The story follows a flamboyant criminal defense attorney, Charlie Chessman, faced with choosing to live -- or die -- after a light-aircraft accident badly disfigures him.
Ilya Salkind, who with his father Alexander produced the original Superman films, briefly optioned the script for Christopher Reeve. Death Magnanimous would have been Reeve's first film since the spinal cord injury he suffered after a fall from a horse.
But the hours and hours of make-up required to transform Mr. Reeve into a burn survivor would have been too physically taxing. Mr. Salkind and then wife Jane Chaplin decided against the idea.
To this day, I've never lost my passion for the subject -- or the real-life story that first inspired my interest and captured my heart.
Dax Cowart, a Texas-based criminal defense lawyer, was so badly disfigured in a natural gas explosion, he insisted on the right to end his life and the suffering he knew was ahead.
From the moment of his injury in 1973, when he begged a passerby for a gun, to his death 46 years later, Dax never let up on the idea that he had a right to die, a right to choose death over life, an absolute right to end his own suffering, despite the life-saving medical establishment's arguments against him.
In Death Magnanimous, Charlie Chessman faces the same choice, with the same obstinance, persistence, and passion Dax displayed that ultimately changed the course of medical ethics.
But Charlie's dillemmas are also very different.
Fast forward to modern-day medicine at the fictional Jacobsen Burn Center in Pittsburgh. Pain control is light years better today than it was fifty years ago. So is reconstructive surgery, psychological care, and social acceptance.
While Dax had few viable alternatives to extreme suffering when he was treated, Charlie not only has alternatives, but eloquent, committed, modern-day role models who instead chose to live through some of the most terrifying injuries imaginable.
What will Charlie Chessman choose? Is the life he wants to end instead the life he's been waiting to begin?
Advance Reader Remarks
"After a serious burn injury, Charlie Chessman reluctantly begins his road to recovery, discovering what quality of life truly means."
"There are two choices at play in Death Magnanimous: the external---Can I kill myself?—and the internal---Will I kill myself? Ironically and beautifully, we see Charlie Chessman learn that even after tragedy, even after everything you’ve known is flipped upside down, life will go on. We are the only ones who can decide if and how we want to be a part of it."