End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts Taggedassisted suicide

Calif. man, 88, won’t be charged with assisting in suicide of ailing wife

By NBC News staff and wire
NBC News
August 23, 2012

An 88-year-old man who was arrested shortly after the death of his ailing wife on suspicion of aiding in her suicide will not be charged with any crime.

San Diego prosecutors determined that the case against Alan Purdy couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, said Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, on Wednesday night.

Margaret Purdy, 84, was found dead in her home with a plastic bag over her head in March, her death ruled a suicide by the county medical examiner. Family said she had becoming increasingly depressed as she battled a series of ailments and injuries in her final years while her husband doted on her.

“She had mentioned for some time that she was under a great deal of pain and that this was a very hard life,”  the couple’s son-in-law, John Muster, said in a telephone interview from Berkeley at the time of the arrest.

The once vibrant woman left a suicide note on her desk after being bedridden in her final years from severe pancreatitis, as well as an autoimmune disease, a crumbling spine and three fractured vertebrae that never healed, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Alan Purdy’s sister-in-law, Margot Smith, told The Associated Press Wednesday that it would have been awful if prosecutors had decided to pursue a case.

“I’m absolutely delighted to hear it. He’s 88 years old and hard of hearing and he loved his wife dearly,” Smith said.

Smith added that Alan Purdy was so hard of hearing that he had trouble making out what authorities were saying to him at the time of his arrest.

“I’m delighted to hear this,” Purdy’s daughter, Catherine Purdy, a Berkeley psychologist, told The Times. “I feel like justice has finally happened.”

The Purdys were close friends for many years and proved a perfect match when they married later in life, relatives said. It was the second marriage for both Purdys, each of whom had outlived their previous spouses, said The Times. Margaret Purdy kept a close eye on her husband, who lost much of his hearing with age. He, in turn, watched after her as she coped with her ailments.

A previous suicide attempt
In Margaret Purdy’s last year of life, her pain became so severe that she was unable to get out of bed without Alan’s help, and she stopped doing activities that she enjoyed, like painting, The Times reported in May. Three months before her death, when Alan was out of the house, Margaret had attempted to take her life by poisoning herself with carbon monoxide in their garage; Alan came home and pulled her out of the car before she could finish, The Times said.

Alan Purdy, a pilot with a doctorate in biomedical engineering, worked for years at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Muster said both were “fully functioning mentally.”

When paramedics arrived at their home on March 20, Purdy told them his wife had taken 30 sleeping pills crushed in applesauce, then suffocated herself, The Times reported. He told them — and later deputies — that he didn’t help her, but he also said he didn’t try to stop her.

From the bedroom that he and Margaret shared for nearly 15 years, Purdy admitted to The Times, ”Yes, I sat beside her as she died. I didn’t want her to feel abandoned. I wanted her to know that I loved her.”

There is no specific federal law regarding either euthanasia or assisted suicide. All 50 states and the District of Columbia prohibit euthanasia — which is when a doctor actively kills a patient — under general homicide laws.

California is one of three dozen states that have specific laws prohibiting assisted suicides. Seven ban assisted suicide under common law.


Husband won’t be charged in wife’s suicide

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
August 23, 2012

Criminal charges will not be filed against an 88-year-old San Marcos man who sat beside his ailing wife as she committed suicide, the San Diego County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.

After a thorough review, the office decided that it could not meet “the ethical and legal burden” of proving a charge of “assisted suicide” against Alan Purdy, according to a spokesman for Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.

“We do not discuss the reasons when we don’t file criminal charges,” spokesman Steve Walker said, “other than [to say that] we only file when we believe we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

On March 20, Purdy’s wife, Margaret, 84, committed suicide after years of unrelenting pain from a variety of ailments. The couple were married for 15 years.

Purdy, a semiretired engineer, did not try to stop his wife as she swallowed apple sauce mixed with sleeping pills and put a plastic bag over her head.

“Yes, I sat beside her as she died,” Purdy told The Times weeks after the death. “I didn’t want her to feel abandoned. I wanted her to know that I loved her.”

Purdy’s children and his wife’s children from a previous marriage were opposed to criminal charges being filed.

“I’m delighted to hear this,” said Purdy’s daughter Catherine Purdy, a Berkeley psychologist, when informed of the district attorney’s decision. “I feel like justice has finally happened.”

Her father, Catherine Purdy said, “is very lonesome and unhappy. He lost his wife, and then to have to wait for this decision — it’s been very hard on him.”

A rarely enforced California law from the 19th century says that anyone who “deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide” is guilty of a felony. Unlike several other states, California does not have a law that permits physician-assisted suicide.

Once a vibrant woman who enjoyed traveling and painting, Margaret Purdy was bedridden in her final years from severe pancreatitis, an autoimmune disease, from a crumbling spine, and from three fractured vertebrae that never healed properly. She left a suicide note on her desk.

Alan Purdy was arrested even before the medical examiner removed his wife’s body from the couple’s home. But at an arraignment in March, the district attorney said that the case was under review.

“This is a great relief, of course,” Purdy said of the district attorney’s decision ultimately to not file charges. He said he grieves daily for his wife but said that he’s “definitely happy [the district attorney's office] made this right decision.”

Hall of Fame Honors New Mexico Activist Carol Tucker Trelease

The Albuquerque-based nonprofit Silver Horizons this week honors Compassion & Choices activist Carol Tucker Trelease with induction into its Hall of Fame. Carol is head of our executive council in New Mexico, leading the public education campaign to protect aid in dying there.

The Albuquerque Journal reports:

This year’s inductees into the Silver Horizons Senior Hall of Fame include people who have made invaluable contributions to aviation and tourism, athletics and sports, arts and culture and health care and social justice.

Despite their diversity of interests, they share a lifetime commitment to community service and philanthropy. All will have their portraits added to the Senior Hall of Fame gallery in the Convention Center, bringing to 117 the number of people honored in the past 30 years.

In addition, they will be celebrated at a Thursday fundraising dinner and silent auction to benefit the nonprofit Silver Horizons, which provides programs to help low-income seniors and seniors in crisis, and serves as an independent auxiliary organization to the city Department of Senior Affairs.

Working on behalf of health care for women and issues related to social justice have been integral to Carol Tucker Trelease. For 23 years, she worked in a variety of positions for Planned Parenthood, eventually serving as its executive director/CEO for 18 years. In 1999 she was presented the Margaret Sanger Award.

Trelease has been active with the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John Church, where she served on the vestry, volunteers as a reader and usher and works in the pantry and the thrift store.

She is or has been on the boards of the League of Women Voters; Compassion and Choices, which promotes end-of-life policy issues; the ARCA Foundation in support of more than 600 developmentally disabled children and adults; La Vida Llena Full Life Foundation to provide help and resources for residents of that senior community; and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. She was also a longtime Rotary Club member.

Trelease regularly hosts political fund raisers. She is a former Democratic Party Outstanding Woman of New Mexico as well as a former recipient of the YWCA Women on the Move Award.

“It seems crazy to be acknowledged for doing the things I love to do and that I would be doing anyway,” she says. “But I’m certainly grateful and honored, even if I don’t feel old enough to be a senior Hall of Famer. I’m just 69. A kid!”

Congratulations, Carol!

Read the full article here.

Patient Joins Doctors in Court Case, Asks for Aid-in-Dying Option

A 48-year-old Santa Fe woman with advanced uterine cancer has joined a case asking a court to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable. Aja Riggs, whose cancer is advanced and aggressive, joined two prominent Albuquerque physicians, Dr. Katherine Morris and Dr. Aroop Mangalik, as a plaintiff in the case. Kathryn Tucker, legal director of the national nonprofit Compassion & Choices, and Laura Ives, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, are serving as co-counsel in the case.

Ms. Riggs was diagnosed in August, 2011; surgery in October and subsequent developments revealed the severity and aggressiveness of her cancer. Since then doctors have treated her with radiation and chemotherapy. For much of the time she has suffered debilitating exhaustion. In December she suffered neutropenia — an immune system “crash” — requiring hospitalization.

“That experience,” said Ms. Riggs, “and the amount of pain and intensive medical treatment, has made me think: If this disease is going to take my life, I don’t want to go to the very end with it. I understand people can’t really know how they’ll feel until they actually get there. So I don’t know for sure how I will feel, as I get closer to death. But I do know I want to have the choice.”

The plaintiffs request a ruling that physicians who provide a prescription for medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient, which the patient could consume to bring about a peaceful death, would not be subject to criminal prosecution under existing New Mexico law, which makes a crime of assisting another to ‘commit suicide.’ The choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death is no kind of ‘suicide,’ the case asserts, and the physician does not assist such a patient in ‘committing suicide.’

“When I heard about this case on the radio it answered the dilemma I’ve been struggling with,” said Ms. Riggs. “I’ve been thinking, very seriously, about having some control over the end of my life, and I felt I couldn’t talk about it with the people closest to me. I was afraid to talk about it with my doctor. I thought if it came to choosing a peaceful death, I would have to do it on my own to keep from implicating anyone else. To end that sense of fear and isolation that people have — about one of the most important events in our lives — that’s why I think aid in dying should be an option for terminally ill patients.”

The filing and supporting declarations can be viewed here: http://CompassionAndChoices.org/Morris

Dr. Marcia Angell on Death with Dignity

Click to watch.

In this news video, Heather Clish remembers the comfort and peace of mind
her father gained from having the option of aid in dying in Oregon. In the
discussion that follows, of Massachusetts’ proposed Death with Dignity
law, Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Marcia Angell speaks in support of aid
in dying. She says when doctors can no longer heal, they have two duties:
to support their patients’ self-determination, and to relieve suffering.