Shooting at hospital puts spotlight on 'mercy killings'

Depression, stress can contribute to a mercy killing

An Ohio man allegedly shot and killed his wife—a stroke patient at an Akron hospital—in what experts are terming the latest high-profile "mercy killing."

John and Barbara Wise had been married for 45 years when Barbara had a stroke in late July, the Associated Press reports. One week later at Akron General Medical Center, John Wise fired a single round into Barbara's head and she died the following day; John Wise reportedly had told a friend that the two agreed long ago they did not want to be bedridden and disabled in their old age.

Experts warn that trend may continue

Watching a dying or disabled spouse can be enough to "push someone over the edge" and prompt an attempted mercy killing, according to Donna Cohen, head of the violence and injury prevention program at the University of South Florida.

Cohen says that attempted mercy killings could become more common as life expectancies increase and mental health services get stretched thin. She testified before a Florida legislative committee that two in five homicide-suicides in the state involved people 55 and older and that the number continues to grow in that age group.

Meanwhile, depression, caregiver stress, and the killer's own health problems can contribute to attemped mercy killings. John Wise has diabetes, suffers from nerve damage making his hands and feet numb, and survived bladder cancer, according to the AP.

Peter DeGolia, a physician specializing in care for the aging at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, says if Wise was dependent on his wife for care and "suddenly she's gone, he's going to feel very vulnerable, highly at risk." DeGolia says the situation may have been defused with help from social workers and hospice care for the dying. "There are lots of options aside from going and shooting them."

Minimal punishment in other recent cases

Wise is charged with aggravated murder, but research shows he may serve only a few years in prison with a plea deal when it comes to the circumstances, the AP reports.

A Washington state man accused of shooting his terminally ill wife told investigators she begged him to kill her and is currently free on bail. A New York man was sentenced to just six months after suffocating his 98-year-old disabled mother, after telling authorities he believed he would die from cancer soon and no one would care for his mother (Seewar, AP/Google News, 8/13).

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