April 2018 Open Book Group – The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam

Welcome to Dorothy and thank you to Sylvia for moderating The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam.

The novel is set sometime in the near further. Section 961 has been passed allowing registered nurses to attend patients wishing to end their life voluntarily by taking a dose of Nembutal. The patients must qualify with a terminal illness to access the program. Attendants prepare the dosage but are not allowed to physically administer it. The patient must do that themselves. The whole process is filmed to ensure the legal boundaries have been adhered to and to allow authorities to debrief the attendant on their performance.

We meet Evan an itinerant contract nurse who has recently applied the become an attendant. We follow him as he attends several deaths. Each case is different and Amsterdam, who himself worked as a palliative care nurse, uses them to draw out different practical and emotional conundrums eg the patient wants to go but the family resists. Evan faces a challenge when he does intervene to help. This leads to his dismissal and he enters the nether unregulated world of Jaspers Path. Here Volunteers attend people who do not qualify for Section 961. In his private life, Evan partakes in, graphically described, threesome gay sex with Simon and Lon. While he is physically engaged Evan does not give much away emotionally to the disappointment of his two partners. Evan is also caring for his mother Viv who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

The discussion commenced with comments on the writing style. Many found it very effective. Amsterdam was straightforward in his descriptions of the dying process, with welcome smatterings of humour. Nothing was sensationalised nor did he proselytize the case for Evan’s work. He simply described the process pressing the reader to ask themselves “What would I want?”

A vigorous debate ensued. OBGers were very open about their own experiences of friends and parents’ journeys in trying to access such help when the process currently remains illegal. It was agreed that it will be interesting to see where the debate leads as Baby Boomers, who have led charmed lives, come face to face with protracted illness.

We are fortunate to have Medical Doctors in the group. “Doing harm” very understandably challenges the strongly held ethics of their profession. They were able to highlight and reassure us that Palliative Care is very advanced and no one needs to suffer. While the group had total respect for this stance, many still felt personal control over their life was an important principle.

No one underestimated nightmare scenarios where the elderly start feeling pressurised not to be a burden as grasping relatives eye up the inheritance. How else can they buy property in Sydney?

It is a testament to the respect and trust that has built up over the years at OBG that such personal experiences, and diverse views, could be shared so openly.

A call went out to get back to the book!………the juxtaposition of his sex life verses professional was questioned. Did it really need to be quite so graphic……for what end? Others were fine with it. Amsterdam was clinical in the description of death as part of life so he was simply dealing with sex in the same way.

The group enjoyed Viv as she escaped from the Nursing Home to regain her independence only to be tracked down by Evan because the Nursing Home had micro chipped her. Clearly, Evan and Viv had a feisty but close relationship and we wondered early on would Evan assist her? In the end, Viv chose to let nature take its course and we all, though not sure why given the rest of the book, found that her and the book’s ending to be the right one

Summing up, a long-standing member declared this was “the best OBG discussion I have ever attended”, while another felt the book had seriously challenged, and even changed, her views on the subject. A Tuesday afternoon well spent!


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