A man dying of pancreatic cancer has reached the point where the pain is no longer controlled by morphine. In the hospital he begs for death. The surgeon tells his wife, "To give him any more would kill him." "Then do it," she says.

He returns with three syringes of morphine and finally injects them, but the man will not die. How easy it would be to suffocate him! But the surgeon rejects this thought and leaves the room, having failed to provide euthanasia.


This is one of Selzer's Letters to a Young Doctor (see this database). A cautionary tale, it begins with the author writing from his place of detachment (the Villa Serbelloni in Italy). "What a lot of energy it takes to die!" He recalls his own conflict over how much he should help his dying patient "go home."

While he had resolved to kill him with an overdose of morphine, when that was unsuccessful, he was unable to suffocate the man. Perhaps the patient's mother was right when she said her son was ready to go home, but the doctor wasn't ready enough to help him.

Primary Source

Letters to a Young Doctor


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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