As a sophomore in college, Raymond Whiting witnessed his grandfather, who was dying of cancer, pull the IV out of his arm and refuse to let doctors and nurses reinsert it.
After nurses failed to persuade him to accept treatment, a compromise was reached. They taped the IV to his arm, making it appear as though it were in, and let his grandfather die on his own terms.
"That sort of charade really fascinated me and began my wheels turning - making me think why they did this and what this was all about," said Dr. Whiting, a political science professor at Augusta State University and author of his first book, A Natural Right to Die: Twenty-Three Centuries of Debate (2002, Greenwood Press, 222 pages).
While most books dealing with the right to die look at it as a contemporary issue, Dr. Whiting's book focuses on the historical perspective.
He traces the debate back more than 2,000 years, breaking the book into 14 chapters that address attitudes around the world and the American interpretation of natural law.
Dr. Whiting said understanding the history of the issue may help people understand how to resolve it.
"It's not an issue that's going to go away," he said. "I think the only way we can protect innocent life effectively is by legalizing and regulating. Our society seems so committed to the concept of individuality and rights; the idea of someone outlawing (the right to die) and effectively enforcing it is just a nonreality."
To help readers associate real people with the issue, Dr. Whiting includes two interviews.
One is with Jan Grover, a 34-year-old Georgia woman who was 19 when her car was struck head on by a drunken driver while she sat parked in a parking lot. She was in a coma for six months and suffered permanent damage to the part of her brain that controls speech and other motor skills. She told Dr. Whiting she had some awareness of her surroundings during the coma and did not wish to die.
The second interview is with Larry McAfee, a quadriplegic who went to the Georgia Supreme Court and won the right to turn off his respirator.
At 29, Mr. McAfee damaged his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and hooked up to a ventilator. His case went before the Georgia Supreme Court on Nov. 21, 1989, with the court stating that, as a competent adult, Mr. McAfee had "the right to refuse medical treatment in the absence of a conflicting state interest."
Mr. McAfee, who moved to Augusta in 1990 from Tennille, Ga., changed his mind and never exercised his right to die; he died in 1995 at University Hospital due to complications from a severe staph infection, Dr. Whiting said.
The interviews were originally chapters in the book, but were later moved to the appendix at the suggestion of Dr. Whiting's editors.
The book is academic in nature and took four years to research and four years to write. He worked a lot of late nights in his office at ASU.
"I would come home and after all of my kids were in bed, I would leave and go back up there and work until 12:30 or 1 a.m.," Dr. Whiting said. "I spent a lot of weekends up there, too."
Dr. Whiting is already working on a second book on the right-to-die issue, this time from a medical and legal perspective.
A Natural Right to Die is available from Amazon.com for $64.95.
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