The headline of a heart-wrenching story from the Los Angeles Times neatly poses a long-debated question: "Assisted suicide or a show of love?" In this instance, the Times dives into the case of Alan Purdy, an 88-year-old who was booked on suspicion of assisting in a suicide (the district attorney has yet to decide on whether to charge him with a felony). Purdy called paramedics on March 20, leading them to his wife, Margaret, an 84-year-old who had outlined her constant pain in a suicide note, taken 30 sleeping pills, and suffocated herself with a plastic bag.
Purdy had no hand in her actions, but admits he was present. "I didn't want her to feel abandoned. I wanted her to know that I loved her." Purdy urged the arriving paramedics to hurry, so that his wife's organs could be harvested. Instead, deputies handcuffed him and took him to the sheriff's station. He never saw his wife's body again, and she wasn't taken to UC San Diego for organ donation. What remains is what the Times calls an "ethically vexing and legally murky" situation: Prosecutors are wary of giving some a pass, worried that a subsequent case could involve a spouse who wasn't terminally ill, or whose death would benefit the spouse financially. They're also light on precedents that define exactly when assisting becomes criminal, and faced with a very tough challenge: convincing a jury to convict a spouse who, like Purdy, "sat beside her as she died."