View Full Version : Spotlight on assisted suicide in Conn.

03-07-2005, 06:45 AM
CORNWALL, Conn. -- Any of the dozen friends caring for John T. Welles could have been there the morning that the 66-year-old decided to take his life. Welles, a fiercely independent former Marine and inventor, had not seen a doctor in decades and did not know he had prostate cancer until three weeks before killing himself on June 11, 2004. Those caring for him said he made no secret of his plans.

Now, 74-year-old Huntington Williams is charged with manslaughter for helping fulfill his dying friend's wish. The case has galvanized residents in Connecticut's bucolic northwest corner, even though legalizing physician-assisted suicide doesn't seem on the state's horizon.

"Hunt just happened to be there at the time. I don't think anybody would have wanted to trade places with him," said Cornwall official Gordon Ridgway. "They can go beyond what happened in five minutes to realize Mr. Welles was critically ill, that it was his wish to die on his own terms and not become a vegetable, and that Hunt was there to help him."

If convicted, Williams faces up to 10 years in prison. He was next expected in court on Friday.

Though there are no statistics on assisted suicide, the issue has sparked a legal debate nationally. In the past five years, people in Michigan, Maryland, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Rhode Island have been charged with helping friends or relatives kill themselves.

In Oregon, the only state where doctor-assisted suicide is legal, 171 terminally ill people have died after taking lethal doses of medication. The Bush administration has challenged the law, which has so far been upheld by federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case.

California and Vermont also are considering measures similar to Oregon's, while Hawaii recently rejected one.

"The reality is that in most states it's not legal for a dying patient to ask their physician for assistance... and so you have these very tragic stories where the patient chooses a violent means of ending their life," said Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs for Oregon-based Compassion & Choices, which advocates the right of terminally ill patients to end their lives.

Many residents of Cornwall, a town of 1,300, have rallied to support Williams. Connecticut has not considered legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but a state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow probation in assisted suicide cases.

Williams' attorney, J. Michael Sconyers, said probation would be the best outcome for his client, who was "flabbergasted" to be charged with manslaughter six months after Welles death.

Barbara Welles Bartlett said her brother told her that he was "ready for the next place."

"What is so wonderful to me is that all these people came out to help John," she wrote in a letter to Sconyers. "Twenty-four-hour company and I don't for a second think that there was a one of them that didn't know just what John planned to do when he was ready. ... How can I be anything but eternally grateful to Hunt and all the rest for their love and support at a time when it was horribly needed?"

The morning Welles died, Williams relieved a friend who had spent the night with the dying man.

"John needs to do this. Are you able to do this with him?" the friend asked Williams, according to a police affidavit.

Williams, a volunteer emergency medical technician and retired high school teacher, had watched his wife, Rebecca, die of ovarian cancer a decade ago. He replied that he could "honor John's wishes."

He cleaned Welles' .38-caliber revolver and carried it outside. Smoking a pipe and leaning on a walker, Welles headed to the front yard.

The men shook hands and Williams walked down the driveway. Before Williams could say "God bless," he heard a gunshot.

"This is what John wanted," Williams told police. "I had a comfortable feeling that this was right for him, knowing the man."

But another organization that opposes euthanasia said lessening or eliminating assisted suicide penalties sets a dangerous precedent.

"Why should we have a separate standard for old, ill or disabled people who want to die?" asked Stephen Drake of the Chicago-based Not Dead Yet. "We talk about the suicides of younger people as tragedies. Why should we be sanctioning the suicides of certain people?"


On the Net:

Compassion in Dying: http://www.compassionindying.org

Physicians for Compassionate Care: http://www.pccef.org

link (http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2005/03/07/spotlight_on_assisted_suicide_in_conn/)

03-07-2005, 08:17 AM
While I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, I also believe that when a person has a terminal condition that causes intense pain and discomfort to the point where living on is unbearable, then that person should have the right to terminate his, or her, life. I know that if I were in such a condition I would at least want the option.

Does hanging on to the bitter end, while suffering, make death more dignified? I don't think so. In the face of such circumstances, give me the option to choose a dignified death on my own terms.

03-07-2005, 10:40 PM
well i could not let this post pass without saying something. as alot of people on here know, my beautiful wife of almost 28 years is very ill and has been for some time now. My wife suffers from several different types of nueromuscular diseases that are progressive and degenerative in nature. Most notably Charcot marie Tooth, and Friedrichs Ataxia, combined these 2 are called Roussey levy syndrome or levy roussey syndrome. don't matter either way. plus she also has spinal muscular atrophy. What is happening to her is that all the periperhal nerves in her body are dying. the peripheral nerves are the nerves that help you flex your muscles and such. And after all the nerves die the muscles turn to waste (fat). My wife has been wishing and wanting to die for some time now because there is no help or miracle cure that will ever help her with this struggle she is going thru. she only has about 30% of the breathing capacity in her lungs for a normal person of her age and size and is almost bed ridden except for the times i get her up and get her dressed to sit on the sofa or what ever.. She will eventually die from respiritory failure sometime in the future because of this. Anyway, i don't know if i could or would have the strength to help her die even if it was legal in this state (NY). Am i being selfish for wanting to have her here with me for 1 more day everyday? my whole life has become her life. And i have become so dependant on her depending on me that my life without her would be insignificant to me. everybody tells me how great it is that i have devoted my life, such as it is, to making her happy everyday and for sticking by her like i have. But that is why i took my wedding vows for. in sickness and in health. I am sure that she would do the same for me. I am not looking for sympathy or praise. I guess what i am trying to say is that for anyone to help another take his/her life because of being terminally ill is a very courageous act. An act that i don't know i could make. If it was near the end and they wanted to turn off the machine on my wife, that decision i could make. But to do it now, even though she is suffering like she is, i don't think so. Maybe i am being cowardly in thinking this way, but if i can make her comfortable and happy a little each day that she is here then i will be happy in doing so. I just hate the thought of her ot being here. well i am not going to ramble on here anymore. I have said more than maybe i should have already.................mike

03-08-2005, 06:29 AM
I'll discuss this with you later in a private message Mike. I have someone I love very much who happens to be in much the same condition as your wife, only different incurable disease, stealing her very breath. Give me a day or so to collect my thoughts. I might not help you much, but it will help me to talk about mine. I feel to share the pain makes a difference Friend.

I am so very sorry you have this inside your life today. I honestly feel your pain.


03-08-2005, 02:15 PM
Any time Sid. it is a terrible thing that people have to go thru with all the suffering. The main thing that keeps me going is knowing that this must be God's wish and his destiny for me and that is why he brought us together...............................mike

Gayle in MD
03-09-2005, 11:08 AM
You are a wonderful man. My heart goes out to you and to your wife. Thank you for reminding us that LOVE conquers all.


03-10-2005, 11:33 PM
well thank you Gayle. Years ago i never would have thought that i could devote my self and my life to care for another person like this. But i now firmly believe that God bought us together for this purpose. I met my wife while looking for a parking place to watch a circus parade. i was on the Cb radio and asked if anybody knew where there was a parking place. All of a sudden this beautiful voice comes back to me and says there is 1 right here next to me. she said she would save it for me. and that is how i met her and her 4 beautiful kids. that is why i said the HE bought us together....lol..............fate....who knew....mike

Gayle in MD
03-11-2005, 08:06 AM
What a wonderful story. You are a rich men, my friend.
I wish you well.