Courageous ALS patients try to live it up

What's the Ice Bucket Challenge all about? A 60 Minutes story about the fortitude of many ALS patients shows why they need more research funding

Seeing all the videos of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge reminded me of a story Mike Wallace and I did for 60 Minutes 15 years ago. It's called "Choosing Life," and it introduced us to courageous people who, though suffering in various stages of ALS, were determined to go on and not just live, but live it up, as best they could.

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Dr. Howard Hornstein
CBS News
The story behind the story is unique. A year earlier, we did a controversial report about Dr. Jack Kevorkian killing a patient who wanted desperately to die. Dr. Kevorkian showed us a tape he'd made of Thomas Youk, asking for Kevorkian's help to end his life. The tape also showed Dr. Kevorkian giving Mr. Youk drugs that put him to sleep and then stopped his heart. We knew that showing this death on the air might upset people, and we warned our viewers about it. We explained that Mr. Youk had ALS and had deteriorated to the point where he was petrified of choking to death, and instead, wanted to be put to sleep.

We were focused on his condition and his desires, but not on his specific disease. So, we were surprised the next week when ALS patients--some in wheelchairs--and their supporters picketed CBS News in New York, arguing that the report implied that people suffering from ALS should kill themselves.

That certainly wasn't our intention. Mike and I felt bad that our story upset this group, and we thought, "You know, there might be a great story here." And there was.

As we spoke with these people, we learned more about ALS and how heroic many people are in battling it (as Mr. Youk had been, as long as he could). Those conversations led to our 1999 story, "Choosing Life" which brings to life the spirit, endurance, and fortitude of many ALS patients, and why they need more money spent on ALS research.

To me, 15 years later, this story explains what the Ice Bucket Challenge is all about.

Robert G. Anderson has been a 60 Minutes producer for 24 years.

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