Wide Angle

Terrible, Painless, and Peaceful

Author Amy Bloom discovers that saying goodbye forever can be an act of love.

Mosaic comprising the cover of Amy Bloom's "In Love"
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Random House.

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Gabfest Reads is a monthly series from the hosts of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast. This month, David Plotz talks with author Amy Bloom about her journey to support the death, by suicide, of her husband, chronicled in her new book In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss.

This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

David Plotz: I must compliment you on this book. It is extremely funny, in a very grim way, about how difficult it is to try to help someone kill themselves in the United States. Can you talk about why? I would think you could just get a bunch of fentanyl. What’s the problem with getting a bunch of fentanyl?

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Amy Bloom: It’s really, really hard to get in America. That fact doesn’t have great press. Not that I didn’t feel that I wouldn’t be equipped to go make a successful drug buy, you know, in some corner of some city in Connecticut, but nobody was having it. Nobody was selling it. There’s also, of course, the issue that if you’re buying a drug illegally it may not be the drug that you thought it was and things can go horribly awry.

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I also should say that it wasn’t Brian’s wish to take his own life (although he understood that that might be necessary). It was his wish to die peacefully…and with me holding his hand.

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You ended up in Switzerland. What’s in Switzerland?

So what’s in Switzerland is Dignitas, which is a nonprofit organization. There are actually now two of them. There’s Dignitas and there’s Pegasos (which started as a sort of offshoot from the people from Dignitas). They’re very similar. You become a member. And then, should you wish to avail yourself of their services, you send them a biographical statement and your medical records, and they assess those. Then there are several phone calls, and then, if you get a provisional green light, you go to Zurich and you have two medical interviews.  All along the way, and especially once you get to Zurich, the doctors are constantly saying, “Are you sure? Is this what you want to do? Please feel free to change your mind,” And “At any time, we will be very supportive if you change your mind.”

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After the second interview, assuming that goes well, and they are reassured of your cognitive judgment and of your discernment, you go to a small apartment in a sort of industrial suburb, and you take an antiemetic and then you take the medication, which is sodium pentobarbital (also something very, very hard to get in the United States). You fall into a light sleep, and then a deep sleep, and then you pass. And…it was terrible, but it was painless and it was peaceful…and we got to hold hands.

To listen to David Plotz’s full interview with author Amy Bloom, subscribe to the Slate Political Gabfest on Apple Podcasts, or listen below.

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