"I understand." He smiled. "Can you tell me why you might want that option?"

My mother glanced over at me and I nodded encouragingly. "I'm 75. I've had Parkinson's since my 50s, and as I'm sure you know, it's a degenerative disease. Things have gotten much harder for me in the last year—even walking is getting difficult. I've belonged to a Parkinson's support group for years. Several of the people in my group have died. Friends of mine. They were in very bad shape at the end. Completely helpless, really. I don't want to go through that."

"Let me ask you something," Dr. Harmon said, leaning forward. "Would you say you're depressed?"

"No." My mother gave a little toss of her head, as if to demonstrate her point. "I do feel lonely sometimes. My husband died a few years ago and my children live in other cities. But I have friends and I don't believe I'm depressed."

He turned to me. "How about you? Do you think your mother is depressed?"

I wanted to say, "Yes, of course she's depressed. Why else would she be talking to you about ending her life?" But I simply said, "No, I guess not. I would say my mother's unhappiness is pretty reasonable given her situation."

"Okay." Dr. Harmon placed both his hands on his knees with a brisk slap, as if getting ready to rise. "You've come to get a prescription for Seconal. Am I right?"

"Yes," my mother said, the word exploding out of her as if she'd been holding her breath. "That's exactly right."

"Good. I'll write it for you and you can get it filled today if you wish. Wait a couple of months and then get it refilled. Your third refill should be two months after that. We don't want to alarm the pharmacist. In the end, you'll have 60 pills, plenty to cause death. If you have any other questions, I'm happy to answer them."

My mother looked over at me, clearly pleased, but I felt a strong urge to argue with the charming doctor. "Um, well, I have a question," I said, avoiding my mother's gaze. "I'm not exactly clear how you make the decision to give—or not give—someone a prescription for Seconal."

"That's an excellent question," he said, sitting back in his chair and giving me his crinkly-eyed smile. "I don't give prescriptions to everyone, but your mother is dealing with a very serious disease that, as she knows, is going to worsen over time. And I don't believe she should have to live any longer or suffer any more than she herself wants to."

I nod at the doctor, still wary.
Zoe's mother at age 6, with her father.


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