One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz

Young Leilani has a deformed hand and a brace on her leg–and she’s just told her alcoholic ex-con neighbor that her differences are why her deranged doctor stepfather and whacked-out druggie mother are going to kill her unless she’s abducted by aliens when she turns 10.

I read this book because it was recommended by Wesley Smith, a leading voice against utilitarianism bioethics, which is the concept that death is the optimal choice for anyone living a less-than-perfect existence, physically speaking. Rather than “first do no harm,” doctors are succumbing to a growing trend in believing that many lives are simply not worth living, regardless of the will to live of the patient or patient’s family. These philosophers differentiate themselves from Nazi eugenicists by arguing that their standards for determining who lives and who does not are better–but the end result is the same. Death to the physically and mentally disabled, and to the terminally ill.

The Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby advanced this concept, with Hilary Swank’s character comparing herself to an animal, and asking to die after getting a horrible infection from bedsores leaving her in terrible pain. What the movie left out is that palliative care and treatment for the paralyzed has advanced to the point where THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. The unfortunate corollary to utilitarian bioethics is that suicide stops being an evil. If someone wants to die, they should die, because they no longer have a life worth living. So instead of telling the depressed person, “You matter to me and I don’t want you to die. I will fight to make things better for you and bring joy back to you life,” utilitarian bioethics says, “Great. Here’s the revolver.” Anyone who has lost someone to suicide knows the ache of wishing that you could have told the person how much you loved them and how much you want them alive. For more on utilitarian bioethics, read Wesley Smith’s Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America.

Now, about One Door Away from Heaven. Leilani’s stepfather is a “Doctor Death,” a leading proponent of utilitarian bioethics with a suitably evil agenda towards Leilani and her drug-addled mother Sinsimilla. I was riveted by the book until the last 100 pages, where I felt like Koontz didn’t adequately tie up all the loose ends. I was less-than-satisfied with the resolution, which felt like it came too easily and hewed too closely to standard generic lines. However, kudos to him for incorporating such a huge concept into a standard thriller.

Koontz has a startling command of prose and dialogue, something I hadn’t remembered from the last time I read one of his books over 10 years ago. I might pick up another of his books on recommendation, but wouldn’t seek him out–unless I were at the airport with no books–quel horreur!

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