Elderly Murder-Suicides Indicate Desperation, not Compassion, Study Shows

By Gudrun Schultz

PENTICTON, British Colombia, August 31, 2006 ( – An elderly man shot his wife and then ended his own life in a murder-suicide at Penticton Regional Hospital Tuesday afternoon, in a murder-suicide referred to as an “act of compassion” by media reports. John McCadden was 77—his 80-year-old wife, Lorna McCadden, had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers disease the previous week, the Globe and Mail reported.

While such tragic cases are frequently tagged as “mercy killings” by the media, in fact such killings are rarely motivated by compassion, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told

“The pro-euthanasia people have been spelling out a new theory, and the media has bought it,” Schadenberg said. “The theory is that if you legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, you wouldn’t have these types of murder-suicides. These terrible acts of ‘love’ wouldn’t happen, if people had another option, they say”.

“Well, that type of myth has got to be exposed for what it is. These violent acts are based out of deep depressive conditions, or they are the act of someone who has been a controlling person all their life, and that is their attempt to control the situation.”

Schadenberg referred to a U.S. study on murder-suicides, published in the March 2005 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry by Malphurs and Cohen, which found that in fact most homicide-suicides of older persons are not “mercy” killings.

“In fact, this ‘mercy-killing’ perception is a myth,” said the authors. “The husbands in such cases are often abusers, and the wives are rarely complicit. In many such cases, defense wounds indicate that the wife fought for her life.”

The study found that many spouses suffer depression and mental breakdown due to the care demands and life changes related to an ailing spouse. The authors suggested that providing better care to both the ailing spouse and the physically healthy spouse could prevent many tragic murder-suicides.

Schadenberg agreed, saying Canada’s health care system needs to address the care needs of both spouses if such tragedies are going to be prevented.

“What our health care system has to be more concerned about is the mental health of the spouse of the person who is going through a life-threatening or debilitating disease. A lot of people find themselves in a situation where they are all alone. They find themselves very lonely, they find themselves abandoned, and they lose it. I think that is more likely to precipitate [violence] than anything else.”

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