Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assisted Suicide -- An Ethical and Legal Dilemma

January 27, 2013

California newspapers recently covered a poignant event that took place near San Luis Obispo.  A park ranger stopped an older man as he left the beach parking lot after closing time. The man, George Taylor, 86, had cuts around his neck and on his wrists. He was disoriented and there was a body in the back seat with a plastic trash bag cinched around its neck. The man said that he and his wife, who was 81 years old, had a suicide pact.  He said that he had "failed." 
"Is that a mannequin?" the ranger asked, scanning the car with his flashlight.
Taylor said that it was his wife, 81-year-old Gewynn Taylor, and that she had been dead since the sun went down. He and Gewynn, his wife of 65 years, had a suicide pact, he said, and he had failed. The news writer asks the difficult question that many would raise, "Where does justice lie for those who, with no apparent motives other than love, help family members fulfill their last wishes and end their lives?" 

California prosecutors have decided not to bring charges in similar cases. In other instances, assisted suicide convictions can result in light sentences. Recently an Orange County social worker received three years' probation for a final meal--Oxycontin crushed into yogurt-- to an 86-year-old veteran who wanted to end his life.

Both George and Gewynn Taylor had been active in local causes and were acquainted with the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who advocated euthanasia.   George Taylor, who was charged with the illegal act of assisting suicide, pleaded guilty last month. The Judge, Ginger E. Garrett,  sentenced him to two days in jail — time that he had already spent jail following his arrest.

At his hearing, the news reporter wrote that the soft-spoken, slender Taylor, a retired Los Angeles firefighter, expressed gratitude but had no further comment.  Overall, the State lowered the charges and the judge showed sympathy. The reporter learned that the couple had informed their daughter of their agreement.  "There was nothing wrong with their thinking. They were active people who always promised one another that if they couldn't lead their lives the way they felt they should, then that would be the end of it."
What do you think about the Taylors' pact?  Do you agree with the judge's decision?  Should the State have prosecuted?  Was mercy shown? Please send your comments.
Susanne Paul for Global Action on Aging



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