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An ailing wife takes her life; a husband is arrested

Is this the best that American justice can do: Handcuff an old man and take him to jail because he kept his beloved wife company as she ended her own painful life?

Margaret Purdy had evidently mixed 30 sleeping pills with some applesauce, the way that the assisted dying books suggested, settled in a favorite chair with a view of a San Diego County valley, secured a plastic bag over her head, and died, putting an end to years of declining health and increasing pain.

She had more or less said her goodbyes to her children the month before, telling them about the pain, and she left a suicide note on her tidy desk in the couple’s San Marcos home.  She’d already tried to kill herself a few months earlier, sitting in the closed garage with the car running; it was her husband, Alan, who had found her and revived her.

This time, Alan had sat at her side as she ended her life. Several hours later, the 88-year-old World War II veteran was sitting in a jail cell, booked on suspicion of assisting in a suicide.

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That, it seems, was his crime, even though it seems Margaret had done it all herself. Her husband’s mistake was telling authorities the truth, that he was at her side -- not upstairs, not out in the garden, not at a movie. At his arraignment, according to my colleague Tony Perry’s story, he said, “Yes, I sat beside her as she died. I didn’t want her to feel abandoned. I wanted her to know that I loved her.”

I don’t envy San Diego Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis -- who’s also running for mayor -- but is this a criminal justice priority?

I was ready to do this, to do more than this, for my father 15 years ago. He had Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he was ready to die, longing to die, and we loved him enough to help him do it. I had pills and recipes -- and a lawyer. Here’s the story.

Oregon, Washington and Montana have legalized assisted suicide, with various restrictions. My father was, and Margaret Purdy sounded as if she was, “of sound mind,” as the language of last wills and testaments goes.

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Twenty years ago, Californians voted 54% to 46% against an assisted-suicide measure. To me, such a measure would have decriminalized love. Californians are asked to vote on all manner of matters, great and trivial. Isn’t it time we took up this one again?

RELATED:

Helping my father die

Assisted suicide proposition

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