Human Exceptionalism

Dementia Patients Next Assisted Suicide Target?

An assisted suicide case in England reminded me that the agenda is moving toward application against people with dementia.

A mother and son were arrested on suspicion of planning to take the husband/father to a suicide clinic in Switzerland. England’s misbegotten prosecution guidelines for assisted suicide generally exempts families from threat of consequence in assisted suicides. But the exception is dementia–which appears to be the situation here. From the Chichester Observer story: 

The pensioner and the 25-year-old were held on suspicion of encouraging or assisting a suicide. Details about the condition of the 71-year-old man have not been disclosed and none of the family have been named by Sussex Police. But the force confirmed that officers were having the mental capacity of the “vulnerable” man assessed to determine how able he is to make decisions for himself…

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “Police have been made aware of suggestions that a man and a woman from West Sussex could be planning to take a vulnerable pensioner to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland so that he can end his life. “Officers are currently having the mental capacity of the vulnerable 71-year-old assessed to determine how able he is to make decisions for himself.

The arrest renewed a debate in the UK about assisted suicide and dementia–a Brit dementia patient has already been made dead in Switzerland–with some pro assisted suicide advocates all in favor of Swiss death trips as a “rational” choice.

This has been coming for some time. In 1991, early Alzheimer’s patient Janet Adkins flew to Michigan and became Jack Kevorkian’s first victim. K got bad press for that, for one of the last times in his life. 

In 1996, attitudes had already changed dramatically, evidenced by the Gerald Klooster case, with which I was deeply involved. Son Chip found out that his mother, Ruth, was going to take Gerald–who had early Alzheimer’s–to Kevorkian for an ending. So, he “kidnapped” Gerald to his home in Michigan while the family was in Florida, quickly gaining court custody.

California courts (where Gerald lived), then awarded custody to Ruth–despite her apparent plan–threatening Chip with jail for contempt if he kept his father. The case went federal and then settled. Gerald was returned home, with Ruth agreeing to forego Kevorkian. Gerald died naturally several years later.

Showing how times had changed, the media was overwhelmingly friendly to Ruth. Indeed, I remember one local reporter, who wrote very negative stories about Chip, repeatedly asserting that the younger Klooster was in it for the $, such as an inheritance or movie deal–which believe me, was never true. 

Ironically, in the end, the Ruth got the movie deal. When I confronted the reporter, he just shrugged and said, “Well, they’re both nuts.” Sickening, but so typical. 

I haven’t heard from Chip in some time. I hope he is well and reconciled with his family, from which he became estranged because he brought the Kevorkian plan to light. Chip sacrificed money and the comfort of family to save his father’s life. I admire him greatly.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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