'Mercy Killing' raises questions about end-of-life decisions

Tuesday, Feb. 18, an elderly St. Joseph County man shot and killed his ailing wife and then turned the gun on himself.

Officials closed their investigation, saying there was no foul play and the couple appeared to have reached some type of end of life decision. The family told police they “understood” why their parents took their lives, citing deteriorating health and a desire to never enter a nursing home.

The couple’s death and the idea of a “mercy killing” has raised the question about quality of life and end of life decisions.

Dr. Glenn Mollette, an author and former full-time caregiver knows first hand what it’s like to see a loved one go from being a strong and independent individual, to being crippled by disease. His wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Twelve years later she passed away.

“You’re trapped inside this diseased body, those people become very hopeless,” said Dr, Mollette. About three years before MS took her life, Mollette said his wife was suicidal—asking him to call Dr. Kevorkian to help her with an assisted suicide, or, for her family to put her in the garage, shut the door and turn on the car so she could die.

Mollette did whatever he could to make sure his wife stayed alive, serving as her primary caretaker until her needs became too great. It was painful to watch his wife suffer, however, from his standpoint he wanted to keep her around as long as possible.

Eventually, Mollette made the difficult choice to place his wife in a nursing home so she could get the constant care she needed. It’s a decision many families grapple with.

“It’s a horrible experience,” said Brandyn Blosser, who works at REAL Services in South Bend.

Blosser has worked in the long term care industry for years, and at REAL Services she directs individuals and families towards the type of care and services they need to improve their quality of life. Even she had a hard time putting a loved one into an assisted living facility.

“Because your loved one is saying ‘I don’t want to go,’ or maybe your whole life your loved ones have said to you, ‘don’t ever put me in a nursing facility,’ and then here you are faced with it,” Blosser explained.

Depending on the circumstances, Blosser said there are more options for help than people initially realize.

REAL Services can help someone obtain the medication they need to stay independent, put families in touch with part time care takers, tap into networks of assistance, or find full time care facilities.

“An assisted facility is not necessarily the only option,” said Blosser.
To hear that a couple decided to take their lives rather than go to a nursing home is “heartbreaking” Blosser said. Although she didn’t know the circumstances or extent of the care they would have needed, Blosser said all it takes is a simple phone call to see if there’s a little relief available for them.

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