunderstandings, faulty information, transitory depression or some other unsound footing. Patricia and her friends want to show you a future world of caring and careful respect, a world that could be the one you live and die in.


PLACE: A small city somewhere in Canada

DATE: November, 2030 A.D.


Patricia Hume, a cancer patient

Douglas Ade, her doctor

Phyllis Cornoff, a psychiatrist connected with the Coroner's office

Stewart Abogado, a social worker from the office of the Public Advocate

Candice Socci, a volunteer with the Cancer Society

Sean Hume, Patricia's son

(Note: Each character's name has been chosen solely because it has some letters in common with words in that character's role description. If the name of a real person has resulted, this is only a coincidence.)


SCENE: Patricia's room, in Sean's house.

Douglas enters, with Phyllis and Stewart.

DOUGLAS: Hello, Patricia. I've brought some company, as I told you I'd be doing. Phyllis here is a fellow doctor, and Stewart is from the Advocate's office.

PATRICIA: Hello. I think you can all find a spot -- at least if you don't mind sitting on the edge of the bed, Douglas.

DOUGLAS: It wouldn't be the first time I had done that.

PATRICIA (smiling): No, it wouldn't.

STEWART: We've read through your written application, Patricia, and what we need to do today is the face-to-face part of the procedure. To start, could you just tell us -- in the words that come to you at this particular moment -- why you think it is time for you to go?

PATRICIA: Well, it really seems that my body is giving me a signal. When I wake up in the morning, I wonder how I am going to get through the day. Everything takes so much effort. When I was healthy, I looked forward to mealtimes with Sean and the boys, but now food doesn't seem worth bothering for, a lot of the time. I look out the window, at the leaves that are shrivelling and falling, and I feel that I am doing the same thing.

DOUGLAS: You need to remember, though, that it hasn't been very long since your chemotherapy finished, and chemotherapy is a harsh experience for a person's body to go through. But it paid off, in your case -- I am very pleased with the results of your latest tests.

PATRICIA: I know, and I was pleased too, when you first told me. But the cancer will probably come back before very long, and that time there will be no putting it off.

STEWART: You say "probably" -- but probability comes in many different strengths. Would you like to talk to someone who has a lot of knowledge about cancer probabilities? And who has also been through chemotherapy herself?

PATRICIA: Well, I suppose it might be interesting.

STEWART: She couldn't come with us, because she is working from her house today. But she has arranged to be on call, and I've brought our portable videoconferencing unit, so you'll have the next best thing. It'll just take me a minute to set up ... there, that looks OK. Her name is Candice Socci.

(to Candice): Hi, Candice, this is Stewart. Are you getting both sound and picture alright? Good. I'd like you to meet Patricia Hume -- she has just finished a course of chemotherapy, so I think the two of you have some memories in common, though in Patricia's case they are more recent than they are in your case.

CANDICE (to Patricia): Hello, Patricia.

PATRICIA (to Candice): Hello. How long ago was it that you had your chemotherapy?

CANDICE: I celebrated my two-year anniversary last Tuesday.

PATRICIA: And did you really celebrate? I can't imagine that I will ever feel like celebrating anything, from now on.

CANDICE: Well, to be honest, this was the first year that I had enough zip to justify the word "celebrate". Last year I was still pretty low.

PATRICIA: You mean, that feeling went on for a whole year, but then things did get better?

CANDICE: Yes, and now it sometimes seems that I can notice a little bit of improvement even from one month to the next.

PATRICIA: But it looks to me as if you are younger than I am, and perhaps you had a different kind of cancer ...

CANDICE: Both those things may be true, and of course no two people are exactly alike, but since I've been volunteering with the Cancer Society I've learned a lot about what the odds are for different kinds of people and different kinds of cancer. Would you like me to come over and talk with you in more detail, maybe leave some books?

PATRICIA: I don't read much these days -- can't seem to concentrate very well -- but I would like to have a longer talk with you. When could you come?

CANDICE: I'm working from home again tomorrow, but I could come on Monday. How would that be?

PATRICIA: It would be fine. I don't go out, so I'll be here.

STEWART: Should I sign the two of you off now?

CANDICE and PATRICIA: Yes, thanks. (Stewart disconnects the equipment.)

PATRICIA: What I said just then -- about not going out -- reminded me of another thing. I used to help Sean by doing a lot of the shopping and cooking and cleaning. But since I got sick I haven't been able to do any of that. In fact the situation now is that instead of lightening his load a bit, I actually add to it. And he has a pretty tough row to hoe, what with running his business and trying to be a good father to two teenage boys. He doesn't need his mother to become his third child.

STEWART: Do you know how Sean feels about all this? Have you talked with him about the problem?

PATRICIA: Well, not in so many words ...

STEWART: Why don't you have a real heart to heart discussion with him? Tell him what you're concerned about, and ask him to do the same. Even when people know each other as well as a mother and son do, sometimes they don't do too good a job of reading each others' minds.

PATRICIA (laughing a little): You're right about that! Yes, I will talk with him.

PHYLLIS: I have an idea about something that could help with the problem, too. There is a medication that might give you more energy -- might even make food taste a little better, and the days seem not so long. Douglas and I will have to compare notes, because he has all the details about what drugs you've taken recently and what you are still taking. But if it looks as though it could fit in, how would you feel about trying it for a while?

PATRICIA: I think I would try almost anything that could give me more energy. Even if it doesn't make me leap out of bed and clean Sean's house from top to bottom, at least it might make me more pleasant company for him.

STEWART: Speaking of your energy -- I think it's time for us to stop using it up. We have taken care of the things we had to cover during our visit; do you have any items left on your agenda?

PATRICIA (somewhat sleepily): Can't think of any ... can't think of much, all of a sudden. You are a perceptive chap - I believe I am due for a little snooze. But it was good of you to come, all of you ...


TIME: The following weekend

SCENE: Same as before (Patricia's room).

Sean enters.

SEAN: Whew. I think they've finally found all their stuff, so the coach won't kick them off the team, though he won't be too happy about their being late for practice again. Now we can have that little talk you said you wanted. What is it about?

PATRICIA: Well, you know that Douglas says my cancer seems to be gone.

SEAN: Yes, and I was very glad to hear it.

PATRICIA: But I am afraid that I may never get my strength back completely -- have to spend most of my time in bed, not be able to do very much in the way of helping you with the house or the boys ...

SEAN: So? After all the years you've spent working hard, you deserve to be a lady of leisure now.

PATRICIA: Think about it, though. What if it goes on the way it has been, with you bringing me all my meals, and having to stay in every evening and every weekend? It's like being a prisoner. I know, because I remember how it was for me when you were a baby.

SEAN: I don't think you were completely a prisoner, were you? I can recall Mrs. Chen, from the corner house, telling me how she used to come over with her baby and look after the two of us so you could have a day downtown; and then you would do the same for her.

PATRICIA: But you can't find a Mr. Chen to bring his mother over here and look after the two of us while you have a night out. It's not the same kind of thing.

SEAN: Aha, it seems that my mother has not lost her sense of humour after all. No, of course it's not the same kind of thing. But that man who came with Douglas on Thursday left a whole bunch of pamphlets describing various services that could be useful for us, and one of them was about something called "respite care". A volunteer would come in for a day or a weekend, and I would show them what they needed to know; then I would be able to go watch one of the boys' games, or maybe even do something a little farther afield.

PATRICIA: Well, it would not be any too soon. You look into that. I really feel that I have been ruining your life.

SEAN (astonished): You what?

PATRICIA: All these months, you've been absolutely trapped here. During business hours, it's your clients; the rest of the time, it's me. And who knows what it's going to get like in the future? I'll probably start taking even more of your time, if I'm still around.

SEAN: And so you've been thinking of not being around?

PATRICIA: As a matter of fact, yes.

SEAN (gently): Oh, Mom ... Look, we both know that the day will come when it's best for you to leave -- but notice that I said "best for you". I am not looking forward to that day at all, believe me, but how I feel about it is beside the point. You must make the decision because of how you feel, not because of how I feel -- or, even worse, how you imagine I feel.

PATRICIA: Actually, I wasn't really sure of how you looked at things ...

SEAN: Well, I'll tell you. When I have to start living in a world that doesn't have you in it any more, that will be one of the hardest things I have ever done. In the meantime I consider myself very fortunate to be able to repay you, even if only in a very small way, for all the tender care you have given me. I will never try to make you stay just for my sake, because you raised me to be a brave and unselfish person. But please promise me that you will not do things just for my sake, either. You must remember that the star of your show is you -- OK?

PATRICIA (laughing and crying at the same time): OK -- I promise. (They hug.)


TIME: Several weeks later.

SCENE: Same as before (Patricia's room).

Patricia is sitting up in bed, reading.
Stewart enters.

STEWART: Hello, Patricia. I've come to tell you the decision on your application.

PATRICIA: Oh, yes. Have a seat. (Stewart pulls a chair up to the side of the bed and sits down.)

STEWART: The application was declined. The main reasons were that --

PATRICIA (interrupting, with a smile): You don't have to go into all the details, if you're having a busy day. The truth is, I was about to retract my application. And even if it had been accepted, I wouldn't have acted on it -- it expires after a certain time, doesn't it? I have decided to wait a while and see how things go.

Those pills that Phyllis prescribed have made me feel quite a bit better. And after talking to Candice I realize that even if my cancer does come back, it may not be until after a fairly long time, and in that time there could be things I really wouldn't want to miss. Maybe I can knock some more of the rough edges off my grandsons.

But if the cancer does come back, and things don't look at all hopeful, Douglas has given me his word that he will be honest with me about my chances. Then I could put in another application, couldn't I?

STEWART: Of course you could. But you won't have to wait until then for a visit from me. I'll be dropping by every once in a while, if there's a new volunteer with the respite program, or maybe just if I want find out how you're doing.

PATRICIA: I will be delighted to see you. But now off you go -- I'm sure there are lots of people waiting for you who need you more than I do.

STEWART (chuckling): I think perhaps you're right. (He clasps her hand, and leaves.)