Saturday, September 22, 2012

John Norton: A Cautionary Tale

By Margaret Dore

In March 2012, I watched John Norton testify before the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature.  A person with ALS, he had been told at age 18 or 19 that he would die in three to five years from paralysis.  Below find his story, at age 74, as submitted to a Canadian court yesterday via this affidavit: 


THE UNDERSIGNED, being first duly sworn on oath, STATES:

1. I live in Florence Massachusetts USA. When I was eighteen years old and in my first year of college, I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) by the University of Iowa Medical School. ALS is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I was told that I would get progressively worse (be paralyzed) and die in three to five years.

2. I was a very physical person. The diagnosis was devastating to me. I had played football in high school and was extremely active riding bicycles. I also performed heavy labor including road construction and farm work. I prided myself for my physical strength, especially in my hands.

3. The ALS diagnosis was confirmed by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota. I was eighteen or nineteen years old at the time. By then, I had twitching in both hands, which were also getting weaker. At some point, I lost the ability to grip in my hands. I became depressed and was treated for my depression. If instead, I had been told that my depression was rational and that I should take an easy way out with a doctor’s prescription and support, I would have taken that opportunity.

4. Six years after my initial diagnosis, the disease progression stopped. Today, my condition is about the same. I still can’t grip with my hands. Sometimes I need special help. But, I have a wonderful life. I am married to Susan. We have three children and one grandchild. I have a degree in Psychology and one year of graduate school. I am a retired bus driver (no gripping required). Prior to driving bus, I worked as a parole and probation officer. When I was much younger, I drove a school bus. We have wonderful friends. I enjoy singing tenor in amateur choruses. I help other people by working as a volunteer driver.

5. I will be 75 years old this coming September. If assisted suicide or euthanasia had been available to me in the 1950's, I would have missed the bulk of my life and my life yet to come. I hope that Canada does not legalize these practices.