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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Florissant mother keeps the toughest promise

Nonfiction review: Teenager made her mom “pinky~swear” to end life support if there was no hope for recovery. Then she suffered brain damage in an auto accident.


Teenager Amy Oberreither of Florissant saw her beloved grandmother buckle under Parkinson’s disease. Amy told her mother, Persis Oberreither, that she could never live like her grandmother.

Amy made her mother promise — “pinky-swear” — that should something crash into her own life, her mother would tell the doctors to pull the plug.

Her mother promised. Her daughter was healthy, funny, attractive enough to model for Dillard’s and athletic enough to play goalie for the St. Louis Amateur Blues. A life of promise loomed.

Then, on Sept. 24, 2001, a car wreck in St. Charles County left Amy in a coma, with awful brain injuries and a bleak prognosis. As she slipped day by day, her mother remembered her promise to Amy. In “Pinky-Swear” (subtitled “Honoring My Daughter’s Right to Die”), Persis Oberreither tells her sad story in terse, gripping fashion.

Oberreither had worked as an emergency medical technician. But she seems equally at home behind a keyboard. Her prose is self-oriented but well-organized, brief and emotional.

Even those who insist (abstractly, at any rate) on keeping vegetative patients alive can’t help but feel their hearts go out to this mother. From a meeting with the hospital’s ethics committee before making the decision final, Oberreither has this recollection of talking to a priest:

“His eyes filled with compassion. ‘When life is more of a burden than a benefit,’ he said, ‘it is appropriate to let it go.’

“I felt a sharp pain in my chest. Amy’s life isn’t a burden for me. Amy isn’t too heavy for me to carry. I want to carry her, always and forever. But I know she wants to be free. The burden, I fear, is hers.

“‘Yes,’ was, again, all I said.”

Amy died October 15th, 2001.

By Harry Levins, Special to the Post-Dispatch

Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer for the Post-Dispatch.

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