Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homicide or Mercy Killing?

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The New York Daily News is reporting on a very sad case of homicide, whereby an elderly man shot his wife, reportedly based on compassion.

The daughter of the couple was reported by the newspaper as stating:
"It was a mercy killing," 

"Her mind was gone."
These cases need to be reported very carefully by the media. We do not know the actual intention of the spouse who is the perpetrator.

Research indicates that often a older person who kills their spouse has a history of abuse, has a controlling personality, or is experiencing depression or mental illness. Sadly these acts are almost always done by men.

A recent study entitled: Domestic Homicide and Homicide-Suicide: The Older Offender that was researched by Dominique Bourget and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 38:3:305-311 (2010) found that a disturbing trend exists in Spousal homicide cases among older persons.

The study found:
Most homicides committed by offenders aged 65 and older occur in a domestic context. In Canada, incidence rates of family homicide against people in this age group have increased in recent years, with spouses or ex-spouses accused in 42 percent of deaths of older women and 25 percent of deaths of older men. Most of the perpetrators of spousal homicide (77%) were close in age to their spouses. This finding differs from results in U.S. studies that indicate that female spousal homicide victims are usually younger than the perpetrators, and that the risk of homicide victimization increases as the age difference between spouses increases.

A history of domestic violence is a major risk factor for spousal homicide for female and male victims of any age. Lethal violence is often a result of long-term abusive behavior by a man against his female partner, and some women kill their intimate partners in a severe reaction to longstanding abuse. Spousal violence often continues into old age. In the past decade in Canada, 37 percent of older adults accused of spousal homicide had past incidents of domestic violence. Older male spousal homicide victims were more likely than older female homicide victims to have a history of domestic violence against the accused. While this finding is consistent with those in previous research that indicate a continuation of spousal violence into old age, it is important to note that the perpetrators of previous domestic violence cannot be established from available police reports. It should also be noted that, for various reasons, the prevalence of domestic violence is likely to be higher than reports indicate and that the apparent association with spousal homicide would therefore also be under-reported.
The study continues by promoting the high rate of mental illness among older persons who are prosecuted for homicide. The study states:
In an investigation of psychiatric characteristics of older offenders (65 and older) who had been referred to a medium-security forensic unit in the London area over a 13-year period, Tomar et al. identified diagnoses of schizophrenia and dementia in three of four homicide perpetrators who had offended after the age of 65. Coid et al. recorded index offenses and lifetime diagnoses of mental disorder in 52 older offenders (aged 60 and older) admitted to seven secure forensic psychiatric services in the United Kingdom over a seven-year period. The investigators found that schizophrenia, other delusional disorders, organic brain syndrome, and depressive disorder were the most prevalent lifetime diagnoses for the offenders, most of whom (82%) had committed homicide or attempted homicide. Link to study.
When reading these very disturbing facts it becomes abundantly clear that when a spouse of many years murders their spouse, even when the spouse who died was ill, one should never conclude that the action was based on a "compassionate" homicide.

It is better to speak about the sad reality of the story and not draw conclusions, especially conclusions that suggest that these acts would not occur if euthanasia or assisted suicide were legalized.

Link to a previous article on this topic.

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