This is a well-acted adaptation of NBC News correspondent Betty Rollin’s 1985 book Last Wish, about the suicide of her terminally ill mother, Ida, played by Maureen Stapleton; Rollin herself is portrayed by Patty Duke. The TV movie, directed by Jeff Bleckner (Hill Street Blues), tells us that Ida’s ovarian cancer had brought on excruciating pain, and she asked her daughter to help her in killing herself.
You could say that a subject as sensitive as this requires discretion, both out of respect for its fact-based characters and because of the taste standards of commercial television. But given the all-too-tidy melodrama that has resulted here, I’d say that those are two reasons to have avoided making Last Wish. If, because network TV strives above all to avoid offending even one viewer, you can’t reveal the extremes of suffering — the sheer, rude messiness of dying — then you’re doing a disservice to Ida Rollin.
The movie makes the case for euthanasia, but only after a number of stiff speeches by supporting cast members who argue against Ida’s suicide — they’re there to provide television’s hallowed ”balance.” All they do, however, is further prevent Last Wish from being a convincing piece of art, one that would make Ida Rollin’s final days as moving as her daughter intended them to be. C-