Exec. Director of American Humanist Assoc. Echoes Compassion and Choices’ Exploitation of Elderly Homicide/Suicides

Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, published an essay today – April 16 – on Huffington Post.  His essay uses the tragedies of elderly suicide/homicides to build a case of assisted suicide, a tactic which will be familiar to readers of this blog.  Here’s an excerpt from his essay, titled “Getting the Freedom to Die“:

The issue of assisted suicide is in the public spotlight in Arizona following the sentence of probation for George Sanders, who admitted he shot his wife in response to her wishes after she was diagnosed with a gangrene infection that would require hospitalization and subsequent residence in a nursing home. After decades of suffering from a series of medical problems that eventually confined her to a wheelchair, court testimony revealed that Virginia “begged” her husband to end her life after the gangrene was discovered. People on both sides of this case have called it a “mercy killing,” and the judge agreed with a plea bargain that resulted in two years of probation for her husband instead of jail time.


This case and numerous others like it around the country, such as the tragic killing of a dying 83-year-old Pennsylvanian woman by her 86-year-old husband recently reported by Bertel King of The Inquisitor, shows why it’s time for the federal government to recognize that there is clearly a need for a dignified method of assisted suicide in the U.S. We know that in the presence of the current ban, people’s humanistic will to do what is right will lead them to break the law, sometimes in unfortunate ways such as that experienced by the Sanders.

Here is the comment I’ve submitted on Huffpo to the essay.  It’s the second comment so far:

Mr. Speckhardt is parotting a campaign launched by Compassion & Choices a couple of years ago, in which they exploited the tragedy of elderly homicide/suicides. Speckhardt was more careful in choosing his examples, in that most of these homicide/suicides happen in the absence of evidence that the victim wanted to die. (It’s almost always men who do the killing, in spite of the fact that women, who live longer than men, end up as caregivers more often.)

Even so, there’s no questioning of whether or not George Sanders’ wife could have received in-home support to avoid a nursing home – or if they’d had more support, whether her gangrene could have been averted.

As I said, though, the idea that somehow an assisted suicide law would avert men killing their wives even though most don’t ask the victim if they want to be killed is ludicrous.

More about the Compassion and Choices campaign (and real research on this phenomenon) here:

Note that the link in my submitted comment is a different link than the one I posted above.  That’s because Compassion and Choices kept pushing this tactic.  I guess they’re getting surrogates to do their dirty work now – “dirty work” in that this tactic relies in a great deal more exploitation and distortion of available data than their usual means of selling their agenda.

Here’s a “reality check” on elderly homicide/suicides:

It turns out that mutual suicide pacts and motivations of real compassion are rare in such murders or murder/suicides. Julie E. Malphurs and Donna Cohen have conducted several studies on this increasing type of domestic violence.

Donna Cohen, in a media release from Carers New Zealand, shared some of the research findings:

“These are not acts of love. They are not compassionate homicides. They are acts of desperation and depression, other forms of psychopathology, or domestic violence.”

Dr Cohen’s research indicates that older men – who almost always initiate the acts – routinely proceed without their wife’s knowledge or consent. She says true pacts occur in perhaps one half of 1 per cent of elder homicide-suicides.

Of the hundreds of homicide-suicide deaths in the US each year, the rate amongst over 55s is twice that of under 55s. Homicide-suicides now account for about three per cent of all suicides, and about 12 per cent of homicides in the older population.

“One of our most distressing findings is evidence that older women who are killed are not knowing or willing participants,” says Dr Cohen. “Often they are killed in their sleep or shot in the back of the head or chest.”

Her research indicates that about a third of elder homicide-suicides occur in a context of domestic violence, an ugly contrast to the Norman Rockwell image of loving clan matriarch and patriarch.

Note – the last link has been fixed.  It now links to a capture of the original page and story courtesy of the Internet Archive.

6 thoughts on “Exec. Director of American Humanist Assoc. Echoes Compassion and Choices’ Exploitation of Elderly Homicide/Suicides

  1. We are asked to do the classic “suspend disbelief” when we are asked to believe that to kill the one you love rather than have as much time with them as possible, especially when old, is an act of mercy. If a man (since it’s usually men who kill and then cry, “Mercy”, double meaning serendipity and I’m leaving it) wants “out”, he can just leave. But no, there’s probably more guilt with leaving….but one must “suspend disbelief”.

  2. It’s a scary thought that your partner may initiate a murder/suicide “pact” without your consent, just because they are depressed or having a tough time. I wonder how many homicides amongst this population start off as “murder/suicides”, but the offender doesn’t follow up with the suicide part. Any data on that?

    1. There *is* data on that. I’ll try to dig it out and post here in the next couple of weeks.

  3. When I was in my 40’s, I thought I believed in Assisted Suicide and the goals of the Hemlock organization, etc… and now the goals of Compassion and Choices, but, of course, I wasn’t facing the cruel reality of painful illness and impending death.

    Bsck then, when it wasn’t pertinent, it seemed so logical and fair and reasonable to me that any human be allowed to shorten their own life to shorten their own suffering, and to have help from their physician to die as quickly and as cleanly as possible. I still believe in this ideal.

    But! Life keeps on teaching us hard lessons and now I find myself on the other side of this push to legalize Assisted Suicide. A unilateral and covert DNR placed in my husband’s hospital chart in an attempt to shorten his life, and the emotional toll it has taken on me and that it took on my late husband, in terms of undermining our confidence in our health care system and the government, is almost too difficult for me to express in words. It was a “brutal” eye opener.

    The 1991 Patient Self Determination Act, a federal law, which, in a certain sense, permits a legal form of suicide for those patients (especially the elderly) who want to shorten their lives to shorten their suffering when hospitalized, even as their medical conditions are NOT deemed to be medically futile under any due process procedure, is, today, over 20 years later, being widely circumvented as to BOTH the Choice to Live and the Choice to Die. We have both overtreatment and undertreatment because of the profit motive.

    Just as the 1991 PSDA opened the door to widespread misuse of unilateral DNR Code Status, both overt and covert, and “medical futility” issues became part of the conversation, the legalizing of assisted suicide, no matter how carefully crafted, will take the door off the hinges and euthanasia of the elderly and/or the cruelly disabled to save money wlll be pushed to the public as a necessity for the “greater good.”

    Because of fiscal realities of non-reimbursement by Medicare and the private insurers to physicians and hospitals these last several years, and, because of mistakes and errors as well as over-treatment and non-beneficial treatment of elderly Medicare patients (for profit) covert and overt DNR Code status made possible by “influenced” patient requests for NO CPR is sometimes or often being misused to shorten the lives of patients without their informed consent in order to cap unreimbursed costs.

    Please read the article “Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders: Why They Have Failed and How to Fix Them” posted on the Internet by the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2011 to learn that “physicians inappropriately extrapolate DNR orders to limit other treatments” in order to cap costs of treatments that they KNOW will not be reimbursed by CMS and the private insurers who supplement Medicare for profit.

    Suicide is always an “ugly” and “hurtful reality” for the “loving” survivors of the person who commits suicide. Why is it necessary to legalize “assisted suicide” when it is ALREADY legal to invoke one’s autonomy and refuse any kind of medical treatment and to stop eating and drinking on one’s own —-which leads to death soon enough, especially if the drugs provided by hospice to prevent the pain of the final fast also hasten death.

    Fasting to death is not as quick and clean and easy as the “lethal” dose and the instant “offing” provided by a physician but is it somehow a cleaner, more direct, and more honest expression of patient autonomy that, perhaps, cannot be as easily abused?

  4. I have always believed that both my sister and my mother “committed suicide” in the way you are talking about. My sister, facing a diagnosis of terminal cancer and having been a diabetic for many years, ate about half a dozen doughnuts. She died about 5 days later having said her goodbyes and surrounded by family and friends. My mother simply stopped eating and refused a feeding tube. She also died surrounded by family. Both made choices, and while it was difficult for some of us to accept, it was very clear that it was their choice and not ours. That is why I an so opposed to assisted suicide. When people really and unequivocally want to die they don’t need any help to do it. I think help is needed only when people are ambivalent. We should respect that still voice in that person that still chooses life

  5. Why do doctors get to choose to play God? I witnessed a mercy killing, and it has been a extremely traumatic memory. Even though a person has a progressive disease, and is not brain dead, but alert, to take them off life support, is to murder them. It is God’s job to end life. Doctors and family members who hold an active part in this tragedy will be held accountable.

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