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John Silber stuck to his principles to the very end

John Silber in his office at Boston University in 1999.Tom Herde/The Boston Globe/File

Rachelle G. Cohen, lamenting the need to ration medical equipment during the COVID-19 emergency (“To the baby boomers: We’re toast,” Opinion, April 13), quotes one of the famous “Silber shockers” from my father, John Silber, during his 1990 run for governor of Massachusetts: “When you’ve had a long life and you’re ripe, then it’s time to go.” I think he really meant overripe. My father was such an extraordinary combination of superintelligent, deeply learned, and astonishingly forthright. You don’t ever get the full flavor of that combination from a sound bite.

While my father would have deplored the depleted state of our medical supplies, he was well aware that rationing inevitably goes on. In his last year, he suffered from kidney failure and had to go on dialysis. The doctors offered him a kidney transplant, but he would not allow us even to consider it. He refused to deprive a younger person who might need it just as much.


Ultimately my father chose to go off dialysis when he knew he could not improve but would continue to deteriorate. He remained mentally sharp, but he was too tired and made the decision to let go. He stuck to his principles to the very end because he believed in them wholeheartedly.

Rachel Silber Devlin


The writer is the author of a forthcoming memoir of her father.