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Why help them end their lives? // CHARLIE HALL

About all he can do is lie in bed and fume.

Charlie Hall, 34 years old, is losing a slow battle with AIDS.

The pain in his legs is incessant, made bearable only by morphine. He has no appetite, and the weight is dropping off. His eyesight is failing. It took two medications to get his seizures under control. A simple toothache this summer grew into an infection that raged through his throat and esophagus. The doctors fear he would not survive surgery if they tried to remove the cyst on his brain.

But it's not the disease _ or even the fact that he's dying _ that makes Hall angry. He says he has made his peace with that.

What gets him worked up is a lawyer in Tallahassee he has never met.

"Mr. Gross," Hall says, a steely look crossing his pale face.

He's talking about Michael Gross, assistant attorney general for special projects and the man who will represent the state of Florida in the assisted suicide lawsuit.

Hall is not a lawyer. He's unfamiliar with courtroom procedure. Still, he tries to follow the case that will decide his fate, laboriously poring over documents sent by Robert Rivas, the ACLU attorney who represents Hall and the other plaintiffs. The more he reads, the madder he gets.

For Hall, it boils down to this: Michael Gross stands between him and his right to die the way he wants.

If Gross successfully defends Florida's 128-year-old law against helping someone commit "self-murder," Dr. Cecil McIver won't be able to prescribe an overdose for Hall. They'll have to wait for AIDS to take its torturous course.

Already one plaintiff has died: Chuck Castonguay, who lived in Edgewater, near Daytona Beach. If Hall and Robert Cron also die before the case comes to trial, it could become moot, as did the first lawsuit last year.

"Mr. Gross is doing nothing but procrastinating," Hall said one recent morning, propped up on a medical air mattress in the front room of his small house, legal papers scattered over the bed.

Window blinds were shut tight; the only light came from a desk lamp aimed away from Hall's sensitive eyes.

"He's basically playing with me and Mr. Cron's lives. This should have been in court way before now. He's in a paper war with Mr. Rivas."

Throughout June, Gross and Rivas argued by fax about medical records and other aspects of the discovery process, through which attorneys gather information they need to build a case.

Each accused the other of deliberately trying to slow things down. Depositions were scheduled, postponed, rescheduled. One side filed a motion to delay the trial; the other side filed a motion to speed it up.

Hall, meanwhile, tries to keep busy with crafts projects and sewing nightshirts for other AIDS patients who belong to a Citrus County support group he co-founded. He stays awake long into the night, talking on the phone to friends and smoking cigarettes, which he says is the only pleasure he has left.

He calls himself a positive person. But as his health steadily deteriorates and he waits for the lawsuit to come to trial, optimism has turned to impatience.

In June, Hall called Michael Gross.

"It lasted maybe a minute at the very most. I told him plain out that I'm tired of it. I blew my top. He just kept saying, "You need to talk to your attorney.'

"

Hall does talk to his attorney, every week or two. Rivas calls to update him on the case and check on his health.

Last month, Hall had two operations, one to remove the infected tooth and one to perform biopsies in his esophagus, stomach and intestines. He insisted on having both procedures done as an outpatient; he is terrified that if he's admitted to a hospital, he'll never come home.

Born in Inverness, Hall graduated from Citrus High School in 1979. At a Wag's restaurant in Tampa the next year, he fell on the job and injured his back. During surgery, he had a blood transfusion. Hall believes that's how he was exposed to HIV.

Twelve years later, while managing a Pizza Hut in Chapel Hill, N.C., he started having disturbing symptoms _ coughing, gagging, leg pain and weakness. The diagnosis was a complete shock: full-blown AIDS.

Hall and his wife came home to Citrus County to live near his parents. Their income is his $700 a month disability and her $500 monthly paycheck from a retail job. Medicare covers most of the medical costs. Project AIDS Care Today, a Medicaid waiver program, pays for a home health nurse.

As soon as he knew he was terminally ill, Hall called the Hemlock Society and volunteered to be a plaintiff in the assisted suicide lawsuit.

"I've been on AIDS wards. I know what this disease does to people," he said. "I don't want to suffer, and I don't want anybody around me to suffer, either."

Suicide is not something he would consider unless his condition became intolerable, he said.

"I have a will to live just like any other normal human being. But when I get to that point where I'm no longer functioning as a living person, when I'm just existing, my mind is going and I have no control over bodily functions, then I want to know there's an out for me. My family should not have to see me go through that."

He's not sure he'd want his loved ones to watch him swallow a fatal dose of drugs, either.

His wife and his mother oppose the idea of assisted suicide, he said. Hall refused to give his wife's name, saying that she didn't want to be linked with his crusade. A framed photo of the couple on their living room wall shows a smiling young woman with long, blond hair. She continues to test negative for HIV, Hall said.

Her support has been unflagging, Hall said.

"She's my Rock of Gibraltar. I don't know what I'd do without her."

He added: "She's against euthanasia. But on the other hand, she says she hasn't seen me lying in this bed in that kind of condition yet, either."

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