NEW YORK MILLS (AP) -- A Massachusetts woman took home the title of America's Greatest Thinker after claiming first place at this year's Great American Think-off.
Mary Fishler-Fisk of Cape Cod won over an audience of more than 400 people Saturday in this north-central Minnesota town with her argument favoring the legalization of assisted suicide.
Fishler-Fisk told of her mother's battle with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which attacks the brain, driving its victims to dementia and ultimately to death, usually within eight weeks.
She recalled finding her mother in a closet fumbling with coat hangers a few days before she died. "Mom, what are you doing?" Fishler-Fisk recalled asking. "She said, 'I want to hang myself."'
Had assisted suicide been an option, her mother would have chosen it, Fishler-Fisk said. She argued for the individual's right to choose, provided he or she is a reasonable adult who has thought through the choice.
The other finalist, Bill Matz, a businessman from Windsor, Calif., argued against the legalization of assisted suicide. Matz opposed all forms of suicide on moral and religious grounds, calling any taking of innocent life the ultimate moral evil.
Two others were eliminated in preliminary rounds Saturday. Chuck Cox of Duluth argued against legalizing assisted suicide and Michael Palmer, a writer from Portland, Ore. -- the only state in which assisted suicide is already legal -- argued for it.
The armchair philosophers matched wits in the James W. Mann Performing Arts Center. The Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills coordinates the Think-Off and other intellectual and artistic events. Each finalist received $500, and Fishler-Fisk, an entrepreneur from Cape Cod, Mass., with a degree in French literature, also got a plaque.
Four finalists' essays were chosen from about 450 entries the cultural center received from thinkers across the United States. Each finalist presented his or her essay and then answered questions from the moderator and the audience.
The audience for the final round gave Fishler-Fisk the title by a vote of 210 to 200.
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