By Derek Humphry
By far the worst and most wrenching dilemma in the field of a person’s right to choose to die involves victims of Alzheimer’s Disease. Once the disease has got hold, are they ever able to make a decision about ending their life? Suicide is not a crime, but assistance in the act is. Now there is a tragic example of this….
Connecticut law makes it illegal for a person to assist in another’s suicide, and Bruce Brodigan, a 46-year-old teacher from Somerville, Mass., has been charged with helping his father. Police said Bruce Brodigan told them he directed his father to write his own suicide note and prepared some bread and butter for his father to eat before he took his own life — steps recommended in the book “Final Exit.”
Police said the amitriptyline found in George Brodigan’s body was an antidepressant medication prescribed to his son. In addition, George Brodigan had a blood alcohol level of 0.13, well over legal definitions of impairment. The cause of death was listed as an overdose of amitriptyline and alcohol, police said, and the manner of death was listed as undetermined.
Bruce Brodigan was charged with second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony; tampering with or fabricating evidence, a class D felony; providing a false statement; and interfering with an officer. The latter two charges are class A misdemeanors, but if he found is guilty of any of the four charges, serving prison time or paying thousands of dollars in fines is a possibility.
According to police, Bruce Brodigan was adamant that his father wanted to take his own life before he became incapacitated. Brodigan told police that in August and September, his father’s condition had declined, and there was talk about whether he could remain at his home without additional care.
Oregon and Washington states have physician-assisted laws, but covering only a dying adult resident who is judged by two doctors to be competent.
There is nowhere in the U.S. someone with Alzheimer’s disease can legally commit suicide with the help of a physician or friend. (Suicide itself is not a crime.) People with Alzheimer’s are not considered competent, and the disease is generally not considered terminal because a person often does not die within six months of a diagnosis.
Police said Brodigan’s actions reinforce the belief that he actively participated in the planning and completion of his father’s death. Police further noted that George Brodigan was dependent on family members for certain daily activities and that he could not perform duties that involved complex planning or preparations requiring multi-step processes.
“It is unlikely that he possessed the ability or foresight to follow the step-by-step instructions of the book ‘Final Exit’ and prepare and arrange the items that were found set up in his house on the date of his death,” Officer Dawn Lascari wrote in an affidavit.
Police said Bruce Brodigan told them several items had been laid out before George Brodigan’s death, including several copies of do-not-resuscitate orders, his obituary and his insurance policy. Items like the book and the bottle of rum were strategically placed.
Perhaps this court case will publicly highlight the controversial and tragic situation of Alzheimer’s victims who want to end it. In the early stages of Alzheimers, there are spells when the patient goes in and out of being competent. — D.H.
Source for the court case material here is the Hartford Courant.