Patt Morrison

<em>Patt Morrison</em> is known for its innovative discussions of local politics and culture, as well as its presentation of the effects of national and world news on Southern California. Hosted by

What is the definition of ‘assistance’ when it comes to assisted suicide?

by Patt Morrison

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Dr Philip Nitschke holds up a drug testing kit which is used as part of assisted suicides following a workshop on the subject on May 5, 2009 in Bournemouth, England. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Alan Purdy did not kill his wife Margaret, but he did watch her die.

The 84-year-old Margaret committed suicide on March 20, 2012, and Purdy’s story is yet another example of the extremely grey legal and ethical questions surrounding assisted suicide.

Margaret had suffered from pancreatitis, three fractured vertebrae that refused to heal, and Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease in which the body’s white blood cells attack its moisture-producing glands, causing everything from mild discomfort to severe pain. According to Purdy, Margaret had managed to live with Sjogren’s, but the pain became unbearable when combined with her other ailments, even with prescribed pain medications.

In February, Margaret called her family together to say farewell, and on March 20, Purdy sat beside her as she died. “I wanted her to know that I loved her,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

No one in Purdy’s family holds him responsible or wishes to see him prosecuted, but assisting a suicide is a felony in California. And if the district attorney decides not prosecute, what about next time, when there might be financial gain involved, or the deceased was not terminally ill?

The police arrested Purdy on March 20, and at his arraignment on March 28, the prosecutors told the judge that the case was under review.


Should family members who sit by and do nothing when their loved ones commit suicide be prosecuted? Should patients in chronic pain be allowed to choose when to end their lives?


Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times

Herbert Weston, Alan Purdy’s defense attorney

Stan Goldman, professor of criminal law and criminal procedure at Loyola Law School

Brian Johnston, author of "Death as a Salesman: What's Wrong with Assisted Suicide," is a former California Commissioner on Aging and has served on California's State Board of Nursing Home Examiners and the Board of Directors of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled

Mike White, co-author of Prop 161, which would have allowed mentally competent adults to instruct their physicians in writing to provide aid-in-dying upon their request and which Californians rejected in 1992

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