Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mercy Killings?

What I would like to know is: have ever thought about suicide as a way out? Have you ever said to yourself, "I want this to end!"

Have you and your partner ever talked about this with each other? Richard and I had a suicide conversation after I had been in constant level 12 pain (on the 1 - 10 scale) for 9 months with no relief in sight and no healers on the horizon. I found it surprisingly comforting to know that I had this option. In fact, just knowing that I could walk through the door to oblivion gave me strength to continue to endure and seek more healers.

Do you think that suicide can ever shift from psychological pathology to reasonable choice?

From an article on the Atlanta News on elderly mercy killings by Marcus Garner:

In a two-week period last month, murder-suicides claimed the lives of two Metro Atlanta couples in their ‘80s.

In both cases, the husband was the caretaker of an ailing wife. And in both cases, the man shot and killed his long-time spouse before turning a gun on himself.

Were these deaths the result of depression, some level of domestic abuse, or were they the actions of a benevolent, merciful spouse?

Edward Travis, 86, executed a carefully-thought-out plan to kill himself and his wife of 60 years, 85-year-old Anne, who suffered from dementia.

George A. Doby, 87, killed himself after fatally shooting his 85-year-old wife, Edna, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

Experts say assisted suicides among elderly couples aren’t that uncommon, and such arranged agreements are becoming more popular in Europe. The Violence and Injury Prevention Program in Tampa Bay, Fla. estimated between 300 and 500 murder-suicide deaths nationally each year of people over the age of 55.

Maggie Beck-Coon, with the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, sees them as one person exerting power over another. “I’m very troubled by the whole language of ‘mercy killings,’ because I don’t think I feel comfortable with someone else determining when you should die,” said Beck-Coon said.

Dr. Patrice Harris, a psychiatrist and director of Fulton County’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, cautions not to rush to judgment, however. “Often times, when people are thinking about suicide, they are feeling hopeless and helpless and see no way out of their situation,” Harris said. In particular, Harris said taking care of an ailing spouse late in life can add to the day-to-day stresses many elderly face: losing peers and family to illness and death, retirement, or dealing with one’s own deteriorating health.

Relatives of the Travis and Doby couples pointed to this hopelessness. “He didn’t want to be a burden,” Alan Doby said, speculating the motives of a father he described as proud. Mary Travis cited a letter from Edward Travis in characterizing his as a “mercy” killing: “‘I believe that everyone concerned will get along with me and Anne out of the picture,’” she read from the letter.


Brenda said...

Have you ever said to yourself, "I want this to end!"

Yes. Oh yes. Many times. And while I know that I would never take action, there are often mornings when I find I'm very disappointed that I woke up. Again. I think, though, I can understand why elderly couples sometimes feel that joint suicide is an acceptable way out. You see, my children are still young (22/17/12), two of them still live at home. For them, I would walk through fire on broken glass. But 20 years from now, when they all have their own lives, and spouses, and children; when we are a once a month visit on their schedule; when every day is a horrible struggle just to manage the bare necessities for the two of us? Who's to say? I tire of being disabled and in pain, and I know my husband tires of all the extra weight on his shoulders. Perhaps 20 years from now we'll both be ready to say 'enough'. But for now, we hang on, for the kids and each other.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Heck yes! This is not power violence, as that is far often more a cycle to occur as one partner gets weaker in a prolonged degenerative illness.

There are some disease that are so painful the majority of peope with them commit suicide (admittedly rarish diseases), but never ending pain which may never end, after a while the debate isn't about quality of life, or life, but when will it end?

I do think that as with most operations or steps there should be protocols, meaning, is the person being affected by a drug side effect (since most of us are on many), or can this be helped in other ways (like support from a system that has failed a person, including counselling and proper treatment). But yes, the same people who say mercy killings are automatically all bad - or euthenasia, as I prefer ('mercy killing'? - the disease kills, and it has no mercy) are strangely the same ones who say about a condition that is FAR better than the one a person is often struggling with, "Wow, if that happened to me, I'd kill myself."

For me, knowing that there could be a drink that would make a peaceful end instead of having to do a bag around the neck route or liver damage death is a comfort. I wish I was back in Europe where I could live as long as I wanted to fight, I could give up as long as I wanted to or I could proactively and with a clear mind, decided that this was a good time to go.

But most people think about it, those with degenerative diseases or traumatic life changing injuries, even chronic conditions.

Barbara K. said...

Thank you Brenda and Elizabeth - for your honesty and clarity. Sometimes, for better or for worse, ending life seems to be the way out of a life that has little left to offer except pain and suffering and endurance. I think we all need to have a circle of love and support and help around us - and hopefully that is possible.

I wish you peace and comfort.

Nurse Practitioner Sue said...

I don't think a chronically ill person would be "normal" if they did not consider suicide. At the end of an especially horrific round of chemotherapy last year, I was on the precipice of death; I felt as though I had one foot in the "otherworld." I am not a religious person - I call myself Spiritual Not Religious - but I felt certain that suicide is NOT the answer. I am convinced that at the instant you commit suicide, you realize that is was a huge mistake that CANNOT be undone and you wind up in the afterlife with the same problems. They are inescapable. That said, I see nothing wrong with asking, even begging God (or whoever is your higher power) to take your make you die. I tried it and got a very strong answer: NO! So I fight on.

I also have 4 children (27,24,22,19) and despite our best attempts to be outstanding parents, my illness has had a horrible impact on them. I think this is what concerns me most and seems so unfair. While they are all doing well, it has left them with scars that aren't anyone's fault. Suicide would cause more than just a scar - it's a huge wound that would never heal.

We've been married nearly 30 years and our marriage is stronger than ever. I am happy to have found this blogsite (from MORE magazine)so that I am able to connect with others in the same situation. Sometimes I feel that far too much has been demanded of me. This gives me a forum to connect with others dealing with the same struggle. Thank you. And...I am a Nurse Practitioner who has Hepatitis C, contracted by an accidental needlestick. I am in the final stages of my disease and in my early 50's.

Maureen Hayes said...

I respect that others feel differently about this issues than I do, but I am a religious person and I feel only God has the choice as to when to end a life. I know first hand the suffering of unbearable pain and of living with chronic illness, so I don't say this lightly. I truly believe we all have a purpose in life and something to give, and that doesn't end because we are ill or in pain. It takes a lot of courage, strength and yes, faith to stick it out, but in the end I truly believe it is worth it.

MINDI said...

From the perspective of a person who has taken care of those patients (both elderly and very young), I think those who have terminal illnesses or those in such excruciating pain that no amount of pain medication, therapy, etc can help deserve to be able to choose. I know I would not want to go through that or put my family through the pain of watching.

Barbara K. said...

Welcome Sue. I deeply appreciate the ideas and sentiments in your comment. I know I could find relief during the baddest times merely by thinking that suicide could be an option. And your so right to put suicide in a relational context - those we love would indeed bear the scars for a very long time.

Hope to see you here again. Wishing you peace.

Barbara K. said...

Thanks Maureen & Mindi. You both reflect very articulately two sides of this issue, and I think many of us feel both in some degree.

mersilkee said...

I have a chronic pain disorder and now I have a fatal degenerative brain disease. Before the second diagnosis, my husband and I had discussed suicide as an option but didn't consider it a real possibility. The nature of my brain disease may eventually put me in a situation where I will not be able to communicate my level of pain. Also, if something happens to my husband and I have progressed to a stage in which home care would be difficult, I do not want to be placed in a health care institution. This decision is based on my professional experience reviewing quality of healthcare and my experience as a patient with visiting multiple doctors and numerous hospital admissions as well as the experience of taking care of an elderly man after strokes. I know my position is controversial but it is comforting to accept that there is a way out if I find myself in a position that is or will be totally untolerable.

Barbara K. said...

Thank you Mersilkee for your openness. I can only say that I understand your reasoning, but I do hope your situation never reaches the intolerable point.

shell87 said...

i have thought it, on medium days, and moreso on the worst pain days.

As it stands i have a loving partner, but my constant pain is wearing on him. Without having his love and support i am not sure i would be around, and the fear is if everything grows to be to much for him, then what?

i cant tell him this, since it would be the hugest guilt trip seeming, but if he finds he has to leave me in order to be happy (i want him to be happy no mater what it means to me, on the other hand i want to be with him), but if it comes to that i am not sure how long i could cope in the state i am now, without posibly acting on such thoughts.

i am just so amazingly tired of being sick and tired, of being in constant pain and all the rest i get. I am not sure if it would be worse or better if i was older and had been able to go to school/finish before health stoped it all, or been able to start a career before being stuck in bed.

It would be easyer to relate to others i am betting if i was older since most everyone i can have good hounest conversations about are 40 and up, and thats 18years older then i am.

its tough. and yes, knowing its a way away from pain, is often a cumfort, not always a wish.

Barbara K. said...

Shell87 - I have much empathy for your pain and for being so tired of being in pain. I found during the really bad times that just thinking about suicide was in some ways a comfort. I also did talk to my husband about it. Not talking to him about my state, whatever it was, was a barrier between us. Knowing didn't guilt him - it made him able to feel closer to me.

I would suggest that if you find yourself really thinking about suicide, that you tell someone. Ideally your husband (and a friend, a family member, a counselor). It sounds like he is really with you, and would be devastated if you ended your life (especially if he didn't have a chance to talk to you about it and help you).

One other thought - I really appreciate your sensitivity to your partner's weariness. Might you be able to encourage him to take some time for himself (if he isn't)? Time to see friends, go to a movie, exercise, see a therapist. I insisted my husband go out with friends at least once a week and find a therapist to talk to. It helped him replenish himself so he could be there for me.

Have you seen Laurie Edward's blog (
and book (Life Disrupted)? She writes about illness for people in their 20s and 30s.

I wish you better days and peace.

Sherril said...

What a beautiful post with the most thoughtful comments ever!

Yes, I've thought about it, even seriously a couple of times. I have no partner to discuss it with. But I do have a sister and a counselor I can talk honestly with.

For a long time I've been afraid that suicide would be damning myself to hell for eternity. Apparently something I picked up in Presbyterian Sunday School. Recently I learned that the more likely translation of the commandment is You Shall Not Murder. Now the question for me becomes "Is suicide murder?" Hopefully I'll have a LONG time to ruminate on that one.