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October 13, 1985|JULIA BRAUN KESSLER

LAST WISH by Betty Rollin (Linden: $14.95). Ida Rollin chose death. Not over life, but over suffering and pain. At 76, wracked with terminal ovarian cancer, she had fought hard with every known medical method of cure. During chemotherapy, she had become pathetically frail, her hair had fallen out, she found herself unable to eat or drink because of an intestinal blockage, was subject to violent retching, and lost control of her bowels. In anguish, she confessed to her daughter, "I've had a wonderful life, but now it's over, or should be. I am not afraid to die but I am afraid of this illness and what it is doing to me," and then added in her ever-cheerful, businesslike way, "There's no point in a slow death, none. I've never liked doing things with no point. I've got to end this." Betty Rollin, a former ABC and NBC news correspondent for Nightline, and author of "First You Cry" (a book about her own bout with breast cancer), agreed, and set about, with the help of her husband, Harold Edwards, a mathematics professor at New York University, who had himself watched his own mother suffer a languishing death, to put a prompt end to her mother's agony. Rollin researched the problem with professional zeal, as thoroughly as she might approach any TV docudrama, making countless calls across the country and abroad to find sympathetic doctors willing to help her find the right combination of sleeping pills that would induce her mother's quick and painless death. Planning the moment to its last detail, the couple were themselves suffering from agonies of doubt and guilt. (Rollin even remarks at one point about a new comprehension of what criminals must experience.) Yet Betty Rollin's account of each calculated step leaves us reeling in admiration at her overpowering love and devotion to her mother, and her unflagging courage in this drastic act. Most controversial of all, perhaps, will be her candid recitation of the exact recipe she discovered for suicide. Conceivably, it could be picked up by depressed people in search of a way out. Still, this relentless story could hardly have held back even these terrible details.

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