This is an aerial view of a comatose patient being force-fed by a funnel leading directly into her stomach. Surrounding the consultation table are six (identifiable) black-robed supreme judges gleefully pouring nutritious foods (grapes, fish, Quaker Oats, peanut butter, water and 7-Up) into her. Two tiny symbols, the scales of justice and a red-white-and-blue eagle contribute to the otherwise empty courtroom decor.

In the upper right corner, barely visible, is an open door with a "Keep Out" sign dangling from its knob, through which a doctor and nurse peer in. Four tiny red paper-doll figures holding hands, symbolizing the family, are also by this door. Hanging precariously over the patient and consultation table is an ugly, large, bare 25-watt light bulb.


Layton says the low wattage light bulb "symbolizes the dim illumination perfect strangers might have on the case" (131). By entitling a hospital room scene, "The Courtroom," we are brought to the heart of medical ethics and questions of decision-making in the late 20th century.

Layton's fear of medical technology and legislation culminates in this image, which can be seen almost as a personal plea to the justices for mercy to let die. In a first rendition of this theme, "Pulling the Plug" (1987), the patient is completely alone, and hooked up to life-supporting technology. Held down by restraints, with tubes protruding from every orifice, she is unable to brush off the cockroach crawling on her lip.

The second version, "Tender Loving Care," painted a year later (1988), portrays a death she (and we, most probably) would choose and contrasts beautifully with both "Pulling the Plug" and "The Courtroom." Amidst traditional symbols of death (clock, candle, bell) the dying person in "Tender Loving Care" is being spoon-fed "a little ice, not enough to sustain life but sufficient to comfort the body and nourish the soul."

The respect and dignity of the scene is further underscored by caring details such as clean, straightened sheets, "sheltering a cherished privacy." The Courtroom," (1990), is then a political statement of Layton's fear of legislation that will impede a comfortable death.

Traditional paintings that document themes of appropriate death are "The Goodman on His Deathbed" (see p. 17 of Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions, by S. L. Bertman); Rembrandt's Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph; and David's The Death of Socrates. A contemporary painting that reflects Layton's nightmare, especially in our age of managed care, is George Tooker's Corporate Decision, where grim reapers in identical black business suits--ostensibly anonymous chief executives, administrators, and accountants--could easily replace the black robed judges forcing--or withholding--the feeding. (See annotations and on-line images).


Painted in 1990