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TV Review

Right-to-Die Issue at Heart of 'Goodbye?'

September 01, 1997|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling that states may continue to ban doctor-assisted suicide, the "right to death" issue is very much unresolved. That ethical, spiritual and humanitarian dilemma is what fuels tonight's disturbing Lifetime movie "Time to Say Goodbye?"

And beautiful, layered performances by its two stars--Richard Kiley as Gerry, a doctor with Alzheimer's who wants to die with dignity, and Eva Marie Saint as Ruth, his beloved wife--make the film more than just another sincere "issue" drama.

Written by Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler and directed by David Jones, the story revolves around a bitter custody battle that divides a family when son Chip (Rick Roberts) takes legal action to "protect" his father from his mother.

Sanctimonious ("suicide is the voice of evil") and weaselly--when he gains custody, he dumps his father into the care of his 76-year-old mother-in-law--Chip accuses his mother of wanting to "murder" her husband.

None of the other adult children in the family can agree to their father's stated wish that he be allowed to die when the disease progresses, but they support their mother's effort to bring Gerry home.

Though the extended courtroom proceedings weigh the film down, and Chip's sneering, one-dimensionality is wearing, Kiley's performance as a man terrified to be losing the essence of himself "in the darkness with no way out" is heartbreaking, matched by Saint's compelling portrayal of a woman who sees that loving her husband means putting aside her own needs to find a way to honor his.

Margaret Colin, as daughter Kristen, reeling under the pressure of becoming a target for censure due to press coverage when she supports her mother, is another strong presence.

Despite the film's obvious sympathies, troubling questions are not dismissed. Indeed, our pervading ambivalence about assisted death is poignantly underscored in the painful eloquence of Kiley and Saint's last scene.

* "Time to Say Goodbye?" airs at 9 tonight on Lifetime cable.

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