Helping Hand

I know how I feel about the man in this story:  I have complete and utter empathy.

Tender love letters have emerged that show the devotion of a British pensioner to the wife he is accused of murdering.
David Hunter, 74, is due to stand trial in Cyprus today after the alleged mercy killing of his terminally-ill wife of 56 years, Janice, 75, last year.
UK lawyers have written to the island’s attorney general asking prosecutors to reduce the charge to assisting suicide amid family pleas to ‘show some compassion’ but have received no reply.
Mr Hunter will die in prison if found guilty of murder.

As to Janice Hunter’s condition:

Mrs Hunter had been suffering from leukaemia since 2016 and her health deteriorated rapidly in the months before her death.
She was losing her sight, couldn’t eat or drink and had constant diarrhoea that meant she needed nappies – but was only given paracetamol by doctors.
Mr Hunter allegedly suffocated her before trying to take his own life by overdosing on sleeping medication in an apparent suicide pact.

And she was quite clear about her feelings:

He has since told his daughter, Lesley, 49, that his wife made her wishes to die clear and talked about it every day in the last six weeks of her life.
‘To begin with, he tried to dissuade her, then he said he would go with her,’ she said. ‘He loved her so much… I’m horrified they were so desperate they thought that dying together was the only way out.’

As you all know, I was in a similar situation when Connie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her condition worsened almost daily.  We had so many drugs in the house that it would have been easy for her to overdose;  and because she was in a drug-induced fog most of the time, she was quite capable of OD’ing through pure confusion — which is why I took over the job of giving her the drugs  — and therefore I could have deliberately given her an overdose which would have ended her life.

And I want to be perfectly clear about this:  had she asked me to, I would have, even though my conscience would have scourged me every day for the rest of my life.

As it happened, that fortunately never became an issue.

However, New Wife is a cancer survivor, which means the bastard can always return and cause her massive suffering.  We’ve talked about this often, as her late husband suffered and died from throat cancer — his last months of life having had as much suffering as Connie had from hers — and so both New Wife and I have had the most intimate experience with this situation.

And we want no part of it.

Fortunately, we’re both in decent health (for our age), so the immediate future so far does not look that dire;  but as everyone at our end of the age spectrum knows, that’s a precarious situation.  Both of us have a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) document should it be needed, and we also have a (very private) agreement to cover the “Hunter” situation.  Neither of us wants to go through a painful and irreversible illness, both for ourselves and for the strain it puts on the other spouse, and that’s all I’m going to say on the topic.


  1. I firmly believe there should be some level of assisted suicide option for people who are terminally ill and in the final stages of their death. Unfortunately that opens the gate to all sorts of abuse and people who will take advantage of the situation. We went from “rape, incest, or life of the mother” to partial birth abortions in just a few decades. I imagine the road downhill for assisted suicide will be much quicker. It’s a damn shame that the people in charge can’t apply just a little common sense.

    1. I think in Europe they’ve already reached that bottom. There are claims that in the Netherlands (that I know of), old people have been essentially browbeaten into telling their physician to help them off themselves, (for the good of the family, you see).

      Why try someone for Insurance murder anymore? They just cut out the middleman, and since everyone is single-payer in Europe, that should save the government some money by not involving a doctor any more.

  2. I kind of follow along with DC above. I used to be on both sides of this for the same reasons stated above. However the tipping point for me was the notion that, do our bodies belong to us, or to the state? Went through something similar with my Dad, and all I can say is there’s worse things than dying.

  3. My wife has requested this of me. At first I refused to accede, now I think I’d assist her, but I will not be the one to pull the trigger. She has not put her end of life wishes in writing, so I fear what legal jeopardy that would entail.
    She was requesting assisted suicide from both her pain management doctor, and her psychiatrist. They both refused, but would put her in touch with others who might help. Thankfully, she had orthopedic surgery last September that has given her some relief, but her 6 month check-up shows renewed bone loss around the new implant. She has been on pain meds for so long, I doubt she will ever be able to stop.
    At this point, I have no answers, only questions.
    As for me, I sometimes think I’d like to have a heart attack up in the woods, and not be found until after assuming ambient temperature. I’d be sorry to do that to the dogs and the wife, but it is what it is.

  4. Another “New Wife” story:
    My wife is a cancer-survivor – breast cancer that reoccurred requiring the removal of one reconstructed breast totally, and the modification of the other partially.
    This all occurred before we ever met, but she started feeling that something was wrong.
    She secured a new Oncologist (her previous one had retired and died) who through incompetence or arrogance just assumed that her new symptoms were just another outbreak of the same cancer she had before – never doing a new biopsy.
    The long and short of it was that she underwent two years of radiation (2 months) and chemo (approx 18 months) before finding out due to a biopsy ordered by a newer Oncologist, after the retirement of the “new” one, that this was not the old breast cancer metastasizing in a new location, but a completely different cancer (rectal) that the radiation and chemo did not address.
    The growth is so large that it will require the removal of the rectum, and permanent use of a colostomy bag.
    However, the surgeon is highly confident that the procedure will result in the complete removal of the cancer.
    She does have a DNR order in place, and I will be in the hospital with her during surgery just in case – and if I could get my hands on that previous doctor’s neck at any time in the future….

    1. I wanted to meet a doctor in a dark alley once. My mother had been complaining for months of general lassitude and other things, and he kept telling her that it was all in her mind, or unspecified “female troubles.”

      That lasted until the day she went into his office with jaundice. Some quick exploratory surgery, and the diagnosis came back as inoperable pancreatic cancer. They gave her three months, and she lasted six.

      I also took care of my girlfriend the last few years of her life. She was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy – think Alzheimer’s that also affects the vision center of the brain. By the end, I fed her (she’d lost the use of her dominant hand), washed and dressed her, read to her, took her for walks (she loved walking, but I had to walk backwards holding her hands and pulling her along, or she’d just have rocked in place), and took care of all her medications and paperwork. She had a DNR order in place, but the conditions for it never came up. She died one month prior to the 25th anniversary of our first date.

  5. I clearly remember visiting a nursing home with my Dad in the early 90s where both his parents were slowly dying. On the way out he said “if they ever out me in there, bring me a gun”. 25 years later he was in there dying of leukemia and I was tempted to do just that.
    While his body deteriorated, he never lost his wits and he decided (to my mother’s horror) when it was time to go from treatment to hospice and die peacefully while pumped full of morphine.

  6. Anyone that has been forced to watch a loved one slowly consumed by cancer would vote to acquit. Endless suffering, with no hope of relief, is not something to prolong.

  7. I am part of three old folks who have known each other since early high school. The two are married to each other over 50 years, I have never married. Their family is grown and gone, with grand babies and great grand babies to raise and lives of their own. Time has passed; we three are still in passable but changeable health, and we are all the family and friends we have left. At this point, the loss of any one of us would be devastating to the others.

    Friend One, to whom I owe my very life, has recurrent cancer. The first time, they said they got it all. The second time, they were pretty sure they got most of it, at least they thought they got the worst of it, and they’d be there to help him the next time, too.

    They give him chemo, and radiation, and pills to treat every part and aspect of the cancer, but nothing to deal with the paranoia that comes from waking up every morning wondering if this will be the day some doctor tells him the cancer has come back again. A good, solid, dependable citizen reduced to constantly worrying about what’s going to happen when he’s gone.

    If he were to choose to find an early exit, I will be there to assist. I’ll do it for him, and for his dear wife. There is no right or wrong here in this situation, just what is. It’s what family does.

  8. After a series of mini-strokes my mother ‘lived’ 5 years as a vegetable.

    Flat on her back, bed sores when she was not rolled enough, soiling herself and getting infections when not washed enough. Intubated for food and air at the very end

    A catastrophe with no solution for our family. Thank God my dad died in his sleep before Mom’s final decline. He was torn up enough when she had to go into permanent care.

  9. My wife of 34 years had chronic lung disease (related to cystic fibrosis). Each passing year brought new challenges as she struggled to just breath (she lost one lung at the age of 14). I will be forever grateful to Navy Medicine for taking such good care of her and allowing me to be with her as much she needed. She went into lung transplant protocol in 2009. She had been on supplemental oxygen for years and had a permanent port cath placed in 2006. By 2010 she had a permanent feeding tube, and was on rotating IV antibiotics every 4 hours, 24/7/365. She spent 3 years on the transplant list and was hospitalized for 60% of that time. In her last year, she struggled for every breath and although she never informed of it, she was never going to get a transplant as she had developed diabetes and rhabdomyolysis (wasting disease), weighing only 68 lbs. In her final days, she had a bad fall in the hospital, suffered a skull fracture and went into a deep coma. I was lucky to have a palliative care physician who was willing to guide me to a soft landing for my wife, who had suffered so much for so long.
    It is impossible to express in words how hard this was to endure. Kim knows. Others who have been through this know. I can only say that this is something that you need to sincerely and honestly express with your SO before it becomes a dilemma.
    I don’t fear death, but I do abhor a useless, lingering, woeful death, punctuated by needless suffering.
    Fuck that shit. I’ve told my Last Wife, the Pragmatic Punjabi and Doctor of Nursing Practice, that I want a rock star exit from the stage, with as wide a mix of chemical adjuncts as the law and good taste allows, if it comes to that. I wish that no one has to make the Hunter choice, but if they do, let their community give them the dignity and grace they deserve for having done so.

  10. Kim;
    I lost my wife of 52 years last week due to cancer. She was lucky, from diagnosis to her end was only 6 weeks. The last 3 weeks were hell on earth for both of us. I did as you did, managed her drugs, fed her (almost nothing) cleaned her and on and on. When It became too much for me, she went to a hospice and in 2 days was at peace, helped along with morphine. I can clearly understand that poor Brit helping his wife to peace.
    A pox upon those that would punish a man for a very painful act of kindness.

  11. I have been down this road with my parents and stepmother.

    “DNR” documents are worthless. Someone might read it AFTER your loved one has been taken to the hospital and put on a ventilator.

    “Living wills” mean nothing to doctors either.

    The only “hammer” that someone can swing is a Medical Power of Attorney. With that you can say , “Take her off the ventilator,” and they have to listen, although they will still bring the hospital “ethicist” to delay you.

    1. Very few are willing to carry the DNR documentation with them all the time. There are medic alert bracelets that declare DNR but you’re still at the will of the paramedics/EMTs that respond on scene. I’d like to see an organ donor type field added to drivers licenses that are legally binding.

  12. Married 1976, spouse dead in 1984 at 32.
    Bone cancer, going to the brain.
    Married 2003 — the afternoon of diagnosis — dead in 2009 at 54.
    Bone cancer, going to the brain.
    My da, dead in 1998 at 72.
    Bone cancer, going to the brain.
    For each, opiates were the way home.
    Joey and Rory
    (Play Me) The Waltz Of The Angels

  13. I read the posts and comments here fairly regularly, but have never commented. Until today.

    Another sad story. My wife started suffering severe back pain 14 months ago. Took two months to identify the source of the pain. And that is when I first heard the words “multiple myeloma”.

    Twelve months into that journey now. Reading the comments here was instructive. I know I’m not alone. The myeloma is dormant at the moment, but no one knows when it will return.

    My wife is an alcoholic and was not in good physical condition before the diagnosis. She has gotten progressively weaker since beginning the “therapy”. And the doctor’s answer to pain management – ever higher doses of opiates – has turned her into an addict.

    I know others who have told me that their loved ones refused cancer treatment, and I didn’t understand their reasoning. It makes sense now that I have seen what “treatment” is like.

    1. DB,
      You are absolutely not alone. I have found over the years that my Readers are the most extraordinary example of kindness and empathy, disguised under a layer of massive grouchiness.

      1. Thank you for the kind words, Kim. I agree with your assessment of your Readers.

        I followed your other blog as well (my memory fails me on the name). I remember some disappointment when it disappeared, although I understand why that happened. I am glad that you returned to writing and that I found your blog again.

        I really enjoy your blog posts and the comments. Thank you for enlightening me and providing some entertainment.

  14. My uncle G had prostate cancer, beat it, and a few years later it came back with a vengeance. When he wasn’t able to do anything, he suicided. Uncle was a DO, so was able to prescribe himself an overdose. As he said, he was either in too much pain to do anything, or too doped up to do anything.

    My wife and our second daughter were diagnosed with cancer in the same year. I still have a daughter, which is how my wife wanted it. That was a horrible year, trying to take care of wife and daughter, watching both of them suffer and being able to do so very little about it.

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