The area was far from the image in his mind that he'd prayed would be a reality. The streets were dark. The buildings were dark and tall, those that were inhabited, if that's what you'd call it, were damp and echoed with lost voices. Those that weren't inhabited emanated the smell of fear through the cracks in walls and around the edges of the boards that were tacked over the windows. Billposters littered the boards, advertising new movies in a district that had no cinema, nightclubs in an area that provided all its own late night attractions. Whiskey bottles in brown paper bags littered the streets, and although humanity was not unseen it felt like a ghost town, struck by some late-nineties depression specific to these five blocks.
He stood on the spot, the tarmac that was potholed and due for resurfacing and bordered by a kerbstone loose in its place, which long before had been marked with chalk. He crouched down and rubbed the place on the road where he could have sworn he'd seen flecks of white dust, and a tinge of deep red. But it was just the lights of the nearby bar - the neon sign flashing "Budweiser" inanely to no one in particular and reflecting off the wet street. The heavy Chicago rain that had soaked the area that morning and had continued to pound off the concrete wilderness all day and into the night, now beat down hard on Doug's back, shoulders and head as he stood up and tipped his head back. Looking up into the sky, he let the hard water smack on his closed eyelids and wash away the image of the seedy bar, the trash lying on the sidewalk, the black Mercedes. He hoped that the cold wind would blow away the sounds of screeching brakes in the distance, and the whispers of silence that haunted the region in his mind that would withhold the fear and sorrow for the remainder of his life.
"I swear by Apollo the physician, to hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents, to consider his family as my own brothers and to teach them this art without payment. I will use my best judgement to help the sick and do no harm. I will not give fatal drugs to anyone - even if I am asked. Nor will I ever suggest any such thing. I will not give a woman any medication to cause abortion. I will be chaste and religious in my life and in my practice. I will not use the knife, even to remove the stones within. I will not abuse my authority to indulge in sexual contact. I will never divulge the secrets of my patients, regarding them as holy." Hippocratic Oath
"The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality."
Herbert Spencer, Education
It was a move that he regretted for the rest of his life, but at the same time his principles dictated that what he had done was still right. Previously, he didn't think he really had an opinion about euthanasia - the suffering for the patient was bad, but on the other hand, as he had said once before, if it was your kid you'd bet on a miracle. So that you could cheat fate and stay with them for one more day. It was an opinion that hit home hard now, smacking into every red raw nerve. But back then, his mind wasn't in that frameset and all he wanted was to ease the pain of Ricky and his family. He didn't intend to take it as far as he did to begin with, but one thing lead to another as these things often do, and before he really knew what he'd done his young patient was cold in his bed and his relations with his colleagues and employers had frozen over. When he offered to resign, and tried in vain to persuade her to come with him to a better place where they could escape the inevitable backlash of his crime, he knew that's all it was - he was running away, tail between his legs. He was going to try and forget about it, pretend it had never happened and work on building a happy little family, with a big house and white picket fence. Except it wouldn't let him forget.
The courtroom echoed as the sparse crowd scraped their chairs back and stood up. Doug rose from behind the solid oak desk in front of him and smoothed down his suit jacket, crumpled from where he'd been unconsciously wringing his hands on his lap. Behind him sat Mark and Carol, with Donald Anspaugh and Neil Bernstein further to the left. Whilst they had all accepted that Doug had an aversion towards hospital policies and rulebooks, none of them had ever thought they'd seen him facing such serious charges in a court of law. And none of them wanted to be seeing it either. Despite the ructions from within, the staff of County Hospital now had to stand by this attending physician, as he stood against the world to face what he had done, what he had let happen.
"His Honor Justice Henry Lomak presiding"
The court official fell quiet again as the judge unceremoniously eased into his chair. He wasn't a small man and he filled the leather bound chair more than satisfactorily. A stack of papers lay on the bench before him and he leaned forward and took the top one, peering down at it over the top of his half moon glasses.
"United States versus Ross?"
"Yes, Your Honor"
"Are counsel ready?"
The state attorney leapt from his seat. "Yes, Your Honor, the prosecution is ready"
Judge Lomak looked at this display of eagerness and turned his head ever so slowly to the table at which Doug and his singular defense lawyer sat. "Yes, Your Honor."
The fact that Doug had resigned his position at the hospital before the charges were brought against him meant that he couldn't accept one of County's lawyers from Risk Management. Instead, he'd had a long and painful search for one, just him and the Yellow Pages. As a result of this and his sudden lack of income, he sat next to a man named Clifton DeVann who had had three attempts at the bar exam before passing and was now a recovering alcoholic. Thank god the man had at least one suit that made him look a bit more like a lawyer and less like a bum. This was all in stark comparison to the prosecuting tag team. It seemed like there weren't enough seats at that table for them all. The Armani and Hugo Boss radiated off them, and an IBM laptop decorated the otherwise sparse oak surface. Doug glanced at his own table, strewn with papers and legal pads covered in what he presumed was writing, although for all he knew it could have been one of his patients' scribblings. He was jerked out of this depressing line of thought by the booming voice of Dan Sullivan, the over-eager state attorney.
"You Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today we will establish beyond any reasonable doubt that this man here, Dr. Douglas Ross, did commit reckless homicide on 16th February 1998, resulting in the death of Richard Adam Abbott, a patient at County General Hospital under treatment for Adrenal Leukodystrophy.
This case will raise many moral questions and implications, and indeed, the defense will try to argue for the case of "mercy killing". But let it be noted that nowhere in the law of any country in the world is any form of killing sanctioned, whether it be out of cold blood or pity. Richard Abbott, although suffering from a fatal disease, could have lived for at least another day. And you may say, "Well, what's another day?" but to his family, one more day meant much more than can be put into words.
With the aid of expert witnesses, we will prove that Dr. Ross acted unlawfully in assisting the death of this young boy, despite his image of a caring emergency room pediatrician."
Counselor Sullivan dropped back into his seat, with a satisfied smirk playing on his lips, noticeable only to those few who were looking for it. Doug, carefully studying his shoes, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was so angry that he had no way of expressing it. Somehow this was worse than any other anger he had ever felt - any time Mark had pulled rank, the time Carol had run to the fireman, the countless kids who came in abused and wouldn't talk about it, even the contempt he felt for his father, it was all outweighed by his anger at what he was being accused of and the portrait that the slimy state lawyers were painting of him. The fact that he had to stand up and try to prove himself to these strangers in an unfamiliar setting. The fact that the democratic policy of innocence until proven guilty had been turned on its head and everyone was looking at him, eyes burning through him, saying 'we trusted you', and on top of everything else he knew he'd done the right thing but the goddamned law couldn't accept it.
"...and we are confident that the prosecution will not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty."
DeVann thumped back into his seat beside his client and looked at him.
"Sure. Just fine."