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By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Oct. 14, 2010
In a suicide pact gone wrong, a couple mixed a bottle of vodka with an array of pills, but one died and the other lived.
Now, Jennifer Peters, 34, has been charged with a felony for assisting the suicide of her boyfriend, Kyle Adams, also 34.
Platte County authorities said this is the first time one partner in a double-suicide had been charged with the other’s death, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
“I can’t say that I’ve had direct involvement in that kind of transaction before,” prosecutor Carl Hart Jr. told the newspaper.
Peters was charged under a 1977 state law that prohibits aiding in another person’s suicide. It is punishable by a maximum five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.
The pair were taken to Columbus Community Hospital, where Adams was declared dead from a drug overdose, but Peters was revived, according to local reports.
Several bottles of over-the-counter allergy drugs and prescription antidepressants were found at the scene.
In an interview with authorities, Peters said she was fighting thoughts of suicide when she bought the drugs and vodka. When she asked her boyfriend if he wanted to kill himself, Peters said he “hemmed and hawed” but then said yes.
Suicide Pacts More Prevalent Among the Elderly
Suicide pacts are more common among the elderly, according to experts.
Just last year in Britain, a terminally ill doctor survived a suicide pact that killed his wife because a bag he used to suffocate himself with was too small.
Dr. William Stanton, 79, and his wife of 52 years, Angela, 74, both pulled bags over their heads while lying in bed together. He was initially charged with murder but died of cancer before the case was resolved. The couple had been happily married for 52 years, said his children.
Experts on aging say that couples make the choice to kill themselves for a variety of reasons: illness, economics, isolation, guilt over being a burden, but also as an act of devotion.
“It is actually an act of love,” said Washington, D.C., psychologist Doree Lynn. “There is some disagreement, and some say it’s an act of despair, but when a couple has been together for a very long time and they are simply care-taking each other, wondering what has become of their lives, they do this as an act of sharing ‘until death do us part.’ It’s almost never spur of the moment.”
Death Tourism: Journey to Gentle Suicide
Mary Witte of Milwaukee was shocked last August to find her parents’ bodies in their garage surrounded by helium tanks, tubes and plastic garbage bags.
For more than a decade, Dr. Daniel and Katherine Gute, , both approaching 80, had been planning their deaths, should one or both of them be forced to live in a nursing home or need extraordinary medical care.
Katherine “Kittie” Gute suffered from the painful condition polymyalgia rheumatica, or PHR, and dementia, and her husband of 53 years was “getting thinner and thinner” taking care of her, according to Witte, 48.
Daniel Gute, a community president, sailor and urologist, had been retired since the age of 62 and was relatively healthy. An environmentalist, his wife was an avid tennis player and golfer.
“We are all absolutely in awe of them making that choice, being so unbelievably brave, dying with his wife of 53 years,” said their daughter, 48, who also lives in Milwaukee. “There is no better love story, and they avoided the awful end of life.”
Their July 18 deaths are just one among many loving, married couples who have recently carried out suicide pacts.
“I can’t stand that word ‘suicide pact,’ because my parents chose to die with dignity,” said Witte. “This was not an act of desperation. He was declaring his undying love for my mother.”
The Gute case echoed other similar suicides from other parts of the United States in the past few months.
Just this month in Little Rock, Ark., an 81-year-old man, recovering from cancer, killed his 76-year-old wife, then himself. A neighbor said, “Its kind of mind-boggling. I can’t fathom why and wish I could understand why, but they were a great couple. She adored Armistead and he adored her.”
In July, a couple in their 80s from Sedona, Ariz., were found dead in a Colorado cabin after the man shot his wife in the temple, then killed himself. The couple belonged to Final Exit, the nonprofit group that promotes a “dignified death.”
Their note to loved ones read: “Many years ago we decided to be in charge of the timing of our own death. Hopefully, it would be when the lines of normal aging, health problems and finances all crossed. It is our intention to avoid the indignities of prolonged nursing home care or terminal hospitalization.”
Also in July, the oldest son of an Exeter, N.H., couple found with fatal gunshot wounds in an apparent murder-suicide called their deaths a “suicide pact.” The wife’s health was failing and they were described as “childhood sweethearts.”
Suicide Pacts More Common Among Elderly
“Suicide among the elderly is often preplanned, especially if there is a long-term illness,” said Doree Lynn, a Washington, D.C., psychologist and author of “When the Man You Love Is Ill: Doing Your Best for Your Partner Without Losing Yourself.”
“Sometimes it’s done strictly out of illness and depression, but if it’s an act of love. They have been through life and death and raised their children and gone through being married for better or worse,” she said. “With a long-term couple, they say, ‘Let us die together.'”
Society needs to be more tolerant of these choices, Lynn said, but at the same time, “We can’t put our seniors out on an iceberg like the Eskimos.”
There are no statistics available for how many couples die in suicide pacts, but Americans over 65 are more likely to die by suicide than their younger counterparts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
While the elderly make up only about 12 percent of the population, the elderly account for 16 percent of the suicides.
Older people have a suicide rate of 14 out 100,000; the general population rate is 11 for every 100,000 deaths. For non-Hispanic white males over age 85, the rate is nearly 50 per 100,000, according to NIMH.
Many Americans are still morally squeamish about suicide.
Bill Jose, who has a doctorate in social psychology, recently led a special interest group discussion on suicide at the Osher Institute of Learning at the University of Southern Maine in Portland for seniors aged 65 to 80.
“It was a difficult conversation for people who come from a religious Christian background,” he said. “There is a feeling that, ‘Gee, suicide is something that locks you out of heaven.’ It’s a tough one for a lot of them.”
His particular interests are the topics where “science, religious and morality all come together,” and end-of-life care is just that, he said.
“Science can keep you alive beyond where most people want to be and it creates moral issues for the next of kin, especially if people have not talked about it with their spouse or children,” he said.
Sometimes, he said, “If you want to die a good death, you have to be proactive in your own death,” said Jose.