Allow Natural Death

Murder/Suicide and Allowing Natural Death

It may seem that the contemplation of allowing natural death would disallow the act of suicide. But today’s newspaper tells me something different. The headline reads, “Snelling’s brother in murder-suicide”. Turns out Snelling was a governor of Pennsylvania,  that is apparently the reason this story was covered by news outlets across the country. The link here is to the local coverage of the death of two 81 year old people who had celebrated their 61st anniversary six days before. After hearing of their death, friends realized that the lovely and upbeat dinner was really a good bye.

According to the family of Charles and Adrienne Snelling, the couple “struggled greatly to manage the effects” of Adriennes’s Alzheimer’s Disease for six years. “After apparently reaching the point where he could no longer bear to see the love of his life deteriorate further, our father ended our mother’s life and then took his own life as well. This is a total shock to everyone in the family, but we know he acted out of deep devotion and profound love.”

It occurs to me that other options for Mr.Snelling were unacceptable. He may have promised his wife that he would never put her into an institution for care. In the New York Times essay that Mr. Snelling wrote in 2011 he said, “although he had “wonderful helpers” caring for his wife, “real care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s cannot be delegated. I did not need to be told that; I felt it in my bones.” Finances were not an issue, he had hired folks to assist in the care of his wife for 14 hours a day.  Clearly, Mr. Snelling’s devotion was non-stop.

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most feared diagnoses for most of us. When worst fears are realized, suicide is contemplated soon after. The intersection of allowing natural death and suicide for me is a question of the “allowing”. Might some of us prefer to forgo almost all treatments at some point so as to allow death to come? And if so, do we really know how to do that? Have our health care providers suggested that at some point we may wish to stop taking some of our medications? Or do they have a policy of offering to insert a feeding tube when nutrition is compromised? Has anyone suggested the possibility that an infection could be allowed to run its course, to bring death in just a few days? Are there ways that by the omission of some of our medications we would be spared months or even years of terminal suffering?

When death is allowed to occur it is possible that suicide may be unnecessary. Sometimes.